The newSpin newsletter
February 24, 2015
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• Bishop Sean's Ash Wednesday letter to the diocesan community … The Scriptures tell us what God has done for us, but the question of how we should respond to this tremendous gift can be hard to answer. I don’t have an answer. Or, rather, I don’t have your answer. But when I meditate on God’s holy word, as the church asks us to do, I notice that after 40 days in the wilderness, 40 days of fasting, praying and wrestling with temptation, Jesus returns to the world he has always known, and this is what he says:"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” — Luke 4:18-19 Read on.
• Bishop Sean's column that was published in the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader … I am sure that I am not the only person to wonder whether getting out of bed on a cold morning to exercise, or letting a tempting tray of food pass me by untouched, is worth it. Are the things I do to become more fully alive, to become the person God is calling me to be, actually working? The Bible offers some surprising and conflicting guidance. Jesus certainly fasted and practiced self-denial. The 40 days of Lent are modeled on the 40 days that he spent in the wilderness after he was baptized by John. Yet the prophet Hosea says that God desires “mercy, not sacrifice,” and Hosea’s words made such an impression on Jesus that he repeats them to those who criticized him for counting outcasts and sinners among his disciples.
I take this to mean that God is not interested in sacrifice for its own sake. The fact that you’ve gone 40 days without a Bud Light doesn’t make God smile if the way you treat your family, your neighbors or people who live on the margins of our society makes God weep. Our disciples and resolutions are effective if they help to deepen our awareness of God’s love, clarify our sense of the things that God is calling us to do, and make us more willing to serve God and one another. None of this is to say that we shouldn’t go easy on the sea salt-and-vinegar potato chips for the next six or seven weeks. But we shouldn’t confuse means with ends.
The prophet Micah had a ready answer for those who asked him what kind of sacrifice God wanted from them. Was it rivers of oil? Thousands of rams? First-born children? No, Micah says. God wants you “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” If you are better able to do these things on Easter Sunday than you are today, you will have made good resolutions and had a holy Lent. Read it all at the Times Leader or the newSpin blog.
• Oliver Sacks on learning he has terminal cancer … [NYTimes] "When people die, they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate — the genetic and neural fate — of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death. cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude." Oliver Sacks, a professor of neurology at the New York University School of Medicine, is the author of many books, including “Awakenings” and “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.” Read on.
• Useful demographic and other information/research for parishes and dioceses available free … [The Episcopal Chuch] Here.
• Survey finds serious flaws in RC diocesan financial management … [NCR, Jack Ruhl, Analysis] The Catholic priesthood is aging at an alarming rate, and thousands of U.S. diocesan priests are expected to retire within the next few years. With most diocesan priest pension plans significantly underfunded, questions over where the money comes from to support them may point to a major crisis in the making. Fewer than 26,265 diocesan priests remain in the U.S. today and of them, only 68 percent -- about 17,900 -- are still in active ministry. Only about one-third as many new priests are being ordained each year to make up for the ones who are retiring, dying or leaving active ministry. Dioceses now have one retired priest for every two active priests, and half of all priests in active ministry are over the age of 60. Read on.
• RC bishops making renewed push on immigration … [Crux] Catholic bishops around the United States are ramping up their efforts to stymie anti-immigration forces, making direct pleas to their states’ governors, testifying before Congress, and even using theatrics to draw attention to their cause. Read on.
• The 'Pittsburgh Experiment' at 60: Making prayer an everyday presence … [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette] The Pittsburgh Experiment was one of the last major initiatives for the late Sam Shoemaker, a priest at Calvary Episcopal Church in Shadyside who was such an energetic advocate for one-on-one evangelism that the Rev. Billy Graham once said that no one “in our generation has made a greater impact for God on the Christian world, than did Samuel Shoemaker.”
Shoemaker, who died in 1963, was previously a parish priest in New York and influenced a recovering alcoholic, Bill Wilson, who went on to launch Alcoholics Anonymous. Wilson credited the priest with inspiring many of AA’s founding principles, including reliance on a higher power, mutual support and confidentiality in a small-group setting. Such principles — while less formalized — also found their way into the Pittsburgh Experiment. The Experiment is also explicitly Christian, while the “higher power” of Twelve Step groups often has taken on various definitions.
Since its founding, the Experiment also has spawned a retreat and conference ministry and an “Employment Anonymous” group for the jobless, and it helped inspire college ministries. Ground rules for Experiment groups are simple. What’s said there, stays there. Participants don’t have to be Christians, and they have a right to remain silent. It’s about experience, not doctrine. Read on.
•• Stay vigilant against bogus IRS phone calls and email … [IRS.gov] Here.
• The Chrism Mass … will be held on Thursday, March 19 at 11:00 at the Cathedral Church of the Nativity. At this service, the Bishop blesses oils, and the clergy renew their ordination vows. All are welcome, and those with ministries with the sick and in teaching are especially encouraged to attend. Lunch is provided.
• Bishop Sean's Ash Wednesday letter to the diocesan community … See above, under TopSpin.
• Bishop Sean's column that was published in the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader … See above, under TopSpin.
•• Resources ... Here.
Facebook: Diobeth ... Bishop Sean … Rick Cluett … Anne E Kitch … Bill Lewellis …
Twitter: Diobeth ... Rick … Bill …
The newSpin blog … for current and back issues of the newSpin newsletter, and more.
DioBeth.org … the website of the Diocese of Bethlehem.
•• Grace Montessori School Allentown, since 2007, has awarded 229 scholarships totaling $555,943 … That more than a half-million is an average annual scholarship of $2,428 per student and an average of $69,493 per year over eight years. The annual benefit fundraiser that supports some of these scholarships will take place March 20 at the Allentown Brew Works. Each year GMS awards scholarships based on financial need to approximately 1/3 of its students. Read on.
•• Prince of Peace, Dallas … Bishop Sean has approved the election of Father Joseph Rafferty as rector of Prince of Peace Dallas. He has been serving as priest-in-charge for a year and a half. His appointment as rector is effective immediately. Plans are underway for an Institution and Celebration of New Ministry to be held later this year.
•• Resources ... Here.
Episcopal/Anglican – beyond DioBeth
•• PA Episcopal bishops urge passage of non-discrimination bill … Bishops of the five Episcopal dioceses in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on February 11 called on the state legislature to pass the Pennsylvania Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in employment, housing, and other public accommodations. "Jesus commanded us to love one another, and he listed no exceptions," they said. "Were we not Christians, however, we would still support the Non-Discrimination Act. One does not have to profess a particular faith to understand that there is no justifiable reason to fire, evict or deny services to a citizen of our commonwealth based on considerations such as sex, race, religious beliefs or sexual orientation. It is simply unfair." Read on.
•• On Healing and Wholeness … [ENS] Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori issued a statement "On Healing and Wholeness." An excerpt: The tragic death of Thomas Palermo challenges us all to attend to the work of healing. We cannot restore what is past, but we can seek reconciliation and wholeness for all who have been affected – the Palermo family, Heather Cook, the biking community and others in Baltimore, the Diocese of Maryland, bystanders and onlookers who have witnessed any of these traumatic events. Read on.
• Churchgoing: steady decline in Britain, but sharp rise in London … [The Economist, Erasmus] It would be misleading to ascribe this to a sudden revival in conventional Anglican worship; the established church still has far more buildings than it can fill, and the era of Victorian piety, when many of those churches went up, will hardly come back. The real driver is London's emergence as a world city, where nearly 40% of the population was born outside Britain. Religion in the metropolis is less affected by trends in Europe (where Christianity is historically privileged but losing its grip) and more by trends in the world, where Christianity is shifting southwards and in favour of exuberant forms of worship such as Pentecostalism.
The upsurge in London's Christian practice takes many different forms, from Catholic masses in Tagalog (the tongue of the Philippines) and Polish to Pentecostal gatherings in Brazilian Portuguese and many other tongues. Black-majority churches, from Caribbean evangelicals to charismatic Africans, account for a big share of the rise. American-style church planting, with a conservative evangelical ethos, has had some success among middle-class professionals. Christianity's unconventional flourishing in London isn't merely a function of high immigration; another factor is the vibrancy of the London economy, which means that a church that owns even a tiny piece of property can support itself by renting it out.
It remains to be seen how this gloriously diverse new Christian constituency will respond to the latest, semi-political pronouncement from the bishops of the Church of England, which without endorsing any political party urged people to exercise the vote in the forthcoming election; it also advocated a "living wage", questioned the logic of nuclear deterrence and called for "structures of co-operation and trust" in Europe. Unfortunately many potential recipients may be too busy trying to earn that living wage and send part of it home to Africa or the Philippines to have much time to read church missives. Read on.
• Church of Engand accused of double standards over low wages … [RNS] The Church of England was accused of double standards on Monday (Feb. 23) for offering jobs in cathedrals at lower wages than those it has called on other British employers to pay their workers. Under the banner headline “Wages of Sin,” the Sun reported that it had found several advertisements for jobs in cathedrals that offered pay well below the “living wage” of 7.85 pounds ($12) an hour, endorsed by the Church and senior politicians.
Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said the Church recognized that no employer could ramp up wages overnight, and was working hard to get to a point where it was paying all of its workers the living wage. “It’s embarrassing. We’d prefer to be there. We’re getting there as quickly as we can,” Welby, the spiritual head of the 80-million strong Anglican communion, told the BBC. “It’s not the only area where we fall short of our own standards. We work on it as hard as we can,” he said. The report comes days after Anglican bishops published an open letter in which they criticized Britain’s “almost moribund political culture” ahead of a national election due on May 7. Read on.
•• TREC [TaskForce for Reimagining the Episcopal Church] … Partnering with ChurchNext, an online education company, TREC has published a series of free courses to get us all thinking about God’s dream for God’s church. These courses are called 1) Reimagining Church Leadership, 2) Mission and Leadership, and 3) Culture and Leadership. Instructors include theologian Dwight Zscheile, Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves, teacher and author Stephanie Spellers, rector and writer Winnie Varghese, and theologian Frederica Thompsett, to name a few. Click on the title of each course to learn more and to take each class for free. These are TREC’s gift to you. Each course will take an average learner about 45 minutes to complete and contains 4-6 video lectures. Students need not take the whole course, but can skip around and reach, watch, and learn at their own pace. No special software is required. Browse TREC's website.
•• Report to the Episcopal Church 2015 … [Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs press release] An innovative online magazine detailing the mission and ministry, accomplishments and achievements of the Domestic and Missionary Society during the current triennium, had been unveiled at the Executive Council meeting on January 9. It is available here and can be downloaded at no charge. Read on.
BackSpin – Do you remember?
• Oliver Sacks on learning he has terminal cancer … See above, under TopSpin.
• Was everything better when everything was worse? … [Barking up the Wrong Tree, Eric Barker] Trying to find happiness in a world so busy and complicated can seem impossible. What’s weird is that in so many ways our lives are objectively better than our grandparents’ lives were. We have more… yet we often feel worse. Don’t you wonder if life was happier when it was simpler? Who has the explanation for this? And more importantly, who has answers on how to fix it? I know someone who does. So I gave Barry Schwartz a call. He’s a professor at Swarthmore College and the author of the bestseller, The Paradox of Choice. Barry’s work explains why more choice can actually make us miserable and what we can do to simplify our lives and become happier. His fantastic TED talk on the subject has been viewed over 7 million times. Read on. [Bill] If you can get by the sight of the speaker dressed more for the gym than for the stage, you may find the TED talk linked above both entertaining and interesting.
• Lenten Resources
• Daily lenten meditations by Anne Kitch… Subscribe here.
• Mediator Allentown outreach missioner Twila Smith … has an absolutely wonderful listing of resources at her Pinterest site. No matter how challenging you might think it is to sign up to see Twila's resources, I think you will find that it's worth it. Her latest listing is Lenten Resources.
• A seven-part Episcopal Public Policy Network series, "Engaging Poverty at Home and Around the World." began Ash Wednesday, available here.
• United Thank Offering provides a daily scripture passage from the Daily Office through Facebook and Twitter (#unitedthankoffering).
• Trinity Bethlehem's "Lights in the Darkness" blog project … [Amy Spagna] will be back for a repeat engagement, beginning on Shrove Tuesday, Feb. 17. This year's reflections will be centered around themes of reconciliation and forgiveness, and will feature work by Trinity parishioners and staff, and several guest writers. The blog's home on the Web is lentenlightsbethpa.blogspot.com. If you would like to receive these daily reflections by email, please send Amy a note at email@example.com, and she'll be happy to add you to the list.
• Lent with ESC (Episcopal Service Corps)
• Practicing Lent, from the Diocese of West Texas
• #LivingLent is a new social media, photo-based reflection designed to draw participants into the Lenten story by creating 'living pictures' and modern interpretations of biblical art, from the Diocese of Texas.
• A rich resource list, from the Diocese of Olympia.
• Short, daily videos over the five weeks of Lent, from the Brothers of SSJE.
•• A new resource for personal reflection: Daily Prayer for All Seasons … is now available for free downloading here. Developed by the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music and authorized by the 2012 General Convention, the prayers in Daily Prayer for All Seasons are presented according to liturgical season beginning with Advent and progressing through Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, and Easter. In addition, two sections are offered for Ordinary Time: Creation and Rest. Read on.
•• Resources ... Here.
• Bishop Sean's column that was published in the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader … See above, under TopSpin
•• Resources ... Here.
•• Resources ... Here.
Rest in Peace
• John 'Jack' Willke, 89 … [WaPo] a father of the antiabortion movement, died Feb. 20 in Cincinnati. The Ohio physician who helped lead the movement to outlaw abortion in the United States supplied fellow advocates with arguments that included a widely rebuked claim about a rape victim’s ability to conceive. "Handbook on Abortion," a 1971 primer written by the Dr. Willke with his wife Barbara, a nurse, sold 1.5 million copies, according to the Associated Press, and was perhaps the most widely circulated text among antiabortion advocates. “No single English-language volume has serviced the antiabortion movement quite like Jack and Barbara Willke’s book,” The Washington Post reported in 1990. The handbook — which was translated into other languages — laid out the essential belief, held by Dr. Willke and his supporters, that life begins at conception and that abortion is therefore tantamount to killing. Read on.
His London-based agent, Barrie Marshall, said Cocker died Monday of lung cancer in Colorado, where he has lived for the past two decades. - See more at: http://www.legacy.com/ns/obituary.aspx?n=joe-cocker&pid=173558813#sthash.22Z9bcRa.dpuf
•• Clerical Errors: How are we training our priests? … [The Editors of Commonweal] Amid what the media has presented as a general feeling of optimism about the papacy of Francis, there are some matters that remain causes of concern among American Catholics. One of these is the current state of the priesthood, which has seen a dramatic decline in its numbers over the past forty years and a corresponding decline in new ordinations. At the same time, there are questions about the manner and consistency of seminary formation—including formation related to sexuality and sexual abuse—while parish communities express worries about the “ecclesiastical environments” created by priests who seem out of touch with the concerns of ordinary Catholics.
This package of stories on the priesthood features Paul Blaschko writing on his time as a seminarian in the archdiocese of St. Paul, Minneapolis, an experience that compelled him to tell his story “in the hopes of calling attention to what might very well be more widespread problems” in sexual formation for priests; Barbara Parsons on the “unraveling of a community” because of priests whose formation was poorly designed or misguided; and Mary Gautier on the challenges the church faces as new ordinations drop and the newly ordained endure “low pay, long hours, and often little professional or personal support beyond the seminary.”
• Episcopal Positions (NYC/DC) ... Here.
Ecumenism, Interfaith, Pluralism – or Not
Evangelical Lutheran Church
•• Resources ... Here.
•• Resources ... Here.
United Methodist Church
•• Resources ... Here.
Presbyterian Church USA
•• Resources ... Here.
• RC archdiocese of Cologne reveals $3.8 billion fortune … [AP] The Roman Catholic archdiocese of Cologne published financial accounts Wednesday, showing for the first time the full extent of its worldly wealth. The archdiocese has long been considered Germany's richest, but exact figures weren't known because the church never published its accounts. Documents posted on its website show Cologne had assets of 3.35 billion euros ($3.82 billion) at the end of 2013 … In 2013, the archdiocese received 573 million euros from church taxes paid by the 2 million Catholics living in the region around Cologne, famous for its Gothic cathedral. After adding other income and subtracting expenses — such as salaries — it generated a surplus of 59 million euros. Read on.
• San Francisco archbishop on crash course with city, state … [SF Chronicle] San Francisco’s archbishop is trying to make its Catholic schools more Catholic, but city and state officials are poised to push back, saying any effort to discriminate against employees will be met with legal action. In recent weeks, the Archdiocese of San Francisco caused dismay among teachers, students, parents and the public for introducing morality clauses into four Catholic high school handbooks as well as teacher labor contracts. Read on.
•• Resources ... Here.
• Think of Earth, not just your stomach, panel advises … [WaPo, Feb 19] The nation’s top nutritional panel is recommending for the first time that Americans consider the impact on the environment when they are choosing what to eat, a move that defied a warning from Congress and, if enacted, could discourage people from eating red meat.Members of Congress had sought in December to keep the group from even discussing the issue, asserting that while advising the government on federal dietary guidelines, the committee should steer clear of extraneous issues and stick to nutritional advice.But the panel’s findings, issued Thursday in the form of a 571-page report, recommended that Americans be kinder to the environment by eating more foods derived from plants and fewer foods that come from animals. Red meat is deemed particularly harmful because of, among other things, the amount of land and feed required in its production. Read on.
•• Google your symptoms? … [The Verge] Google is introducing high-quality medical data to its search engine, hoping to give users worried about that rash that won't go away some fact-checked peace of mind. Starting in the next few days, anyone Googling common health conditions will be presented with key information about their query including symptoms, treatments, and "details on how common the condition is — whether it’s critical, if it’s contagious, what ages it affects, and more." The internet giant knows it already has a massive audience for this information: internet-assisted hypochondriacs have been around for years now, and the company says that one in 20 Google searches are health-related. The data will be prominently displayed to users as part of the Knowledge Graph — those boxes of basic information that usually show up on the right side of searches carried out on laptops — and in some cases will be accompanied by "high-quality illustrations from licensed medical illustrators." Read on. Also here.
•• Flu shots ... Info from the CDC here and here. A lot of good info also at flu.gov.
• John Legend, onetime choir director at Bethel AME in Scranton … [WaPo] After winning Best Original Song for "Glory" for Selma, Common and John Legend spoke about voting rights and incarceration. "'Selma' is now because the struggle for justice is now," Legend said. "We know that the voting rights that they fought for 50 years ago is being compromised in this country today." He also said there are "more black men under correctional control today than were in slavery." The speech, and their performance of the song, left the Dolby Theater speechless and sparked a response on Twitter. [h/t WaPo] Legend was choir director at Bethel AME Church in Scranton for nine years, beginning as a 16-year-old. Read on.
•• Jon Stewart's America … [NYTimes Op-Ed, Timothy Egan] For Stewart, Fox News was not just a house of hypocrisy and endless source material. It was part of what made a great democracy harder to govern, and less likely to share a common narrative. He understood exactly what they were up to, even if some of their teleprompter readers never did. “I think that Roger Ailes’s great gift was mainstreaming that nativist, paranoid streak in American politics, and putting it on television in a much prettier, shinier box,” he told Rolling Stone last year. Read on.
• How TV made Christianity radical again… [WaPo, Alyssa Rosenberg] Two show have done something that almost nothing else in pop culture dares to attempt, depicting Christianity as a seismic force, something capable of producing profound transformation in both individuals and society. It's exciting to know that we have a television season where, on at least two shows, the contest for a person’s soul is a serious business. Read on.
•• Resources ... Here
• The 12 threats to human civilization, ranked … [WaPo, Feb 20, Matt McFarland] Earlier this month researchers at the Global Challenges Foundation released a thorough and unsettling look at what threatens human civilization. They define a civilization collapse as a “drastic decrease in human population size and political/economic/social complexity, globally and for an extended time.” The bad news is this is a long list. On the bright side, the odds are generally very low, but the risks should still be taken seriously. Read on.
As the weekly newSpin newsletter is completed, usually by Tuesday, it is uploaded to the newSpin blog and posted on Bakery and on other diocesan lists of some 4,000 addresses. Many recipients forward it to others. The newsletter comes, of course, with some spin from the editor. The views expressed, implied or inferred in items or links contained in the newsletter or the blog do not represent the official view of the Diocese of Bethlehem unless expressed by or forwarded from the Bishop, the Standing Committee or the Archdeacon as an official communication. If you think something about your parish or agency merits inclusion, send email to Bill. Comments are welcome on Bakery (if you are subscribed to that interactive list) and at the newSpin blog. Click at the newSpin blog in the right hand column on the title of the current newsletter. Then, make your comment below.
Bill Lewellis, Diocese of Bethlehem, retired
Communication Minister/Editor (1986-2010), Canon Theologian (1998-)
Blog , Email (c)610-393-1833
Be attentive. Be intelligent. Be reasonable. Be responsible.
Be in Love. And, if necessary, change. [Bernard Lonergan]