Faith on Public Trial (Reflection on Charlottesville)

Last weekend, as I watched the terrible scenes from Charlottesville, Va., my heart was deeply troubled, often full of anger, and distraught at what I was seeing. Sunday morning our choir performed Brandon Boyd’s arrangement of “Jacob’s Ladder.” We were privileged to have Brandon Boyd, a young, gifted African-American composer, with us accompanying the choir. His version includes a moving solo with the words, “Is there anybody here who loves my Jesus?” I reflected that those words are what many African Americans were asking in Charlottesville—words their ancestors had sung since they arrived in slave ships.

On Monday morning I opened Facebook. There my close friend, Tony Vis, a Reformed Church in America pastor from Iowa who has served with me as a General Synod President, posted this: “The white supremacy/nationalist movement in America today is anti-gospel, which means anti-Christ, and evil at its very core. I renounce it, will stand against it, and invite my friends to do likewise.” I could not have said it better.

Of the many shocking images from Charlottesville, one continues to haunt me. White men, mostly younger, are marching and carrying torches in the night with faces full of grim hate and determined anger. It was malevolently reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan’s torch-lit night rallies, with cross burnings and the evil actions and killings that often followed. Even more, it brought memories of the Nazis marching with their torches, slogans, and violence in the 1930s. The neo-Nazis in Charlottesville chanted some of those same slogans.

At times, Christian faith is put on public trial. Public events and movements present a direct confrontation to the gospel of Jesus Christ, requiring us to make a clear choice. The confession of our faith is at stake. That’s what Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Niemoller, Karl Barth, and others saw in Germany in the 1930s. They formed the Confessing Church based on the Barmen Declaration, declaring that faithfully following Jesus placed them in uncompromised opposition to the ideology and political movement spawning the ugly forms of bigotry, moral superiority, and pernicious racism in their time.

Many Reformed Christians in South Africa had a similar response to the apartheid regime. Convinced that the truth and public witness of Christian faith was violated by exclusionary racial practices both in society and the church, they drafted the Belhar Confession. With firm biblical grounding, it condemned racism as a sin and affirmed unity, reconciliation, and peace as intrinsic to our confession of faith. The Reformed Church in America adopted the Belhar as its fourth confessional standard of faith, and the Christian Reformed Church adopted the Belhar Confession as a “contemporary testimony.”

Indeed, it is as contemporary as Charlottesville.

Therefore, both the Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church in America have the foundation that compels us to stand forthrightly, publicly, and unequivocally against the ugly expressions of white supremacy, white nationalism, and unvarnished racism on public display in Charlottesville, and moved like shock waves across the country.

But there is more.

Continue reading HERE

 

A Statement from Evangelical Covenant Church President Walter Denouncing White Supremacy

CHICAGO, IL (August 14, 2017) — I join with other Christian leaders to unequivocally denounce hateful white supremacist ideologies, brought into stark focus by the distressing events of Charlottesville, Virginia

Make no mistake. This ideology is antithetical to God, and therefore must be antithetical to all who follow God. It makes a mockery of the Father, our Creator, who knit each of us together in our mother’s womb. It ridicules the cross of Jesus, our Redeemer, in whom there is neither Greek nor Jew, slave nor free, male nor female. It disdains the work of the Holy Spirit, our Sustainer, who has baptized us into the one Body of Christ.

Friends, it is hateful … and it is heres

In the Covenant, we instead yearn to be found evermore faithful to a Kingdom vision here on earth as it is in heaven: a vision of every tribe, nation, and tongue finding its place of belonging and reconciliation at the feet of Jesus. We don’t always get it right, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t right.

And so, we press forward with resolve, lament, and the sometimes painful but always powerful work of the Holy Spirit.

We grieve the senseless loss of three lives, Heather Heyer and state troopers Jay Cullen and Berke Bates. We pray for those recovering from wounds, seen and unseen, nearby and far away. We denounce hate-filled violence.

We beseech our just and merciful God to convict us of how we as a nation and Church fail one another. And, we beseech our God to convert us anew to the bedrock reality that Jesus not only can, but Jesus does, break down the dividing walls of hostility.

ECC President Walter Announces 2018 Retirement

CHICAGO, IL (August 1, 2017) – Evangelical Covenant Church president Rev. Gary Walter today announced his intention to retire in 2018 following one more year of service. Walter was elected president in 2008 and upon his retirement will have served with the ECC in various capacities for 42 years.

“My core identity is that of a Covenant pastor,” Walter says. “Every position, including this one, has been a distinct and humbling opportunity. My hope for all of these years has simply been to be found faithful as a disciple and servant of Jesus.”

During his tenure, the Covenant has continued to be a growing, multiethnic, multi-generational fellowship of churches. Walter led a significant restructuring of the Covenant, streamlining the denominational offices into a more cost-effective and collaborative structure while helping form one of the most ethnically diverse leadership teams of any denomination in the United States today. Each of the Covenant’s mission priorities and support ministries has made notable accomplishments, garnering recognition for innovative efforts in missions, discipleship, multiethnic ministry, church planting, among others.

“Having served for almost three decades with Gary, I am well aware of how God has used him in many different roles of leadership within the church,” says Steve Dawson, president of National Covenant Properties. “Gary’s wisdom, vision, and work ethic have blessed many along the way—myself included. We all wish him well in this next season.”

“Gary has done so much to take the Covenant deeper in Christ and further in mission,” adds Michelle Sanchez, executive minister of Make and Deepen Disciples. “I am grateful that he is leaving us with such an outstanding legacy to build upon.”

According to Kansas-based attorney and Executive Board member Jeffrey Houston, Walter’s unique combination of gifts made him a transformational leader for the ECC. “He is a bit of a unicorn: the CEO with a pastor’s heart, or a strategic pastor with an executive’s instincts—whichever way you look at it, he was the leader for such a time as this.”

In his letter to Covenant Executive Board chair Alice Lee, Walter said, “I give this advance notice so that the processes and provisions of the ECC Constitution and By-laws can be implemented in a timely way for the election of the next president at the 2018 Covenant Annual Meeting.”

The Presidential Nominating Committee (PNC) typically begins its work in the fall of the year of an election. According to the Covenant Constitution and By-laws, it is charged with nominating one candidate to the Annual Meeting. Additional candidates may be nominated from the floor.

The PNC will be comprised of 27 members, including 12 from the Covenant Executive Bard, each chair of the 11 regional conference executive boards, and one member from each of the four additional boards elected by the Covenant Annual Meeting (North Park University, Covenant Ministries of Benevolence, Ordered Ministry, and Pension/Benefits).

In his letter, Walter concluded, “I am confident God will raise up gifted and godly leadership for a faithful and fruitful future for the Covenant. I will do whatever is helpful for a smooth transition as that time approaches.” His official retirement date will be September 1, 2018.

President Walter’s letter of notice can be found here.

Creating Beloved Community — CBF church starter blends Mennonite ethics, Catholic peacemaking and Quaker spirituality with Baptist roots

By Ashleigh Bugg

What happens when the efforts of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship are combined with the peacemaking practices of the Catholic Workers Movement, a blues-playing Mennonite pastor and international partners from Mexico City?

A “beloved community” is formed, according to 28-year-old pastor and Truett Seminary graduate Cole Chandler. Chandler says partnering with people from various faith communities, races and nationalities helps create this “beloved community,” a term popularized by Martin Luther King, Jr., as the vision for a just and healthy society.

Beloved Community Mennonite Church (BCMC) is the brainchild of Mennonite pastor Vern Rempel. After finishing seminary in Waco, Texas, Cole Chandler and his wife, Kaylanne, moved back to her hometown of Denver, Colo., and attended Rempel’s first church. One day over coffee, Rempel told Chandler he was leaving their church to start a new one.

“He shared his vision for the church, and it matched mine — but maybe 30 years further down the road,” Chandler said. “His sense was that it was time to move on from success and career-building, to ‘living inside the container he had constructed,’ and to be in authentic community.”

Rempel invited Chandler to help lead the new church. They became co-pastors, creating a mix of elements of Mennonite ethics, courage and renewal methods, Catholic liturgical practices and CBF roots.

“We didn’t set out with a blueprint,” Chandler said. “We have dreams, but they’re not prescriptive. We want to see what emerges.”

Chandler is particularly excited about a church partnership with a couple from Mexico City and the building of a tiny house village for people experiencing homelessness in Denver.

Last February, BCMC welcomed a Mennonite couple from Mexico City who wanted to work with immigrants and refugees in the United States. BCMC hosted the couple who worked at a hospitality center across from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement buildings where detainees were held, helping families integrate into the community, connect with family and find apartments.

“One of the cool things about their being here is that they helped integrate marginalized peoples into the life of our congregation. At one point last year, we had five different households in our small congregation offering hospitality to displaced people without homes:’ Chandler said.

Chandler noted that although BCMC is small in size, because of its flexibility the church was able to work with the couple — something which might have been harder with a more established congregation.

Another church initiative arose out of a response to Denver’s controversial urban camping ban which critics say criminalizes homelessness. The ban makes it illegal to camp in public areas, something which Chandler says pushes homeless neighbors
to the fringes. “We also have hardly any affordable housing,” Chandler noted.

This year, Chandler joined an organization called the Alternative Solutions Advocacy Project (ASAP), a cross-section movement of business personnel, advocates, homeless people and faith leaders. ASAP has brainstormed alternatives to the camping ban which would welcome people into a safe space, especially needed during cold, winter months. According to Chandler, Denver officials initially were not interested. However, after a video of a police officer taking a blanket from a homeless person went viral, the mayor reached out to the group in order to find a solution. “Our plan was to create a safe space owned by a community,” Chandler said.

ASAP is in current negotiations to create Beloved Community Village, a community comprising tiny homes for formerly homeless residents. Chandler reiterates that BCMC’s adaptable leadership style allows them to work on projects like the tiny home village. “We have the opportunity to take risks,” Chandler said. “Our church is not even two years old, and we’re right in the middle of this village project.”

Although Beloved Community has “Mennonite” in its title, it has close ties to the Catholic Worker Community and is a CBF-partner church.

“What if we were a Mennonite church with Catholics which was also Baptist?” Chandler said. “It’s the ‘yes and …’ kind of idea. Why choose ‘either or’ when both fit?”

Although he no longer lives in a predominantly Baptist area, Chandler acknowledges that maintaining his roots is a priority. “I was raised and educated by Baptists,” Chandler said. “An idea that is really important to me is the idea of holding that tension — of not needing to cut ties or move separate ways just for the sake of it.”

Chandler talks about how Beloved Community has tried to uphold traditional practices while leaving room for innovation. This is manifested in several ways, including the addition of blues music, stemming from the African-American roots tradition.

Finish reading HERE

Catholic Charities Statement on Healtcare Legislation

Catholic Charities USA expresses deep disappointment in Senate vote that could potentially repeal and replace the ACA

Jul 26, 2017

Alexandria, Va. — Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA) President and CEO Sister Donna Markham, OP, PhD, expressed disappointment in response to the Senate vote yesterday to move forward on a bill to potentially repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

“CCUSA is deeply disappointed that the Senate has voted to move forward on a bill to potentially repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act without a clear plan to protect access to affordable health care coverage. Throughout the health care reform discussions, CCUSA has insisted that any reform must protect the millions who have access to health care coverage, or gained access to health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act, and must provide access to health care coverage to the millions still living without affordable health care. 

“As the chamber moves into the amendment process, we urge Senators to work together to reject dramatic cuts to Medicaid coverage and provide a health care bill that truly expands coverage, reduces costs and respects human life and dignity, especially for those who are most in need.”

Across the country Catholic Charities agencies provided health care-related services to more than 860,000 individuals. They see the consequences of untreated mental illness, they work to respond to the growing opioid epidemic and they support families who are struggling between the decision to pay their health care bills or rent. 

https://catholiccharitiesusa.org/press-releases/catholic-charities-usa-expresses-deep-disappointment-in-senate-vote-that-could-potentially-repeal-and-replace-the-aca

Presiding Bishop Eaton Message on Healthcare Legislation

July 26, 2017Throughout the debate on the effort to “repeal or repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, Lutherans have joined me in calling on their members of Congress to improve access to health care.

“We of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America have an enduring commitment to work for and support health care for all people as a shared endeavor. Our commitment comes in grateful response to God’s saving love in Jesus Christ that frees us to love and seek the well-being of our neighbor” (ELCA social statement “Caring for Health: Our Shared Endeavor,” 2003). 

The Senate is now debating health care reform. In the strongest possible terms, I urge senators to oppose any effort to cut funding to Medicaid that eliminates essential health care for seniors, veterans, children and low-income working families. 

I ask all Lutherans to pray for our leaders and to be advocates with me. Our collective voices make a difference, and we should raise them to call on our senators to stand with the most vulnerable members of our communities. It is time for Congress to work together to find solutions that ensure health care for all in our nation of God’s great abundance.

God’s peace,
The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton 

Presiding Bishop

 

National Religious Campaign Against Torture Hiring

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) seeks a full-time Director of U.S. Prisons Program to coordinate national interfaith organizing and strategic state and federal advocacy for its interfaith members working to end the torture of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons, jails, and detention centers. The position is based in NRCAT’s Washington, DC office.

Further details and the job announcement can be found at www.nrcat.org/jobs and https://www.idealist.org/en/nonprofit-job/1e5175c735474e16abd2ea6ea20e35a0-director-of-us-prisons-program-national-religious-campaign-against-torture-washington

RCA MOURNS THE LOSS OF TONY CAMPBELL

(Note: Tony was a friend and strong supporter of the work and vision of Christian Churches Together. CCT staff)

Date Posted: Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Reformed Church in America is mourning the loss of Tony Campbell, the denomination’s associate general secretary and director of mission engagement. Campbell passed away unexpectedly on Tuesday evening, July 18.

“Tony’s death is a painful loss for the RCA—as a pastor, as a friend, as a partner in the gospel, as a leader,” said former general secretary Tom De Vries, who worked closely with Campbell until De Vries’s departure last month. “His passing impacts our denomination on so many levels: personally, missionally, transformationally, and as we seek to live out God’s call for the RCA to live and love like Jesus. Tony was a continuous example of how a leader served and loved others, and how to tangibly live out one’s faith in our world today.

A member of the executive leadership team, Campbell joined the General Synod Council staff in 2013 as coordinator for African American/Black ministries. He soon took over leadership of the RCA’s mission priority area and in 2016 became the director of mission engagement. In this role he coordinated the work of the mission initiatives within Transformed & Transforming: Global Missional Engagement, Local Missional Engagement, Volunteer Engagement, Missional Mosaic, Church Multiplication, and Disability Concerns. He also served as coordinator for the RCA’s African American Black Council (AABC).

“Tony established a grander vision of mission for the RCA that did not stop with words, but demanded action,” said De Vries. “He pushed us to see mission that was tangible and love that was real.”

One of Campbell’s key contributions to the RCA was his effort to address the injustices of racism, De Vries said. Working with the AABC, Campbell continually pushed for unity and harmony within the denomination, working to build bridges that crossed the racial divide.

Continue reading HERE

Obituary for Antoine “Tony” L. Campbell

Antoine “Tony” Campbell, age 62 of Rockford, passed away unexpectedly on Tuesday July 18, 2017. 

Tony was born on December 24, 1954 in Indianapolis, IN, the son of John and Earline Campbell. His life was led by faith and an unspoken code of “making a difference” every day. Tony was always carrying a Bible and whatever book he was reading at that time. He was a phenomenal public speaker and although most people felt he was fairly serious all the time, his family reveled in his humor. One of their favorite things was how Tony would sing at the top of his lungs and march in the shower every day all while laughing out loud at the same time. 

Tony was highly educated, both formally and as a life-long learner. He earned his Bachelor’s degree from the United States Naval Academy, followed by five years in the Marine Corps as a Naval Officer. He earned a Master’s degree from Yale School of Divinity and was currently pursuing a Doctorate in Ministry from Western Theological Seminary. 

Tony is survived by his wife Molly (Piechocki) Campbell; his children Ben, Sarah, Paul (Tamar), Emma and Madison; his grandson, Micah John; his parents John and Earline Campbell, and in-laws Mike and Pat Piechocki; his siblings Renee (D’Juan) Miller-Cotton and Erik Campbell, brother-in-law Mike (Casey) Piechocki and Marne (Piechocki) Marshall; Nieces and Nephews: Glenn, John and Amy Miller; Jack (Heidi), Eden, Becca and Josh Piechocki; Noah and Gabbie Marshall; many treasured aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. 

A funeral service to celebrate Tony’s life will be held at 11:00am on Saturday, July 22, 2017 at Our Lady of Consolation Catholic Church, 4865 11 Mile Rd NE, Rockford, MI 49341.

Visitation will be held on Friday, July 21, 2017 from 2-4PM and 6-8PM at the Pederson Funeral Home, 127 N Monroe Street in Rockford. There will also be visitation one hour prior to the service on Saturday at the church.

Private burial for the family will take place in Blythefield Memory Gardens.

For those who wish, memorial contributions may be sent to Mike Piechocki at 7783 Oakmont Ct NE, Rockford, MI 49341 who will be setting up a college fund for Emma and Madison. Envelopes will also be available at the funeral home. 

John 1:5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

USCCB Chairman Expresses Ongoing Support for DACA

Calls on Administration and Congress to Ensure Permanent Protection for DACA Youth 

July 18, 2017

USCCB Office of Public Affairs

 

WASHINGTON— Over 750,000 youth have received protection from Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) since its inception by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2012. While DACA provides no legal status, it does provide recipients with a temporary reprieve from deportation and employment authorization for legal work opportunities in the United States.

 

In response to the recent petition to the U.S. Department of Justice to terminate DACA, Bishop Joe S. Vásquez, Chair of the Migration Committee and Bishop of Austin, Texas, expressed support for DACA once again, stating:

 

“The Catholic Bishops have long supported DACA youth and continue to do so. DACA youth are contributors to our economy, veterans of our military, academic standouts in our universities, and leaders in our parishes. These young people entered the U.S. as children and know America as their only home. The dignity of every human being, particularly that of our children and youth, must be protected.

 

I urge the Administration to continue administering the DACA program and to publicly ensure that DACA youth are not priorities for deportation.

 

However, DACA is not a permanent solution; for this reason, I also call on Congress to work in an expeditious and bipartisan manner to find a legislative solution for DACA youth as soon as possible. My brother bishops and I pledge continuing efforts to help find a humane and permanent resolution that protects DACA youth. Additionally, I note the moral urgency for comprehensive immigration reform that is just and compassionate. The bishops will advocate for these reforms as we truly believe they will advance the common good.

 

Lastly, to DACA youth and their families, please know that the Catholic Church stands in solidarity with you. We recognize your intrinsic value as children of God. We understand the anxiety and fear you face and we appreciate and applaud the daily contributions you make with your families, to local communities and parishes, and to our country. We support you on your journey to reach your God-given potential.”

Rev. Teresa Hord Owens elected as Disciples President

General Assembly elects Teresa Hord Owens as first African-American woman to head mainline denomination

INDIANAPOLIS – Rev. Teresa “Terri” Hord Owens was elected Sunday night to serve as the General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada. She is the first African-American to hold this post and the second woman to lead the denomination.

Hord Owens comes to the position in a time of renewed emphasis on the issues of race, particularly in the United States. Her election comes on the 50th anniversary of the Merger Agreement uniting the African-American and largely white branches of the American-born denomination. She is currently pastor of a predominately white congregation in the Chicago area.

“We need to stop demonizing differences as deficiencies,” Hord Owens says. “We should seek to understand, to work through our differences in priorities, opinions, methods, and goals. This will not be easy, but imagine what an example this will be for the world if we can bridge the gaps in politics, identity, geography and theology.”

Hord Owens’ resume includes more than 20 years in corporate America leading diverse teams in data management before she entered seminary. For the last 15 years, she has been the dean of students at the University of Chicago Divinity School, shepherding a varied student body in both background and theology.

The election of Hord Owens follows the 12-year tenure of the Rev. Sharon E. Watkins, who was the first female to lead a mainline denomination in the United States upon her election in 2005. Hord Owens’ term is six years with an option for re-election in 2023 for an additional six-year term.

Read full article HERE