Was There Anything We Could Have Done? A Good Friday Reflection

General Board of Church and Society – United Methodist Church

by Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crow

April 14, 2017

From the Syrian town of Khan Shekihoun last week came the story of a woman who gave her name as Om Ahmed. In her deepest sorrow she said, “If the world wanted to stop this they would have done so by now. One more chemical attack in a town the world hasn’t heard of won’t change anything.” Her voice cracking, “I’m sorry, my son died yesterday,” she said. “I have nothing left to say to the world.” (Washington Post, April 5, 2017)

With Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and all who are standing at the foot of the cross this day grieving the violence and death of our children, there is nothing left to say. The nausea, the void, the vulnerability, the emptiness pervade our bodies.

Eli Wiesel, in the book Night tells the story in the concentration camp.

“One day,” writes Wiesel, “as we returned from work, we saw three gallows… The SS [guards] seemed more preoccupied, more worried, than usual. To hang a child in front of thousands of onlookers was not a small matter.

The head of the camp read the verdict. All eyes were on the child. He was pale, almost calm, but he was biting his lips as he stood in the shadow of the gallows… ‘Where is merciful God, where is He?’ someone behind me was asking. At the signal, the three chairs were tipped over… Then came the march past the victims. The two men were no longer alive… The child, too light, was still breathing… And so he remained for more than half an hour, lingering between life and death…

Behind me, I heard the same man asking: ‘For God’s sake, where is God?’

And from within me, I heard a voice answer; ‘Where is He? This is where – hanging here from this gallows…’”

On Good Friday, we see Jesus broken and emptied for the world. There is God (or the Crucified One) on the gallows, among grieving mothers, and torn creation. 

We ask ourselves: was there anything we could have done?

Peace,

Susan
on the web click HERE

The problem of mass incarceration is more complicated than we thought

February 09, 2017

by Alex Mikulich

(Books review)

Locked In by John Pfaff

Locking Up Our Own by James Forman

We live in a so-called post-fact, post-truth era when politicians and media attempt to manipulate public opinion to their narrow interests. Yet, as President Obama warned in his farewell address, “reality has a way of catching up with you.” On the reality of mass incarceration, the question is whether or not we will catch up with it.

Two new books help readers catch up with the reality of how the United States became the world’s incarceration leader. The authors, John Pfaff of Fordham University Law School and James Forman of Yale University Law School, unflinchingly cast their eyes on the hard reality of mass incarceration. They demonstrate the enduring—and crying—need for objective scholarship.

John Pfaff’s Locked-In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration and How to Achieve Real Reform dismantles the argument made by Michelle Alexander in her award-winning book, The New Jim Crow. The first part of Locked In challenges the reigning consensus—the “standard story”—buttressed by Alexander’s work.

Pfaff, whose exacting prose meticulously explores every data set and perspective, begins by explaining how the standard story is wrong about the origins of mass incarceration. Pundits and academics often indict the failed drug wars of Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. While Nixon employed tough rhetoric against crime, his policy actually favored public health responses over punitive enforcement. Furthermore, prison populations did not budge much during his presidency.

An opposite problem arises in Reagan’s case. By the time Reagan gave his “war on drugs” speech, the U.S. incarceration rate had risen nearly 80 percent over the past decade. The “slow, steady climb” of incarceration, Pfaff writes, was already well underway. More important, however, a narrow focus on the president is misplaced. In reality, there are over 3,000 wars on drugs and crime waged by district attorneys and local law enforcement.

continue reading at original posting: HERE

NATIONAL FUND FOR SACRED PLACES ACCEPTING APPLICATIONS THROUGH MAY 1, 2017

 

With aging churches throughout the nation facing decay and physical distress, last November Partners for Sacred Places and the National Trust for Historic Preservation announce an unprecedented $14 million National Fund for Sacred Places to assist churches in need of repair and restoration. The National Fund provides up to $250,000 each in capital grants, in addition to planning grants and an array of services, to congregations from a diversity of faiths.

Applications are due on May 1 for the second funding cohort of the National Fund. Details about the application process, eligibility requirements, and selection criteria are available by visiting www.fundforsacredplaces.org.

The National Fund for Sacred Places is a collaboration that builds on Partners for Sacred Places’ decades of work helping churches use best stewardship practices with their historic facilities in order to strengthen, serve and celebrate their communities for the common good. The National Trust for Historic Preservation is the nation’s leading preservation organization with more than 60 years of advocacy and grant-making to preserve America’s diverse history.

  • The Fund was launched with two grants totaling nearly $14 million from the Indiana-based Lilly Endowment Inc. Through this initiative, $10 million will be disbursed over four years for capital improvements, with the remainder used for planning, technical assistance, coaching and program oversight.
  • The first group of awardees, including Quinn Chapel A.M.E. Church in Chicago, was announced late last year.

“As the first African American church in Chicago, we are recognized in the community as the mother church of African American Christianity here,” says Reverend James M. Moody, pastor of Quinn Chapel. “We host community meetings, public meetings on civic issues, political meetings and candidates. Susan B. Anthony, George Washington Carver, Frederick Douglass, and President McKinley all spoke here in the 1800s, and in more modern times, Barack Obama opened his Senate campaign here. We are nearly as old as Chicago and we need to preserve the building for the next 100 years. This will allow us to begin that important work.”

2016-17 Awardees:

Broad Bay Congregational United Church of Christ (Waldoboro, ME)

Basilica of St. Josaphat (Milwaukee, WI)

Christ Church (Philadelphia, PA)

Christ Church Lutheran (Minneapolis, MN)

Divine Redeemer Presbyterian Church (San Antonio, TX)

First Christian Reformed Church (Grand Rapids, MI)

First Church of Christ (also known as Center Church; Hartford, CT)

Kadesh A.M.E. Zion Church (Edenton, NC)

Mokuaikaua Church (Kailua-Kona, HI)

North Christian Church (Columbus, IN)

Quinn Chapel A.M.E. Church (Chicago, IL)

Trinity United Methodist Church (Idaho Falls, ID)

Trinity-St. Peter’s Episcopal Church (San Francisco, CA)

Urban Grace (Tacoma, WA)

About Partners for Sacred Places

Partners for Sacred Places is the only national, nonsectarian, nonprofit organization dedicated to the sound stewardship and active community use of America’s older religious properties. www.sacredplaces.org

 

About The National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately-funded nonprofit organization, works to save America’s historic places. www.savingplaces.org

 

For more information contact:

Chad Martin

Partners for Sacred Places

215-567-3234, x19 (office)

717-669-7372 (mobile)

More than 5,000 Congolese Mennonites in hiding

The Mennonite

4.6. 2017  Written By: Lynda Hollinger-Janzen, Mennonite Mission Network

Mennonite church members report increasing violence in Democratic Republic of Congo’s Central Kasaï Province, where Michael J. Sharp died on a United Nations’ peacebuilding mission last month. Mennonite Mission Network partners with Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission in walking alongside the three Congolese Mennonite denominations.

In an Apr. 2 phone call, Joly Birakara, vice president of the largest Mennonite denomination in Congo, Communauté Mennonite au Congo (Mennonite Church of Congo), requested prayer for an end to the atrocities that have driven members of 30 congregations into hiding in the forest, approximately 4,000 people. This denomination has brought at least six ethnic groups together into one church body.

Bercy Mundedi, director of Kalonda Bible Institute where the denomination’s pastors are trained, is agonizing over whether to send 36 students back to their homes. Rebels are near the school that is located in the hills three miles outside of Tshikapa where fighting is occurring. Some of the students are preparing to graduate in July. After three years of great sacrifice on the part of their families and their congregations, Mundedi wonders if the risk is great enough to deprive them of this opportunity. Or should she trust God to protect the staff and students in her care?

Jean-Felix Cimbalanga, president of Communauté Evangélique Mennonite (Evangelical Mennonite Church), reported that about 1,000 people from eight congregations of the denomination that he leads have also gone into hiding to escape violence.

Leaders from the third Mennonite denomination in CongoCommunauté des Églises des Frères Mennonites au Congo (Mennonite Brethren Church of Congo), did not respond to calls. However, there are no reports of disturbances in the areas where most of these congregations are located.

The current bloodshed takes place against the backdrop of some of the most ruthless colonization practices in the world, a series of dictatorships and unending political interference by world powers in search of Congo’s rich mineral resources–such as coltan, necessary for many electronic devices.

While the causes of conflict are complex, a major factor is President Joseph Kabila’s obstruction of last year’s elections. Kabila picked up presidential responsibilities in 2001 after his father, President Laurent-Désiré Kabila, was assassinated. Joseph Kabila was then elected as president in 2006 and re-elected in 2011, completing the maximum term allowed by Congo’s constitution.

War has been a constant throughout Joseph Kabila’s time in power, though until recently, the violence was mostly contained in the eastern part of the country. Now, the fighting has erupted in Central Kasaï Province and spread into five of the nation’s 26 provinces involving approximately 70 paramilitary groups.

The spark that ignited the atrocities in Central Kasaï occurred last August when Kabila’s soldiers killed Kamuina Nsapu, a local chief. This provoked a general uprising that doesn’t seem to have a central leader and has triggered latent tensions between ethnic groups. Many of the factions are recruiting child soldiers to fight with machetes and home-made guns against the modern weapons used by government forces.

“Many Congolese families are experiencing grief similar to ours as we mourn MJ’s [Michael J. Sharp’s] death,” said Rod Hollinger-Janzen, executive coordinator of Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission.

Charles Buller, also with Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission, is currently in Congo encouraging church leaders in the capital city of Kinshasa. He was scheduled to lead Congo Leadership Coaching Network seminars in Central Kasaï Province that were canceled due to the unrest.

“While there is deep frustration over the political and economic crisis, people are praying for a way [of] peace and order,” Buller wrote in an April 6 email. “The church has the opportunity to be a prophetic voice of justice and a calming presence of Christ’s peace in the midst of a devolving situation. It is imperative that we stand in solidarity with our Congolese sisters and brothers to this end.”

Watch Buller, church leaders, and our Mennonite brothers and sisters in action, continuing to be Jesus’ agents of reconciliation in Congo.

Stutzman to retire as Mennonite Executive Director in 2018

 

 

4.3. 2017 Written By: Mennonite Church USA staff

Ervin Stutzman, executive director of Mennonite Church USA, has announced his retirement effective in spring 2018. He has served in the role since January 2010.

The announcement came on Thursday, March 30, during the meetings of the church’s Executive Board, the body that is responsible for calling and hiring the executive director. In the months leading up to this summer’s Mennonite Church USA convention in Orlando, the board will form a search committee to find Stutzman’s successor and determine a timetable for the transition.

“The board receives Ervin’s announcement of his upcoming retirement with deep appreciation for his strong executive and pastoral leadership in Mennonite Church USA over these past eight years,” says Patty Shelly, moderator of Mennonite Church USA and chair of the Executive Board.

“Ervin’s time as executive director is part of his lifetime commitment to church ministry and service,” Shelly adds. “I thank God that, at this time in the young history of our denomination, we have had a person like Ervin Stutzman to lead Mennonite Church USA – someone with a deep commitment to Christ and love for the church, who has brought considerable administrative, pastoral and communication gifts to his work. Ervin’s steady and non-anxious leadership style has been a gift to the church, particularly in this stressful and polarized time in the life of our denomination.”

During his tenure as executive director of Mennonite Church USA, Stutzman played a key role in developing the Purposeful Plan to guide the work of the denomination while helping the church navigate a time of deep polarization and division.

“Despite all our differences across the church, it’s painful to see people going their own way, because I believe we’d be better together,” Stutzman says.

“It’s been a particularly challenging season for Mennonite Church USA,” he admits. “With the effects of the 2008 economic downturn, building a new facility (in Elkhart, Indiana), the controversy about same-sex marriage and gridlock and more, there have been a lot of things to work through.”

David Boshart, moderator-elect of Mennonite Church USA, says he is grateful for Stutzman’s service. “Mennonite Church USA has been so fortunate to have been guided by Ervin’s wise and seasoned leadership during this challenging chapter in our church’s history,” Boshart says. “Ervin has listened deeply to our constituency and offered keen analysis to assist us all in discerning how to be witnesses to God’s healing and hope. Ervin’s leadership was given to us ‘for such a time as this.’”

Stutzman has seen a wide swath of the church during his career. He estimates that he has spoken in about 400 congregations in his various roles and visited numerous others. He has traveled across the country and around the world.

Stutzman, who will turn 65 next year, says he decided it was time to retire and turn his focus closer to home. He said he recently read the book Necessary Endings, which gave him some guidance for his path.

“It reminded me again of life stages,” Stutzman says. “Everything you do comes to an end at some time or other. You need to find where those stages are and flow with that. Every beginning needs an ending.”

This felt like an appropriate time for this particular ending, he says, as the church is at a “change point” with the Future Church Summit scheduled during convention in Orlando this summer, which will reignite an Anabaptist vision and direction for the next segment of the church’s journey.

“I have a deep love for Mennonite Church USA and have a great deal of excitement for what the Future Church Summit process can do for the future of the denomination. I see this as an important moment of transition for the church, and I offer my prayers and support to the next generation of leaders in whatever way seems most useful to them.”

Stutzman began life in an Amish community in Kalona, Iowa, and grew up in Kansas. Together with his wife, Bonita, he spent nearly five years in Voluntary Service in Ohio, and was called as a part-time minister at Mennonite Christian Assembly in Cincinnati when he was 22 years old. He then entered churchwide service in 1982 when he was called as associate director for Home Ministries with Eastern Mennonite Missions. He combined that work with a half-time position as a district overseer for Lancaster Conference beginning in 1984 and then served as Lancaster conference moderator for nine years. During those years, he also served a term on the Mennonite Church General Board.

Stutzman completed his doctoral degree in rhetoric and communication at Temple University in 1993. In the late 1990s, he became professor of Church Ministries and then academic dean at Eastern Mennonite Seminary (EMS) in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where he and Bonita currently live and plan to remain in retirement. He served as Mennonite Church USA moderator from 2001 to 2003.

“I spent many years working long hours for the church,” Stutzman says. “I’ve been working full-time in some capacity for the church since 1982, and my jobs have involved quite a bit of travel. My wife and I felt we wanted to be able to slow down a bit and do more things together. My life has always been very full, and I look forward to having more time to spend on the many things I enjoy doing.”

Writing may be part of Stutzman’s post-retirement life, as he has already penned several novels — including the Return to Northkill historical trilogy, Tobias of the Amish and Emma, A Widow Among the Amish — along with the Being God’s People study guide and other titles. He also hopes to spend time in his hobbies of woodworking and remodeling.

And he plans to remain engaged with Park View Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, which remains an important part of his life and faith.

“I love the Mennonite church,” Stutzman says. “I wouldn’t want to be a part of any other.”

U.S. Bishops Chairman Commends Life Protections in AHCA, Expresses Concerns about harmful provisons that Will Impact the Poor

March 20, 2017

WASHINGTON—In a letter sent to the U.S. House of Representatives, Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida notes that, while the recently introduced American Health Care Act (AHCA) commendably contains key provisions in defense of life, the proposed legislation also creates “grave challenges for poor and vulnerable people that must be addressed” by Congress before passage.

In the letter sent to representatives on March 17, 2017, Bishop Dewane, Chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, highlighted the AHCA’s inclusion of vital life protections for the unborn, writing that they honor “a key moral requirement for our nation’s health care policy.”

However, the letter also stresses deep concerns regarding “serious flaws” in the AHCA, including major modifications to the Medicaid system and a new tax credit which, reportedly, will result in significant barriers to coverage and affordability for millions, particularly for low income persons and seniors.

Bishop Dewane underscored that “[i]n attempting to improve the deficiencies of the ACA, health care policy ought not create other unacceptable problems, particularly for those who struggle on the margins of our society.”  In quoting Pope Francis, the letter notes, “Health, indeed, is not a consumer good, but a universal right which means that access to healthcare services cannot be a privilege.”

Among other things, the letter also notes a lack of any changes to afford conscience protection against mandates to provide contraception and sterilization coverage or services.

The full text of the letter is available at:  www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/health-care/upload/letter-to-house-from-bishop-dewane-on-AHCA-2017-03-17.pdf

Connecting with Fellow Christians on Persecution

Kingdom Mission Society

by Alexei Laushkin

The week before last I had a chance to connect with Christian Churches Together as they held a two day gathering in Newark, NJ.  

One of the themes that stood out to me from the New Testament epistles is how consistently the Apostle Paul is exhorting the churches among the various cities to remember one another in love, to show compassion, and to build a sense of unity among the broader body of Christ. 

At the gathering in Newark I had the great privilege to hear from, talk with, and meet His Holiness Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II of the Syriac Orthodox Church. His Holiness was installed as Patriarch in 2014. To hear his living witness of the persecuted church in Syria and Iraq was literally breathtaking. Please join Kingdom Mission Society in regularly praying for His Holiness and the Syriac Orthodox Church and indeed all Christians and those suffering in Syria and Iraq. 

Meeting His Holiness and reflecting on the Epistles has convinced me more than ever that we are not communicating to our persecuted brothers and sisters that we are truly thinking of them and their well being and doing what the Lord may be asking each of us, if we had ears to listen, to do personally in supporting the broader body of Christ. In our work as Kingdom Mission Society we want to further and encourage and cultivate this kind of internal disposition among society members and supporters. We want to grow in this area of Christian love. 

If you are moved by events in Syria and Iraq, please consider supporting the relief and development arm of the Patriarchate the St. Ephrem Patriarchal Development Committee either as a church or denominational body, a diocese, or even in prayer or individually. If you want more information or to talk about what you might want to do please contact me directly (click here) and I can put you in direct contact for how to help. 

Blessings in Christ,

Alexei 

You can learn more about the Kingdom Mission Society HERE

Pope Francis fulfilling the vision of St. John Paul II

By Cardinal Blase J. Cupich

Over two decades ago, St. John Paul II asked the bishops of the world to help him chart a new way of exercising the ministry of the successor of Peter. In his encyclical “Ut Unum Sint” (“That They May Be One”), the saintly pope readily admitted that the papal ministry has caused an obstacle to Christian unity.

In that document, John Paul II identified a pathway forward for reforming the papacy. It is striking that Pope Francis, who in the opinion of many is a different kind of pope, is in fact relying on many of the insights of that decades-old encyclical as his point of reference in reforming not only the papacy but the church. Four of those insights come to mind as I reflect on the fresh and visionary approach Pope Francis is bringing to the entire life of the church.

The first one is synodality. Synodality is an approach to church life that involves the participation of each local church in the governance of the universal church, through deliberative bodies. John Paul II made it clear that if the Petrine Office was going to be reformed, it would need the input of all churches, especially the Eastern ones. From the beginning of his papacy, Pope Francis has taken steps to this end.

In addition to appointing a Council of Cardinals to help him reform the Roman Curia, he also revised the way the Synod of Bishops would be organized and operate. He urged bishops attending the synod to speak openly: “No one should say to someone, ‘You cannot say that.’” Pope Francis has made it clear that the church needs to be more decentralized, placing in the hands of local bishops and national conferences of bishops certain decisions that need not be made in Rome.

Dialogue is a second central theme in “Ut Unum Sint.” John Paul II understood that too often people talk past each other without listening. Pope Francis, like his predecessor, is pressing for a more humble approach to conflict and division, but also in the church’s pastoral ministry. The pope recognizes, for instance, that when it comes to moral decision-making, it is important for pastors to have a dialogical approach to their service of people. Pastors must clearly articulate the general norms and the rules of Christian life.

At the same time, the pastor cannot stop there. As Francis writes in “Amoris Laetitia,” “It is true that general rules set forth a good which can never be disregarded or neglected, but in their formulation they cannot provide absolutely for all particular situations.” Therefore, the pope calls for pastors to listen attentively, to use a dialogical approach when it comes to assisting people in their weighty moral decisions, taking into consideration the limits of people to act in certain cases, the extenuating circumstances and the brokenness that people suffer. “The church’s pastors, in proposing to the faithful the full ideal of the Gospel and the church’s teaching, must also help them to treat the weak with compassion,” he notes.

Continue reading HERE

CCT Call Christians to Pray for US Congress

 

For more than eight years the communions and organizations in Christian Churches Together have been calling the attention of members of our churches and all Americans to the moral task of eradicating hunger and poverty in our land.

The scriptures remind us again and again of God’s concern for the poor, “Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.”— Proverbs 14:31

During the last three weeks of March, the U.S. Congress will make critical decisions that will affect the lives of millions of our brothers and sisters living in poverty. The right decisions could alleviate and pull people out of poverty; the wrong decisions will increase poverty and put the lives of hundreds of thousands at risk.

We are grateful for the vast array of ways our churches are already helping millions of struggling people. We want to build on these efforts, learn from each other, and collaborate more closely. But we can, we must, do more.

We also recognize and encourage leaders in community, economic and public life who seek justice for poor people in our land. But we can, we must, do more. Our goal must be the elimination of poverty in this land.

We affirm our unanimous conviction that, our service to the poor and our work for justice is “at the center of Christian life and witness.” And we commit to renew our prayers, and to understand and live in faithfulness to our Lord’s teaching that when we serve “the least of these”, we truly minister to our Lord Himself.

We are leaders of the Christian community, not an interest group. We have no partisan political agenda. Together we believe that our faith demands and the people of this land yearn for concrete proposals that transcend divisive political divisions and place the lives and well-being of people above anything else.

In the spirit of Jesus, we call our brothers and sisters to lift the U.S. Congress and our President up in prayer, as they make decisions that will affect the lives of millions of our brothers and sisters living in poverty in our country and around the world.

 

Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski – Catholic Family
Rev. Gary Walter – Evangelical/Pentecostal Family
Archbishop Vicken Aykazian – Orthodox Family
Rev. Samuel C. Tolbert, Jr. – Historic Black Family
Rev. David Guthrie – Historic Protestant Family
Rev. Carlos L. Malavé – Executive Director CCT

Refugees and Immigrants: Welcoming the Stranger in Tough Times

March 20, 2017

6:30 – 8:00 p.m.

Gaston Hall,

Georgetown University

What are Catholic and religious teachings on refugees and immigrants? What is the Catholic Church doing and advocating? What are the human, pastoral, and policy impacts of recent executive orders, new policies on deportation, and political rhetoric on these issues? What constitute legitimate security, economic, and other concerns, and how can we respond? A range of experts, advocates, immigrants and refugees will come together to discuss these questions and more.

Featuring:

  • Fr. Leo O’Donovan, S.J., president emeritus of Georgetown University and interim executive director for Jesuit Refugee Service/USA.
  • Bishop Ricardo Ramírez, C.S.B., bishop emeritus of Las Cruces, NM, and member of USCCB Committee on Migration and Refugee Services.
  • Alfonso Aguilar, president of the Latino Partnership for Conservative
  • Principles and former director of the Office of Citizenship.
  • Aden Batar, a Muslim refugee from Somalia who is immigrant and refugee resettlement director for Catholic Community Services of Salt Lake City.
  • Ashley Feasley, director of policy for the Office of Migration Policy and Public Affairs at the USCCB.
  • Abel Núñez, director of the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN) and recipient of Georgetown’s John Thompson Jr. Legacy of a Dream Award.

 

RSVP HERE