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Spiritualizing Charlottesville?

Spiritualizing Charlottesville?
Episcopal bishops focus on racism, bigotry, hatred and equality

By Mary Ann Mueller
VOL Special Correspondent
August 14, 2017

The violence which erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend was another flashpoint for Episcopal bishops to again step up and pontificate about racism, bigotry and hatred.

"The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia knew that trouble was coming," Rosalind Hughes wrote on Episcopal Cafe,"... and the bishops had asked its clergy to be prepared, with their prayers and presence ...."

"As racially motivated violence continues to plague our country, we Bishops of the Diocese of Virginia stand together with the Charlottesville Clergy Collective (CCC), working in opposition to the so-called 'Unite the Right' rally, an event being supported by numerous white supremacist organizations," wrote Virginia bishops Shannon Johnston (XIII Virginia); Susan Goff (Virginia-suffragan); and Ted Gulick (Virginia-assistant). "We are inviting all Episcopal clergy in the Diocese of Virginia to come to Charlottesville on Saturday, August 12, 2017, joining with other clergy and leaders from across the United States."

The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia has 237 working priests serving 182 congregations. Of the 237 active priests 99 are women.

"Our purpose will be to bear visible witness to the entirety of the beloved community in which people of all races are equal," the Virginia Episcopal bishops continued. "To make the most visible witness, clergy have been asked to wear clerical street clothes or a cassock (a stole is optional)."

According to the Charlottesville Clergy Collective website the ecumenical organization is "a group of clergy and interested lay persons who gather regularly to discuss and address the challenge of race relations in the Charlottesville and Albemarle region of Virginia." The organization was founded after the 2015 Mother Emanuel Church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina when it was realized that the pastors in Charlottesville didn't knew and trust each other enough to organize and deal with racial challenges in Albemarle County.

The Charlottesville Clergy Collective is billed as a "God-centered faith community of prayer, solidarity, and impact" which seeks to "establish, develop, and promote racial unity" within the area's faith leadership.

The Episcopal bishops of Virginia are recognized as a part of Charlottesville's "faith leadership" collective. As such they threw themselves fully into preparing for the "Unite the Right" rally.

"Your voice is needed!" the Virginia bishops collectively wrote. "As people who have been reconciled to God through Christ, we have been entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). In our judgment, therefore, the Church cannot remain silent in the face of those who seek to foment division."

Friday (Aug. 11) a headline in the Charlottesville Daily Progress read: "Faith leaders gather on the eve of 'hate-driven' Unite the Right rally." That gathering of faith leaders took place at St. Paul's Memorial which threw open wide its doors to welcome the various clergy. The Episcopal church is located on the University of Virginia's campus.

"After an afternoon of sunshine gave way to a brief evening rain shower and an overcast sky, clergy members and people of faith gathered in St. Paul's Memorial Church on University Avenue for a prayer service that was organized in response to the Unite the Right rally on Saturday," the Daily Progress reported.

St. Paul's has its beginning at the hands of Bishop Robert Gibson (VI Virginia). When he was elected bishop coadjutor in 1897, he made it as one of his episcopal goals to see the creation of an Episcopal presence at the University of Virginia.

"In looking for neglected persons, the condition of the boys at the University of Virginia caught my attention," the bishop reportedly said. "Without criticizing in the least degree the care extended to the students by the authorities at the University, I thought that it was perfectly plain that their own church was not doing its duty to the Episcopal boys."

The University of Virginia was established in 1819 by Thomas Jefferson, one of America's Founding Fathers. By the end of the 19th century 280 Episcopalians were enrolled in the Charlottesville-based institution of higher learning and in need of Episcopal spiritual care. So, to meet that need St. Paul's Memorial was founded at the beginning of the 20th century.

St. Paul's Memorial is one of several Episcopal congregations in the immediate Charlottesville area. Other Episcopal churches include: Christ Church, Trinity, McIlhany Parish, Our Saviour, and St. Luke's.

Today St. Paul's, an open and inclusive congregation, is under the leadership of three Episcopal clergy, two of whom are women. The university congregation has a current ASA of fewer the 250 souls which reflects a significant drop from a decade ago when Sunday attendance soared above 400. The University of Virginia's student body of more than 22,000 students return to classes next Tuesday (Aug. 22). The university's Episcopal church celebrates three Services of Holy Communion on Sunday and one on Tuesday. During the rest of the week either Morning or Evening prayer is read.

"The 8 p.m. multi-faith service included dozens of local and national clergy members who are visiting the city this weekend," the Daily Progress reported. "Along with various activist groups and movements, the clergy members were called to confront the hundreds of alt-right and white nationalist activists who have been planning for weeks to rally in Emancipation Park to protest the planned removal of the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee there."

Episcopal Cafe reported: "For some time, the white supremacists surrounded the church, but they were eventually disbanded by police for unlawful assembly."

Traci Blackmon, a United Church of Christ minister, who was a part of St. Paul's peaceful prayer service, tweeted as the church was besieged: "They are coming for the church! Police all around. They won't let us go outside. Y'all, these KKK are marching with torches!"

St. Paul's rector Fr. William Peyton was interviewed Sunday by the BBC. He said: "What I saw were protestors heading to the rally and it was a chilling sight to see van loads of people who had clearly come prepared for violence."

The Virginia bishops are not the only Episcopal bishops to make their thoughts known about the Charlottesville violence.

"For Christians, such ideas are appalling," said Bishop Jake Owensby (IV Western Louisiana). We are all God's children. In Christ we are all sisters and brothers. Every human being possesses infinite dignity, and it is our right, duty and privilege to respect each person we meet as God's beloved. Everyone is equal before God. Everyone should be equal under the laws of the land. ... Racism is a sin."

Bishop Eugene Sutton (XIV Maryland) added: "[This is] another display of bigotry and hatred. Another act of domestic terrorism. And another example of the collective failure of our nation to expend the moral and political capital needed to stop our spiral into racial and violent madness."

" Once again our nation's demon of racism has reared its head, spewing hatred and inciting violence. What we saw in Charlottesville was unmasked and ugly, culminating in a deadly act of domestic terrorism, " wrote Bishop Mariann Budde (IX Washington, DC). " We cannot expunge the sin of racism from our past and present, but we can redeem it. And we must."

" I fear that we have lost the desire to live in community," explained Bishop Edward Konieczny (V Oklahoma). "I fear that the world has been telling us far too loudly, and for far too long, that our primary desire above all else should be promotion of self-interest. I fear that the opinion that the ends justify the means, has resulted in a common message that whatever course of action we see fit to use to accomplish our goals can be justified: dishonesty, hatred, violence, etc...."

"How are we to respond, as Christians, in a way that condemns these actions, but does not contribute to the rhetoric of hate?" Bishop Samuel Rodman (XII North Carolina) and Bishop Anne Hodges-Copple (North Carolina-suffragan) collectively ask. "We will need to rediscover the deep roots of non-violence embedded in the gospel and the Jesus Movement: non-violence that calls us to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute others, to refuse to fight evil with evil, but to overcome evil with good."

Episcopal Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, formerly the XI Bishop of North Carolina, took to Twitter to respond to the violence which unfolded in Charlottesville.

"In the days and weeks to come, there will be much to discuss as the #JesusMovement responds to the violence and inequality in our world," he tweeted. "Today, as we remember in prayer those who died and were injured in the violent clashes in #Charlottesville ... In the days and weeks to come, there will be much to discuss as the Jesus Movement responds to the violence and ..."

"On Saturday afternoon we looked to television and computer screens to inform us of the developing tragedy in the South. To do so without reflecting on the same behavior and attitudes in our own towns here in Central Pennsylvania would be shortsighted," explained Bishop Audrey Scanlan (XI Central Pennsylvania) in Facebook. "As Christians, we are called to be peacemakers. We vow to embrace the dignity of every human being. We are called to a ministry of reconciliation in the name of Jesus. And this work is vital in our own neighborhoods and our own hearts."

Bishop Scott Barker (XI Nebraska) also took to Facebook to champion his role in witnessing a gay marriage while violence erupted in Virginia.

"While so many brother and sister bishops were standing against the deplorable and sinful ideology of white supremacy in #Charlottesville yesterday, I was in Central Nebraska presiding at the marriage of two wonderful men. Gay marriage is still a rare thing in greater Nebraska, let alone a standing room only gay church wedding!" the Nebraska bishop wrote. "But there we were, all casually attired at the invitation of the grooms (so wearing our Nebraska shirts, cowboy boots and sparkly jeans) gathered to say and show that by the power of God, it is always possible to overcome deep prejudice and fear ... gathered to say and show that as disciples of Jesus we will strive to be a reconciling force for God's kingdom no matter the hostility of the culture in which we make our home ... gathered to say and show that in God's time, if we fight the good fight, the power of God's grace will always and everywhere triumph over hate."

"This morning (Sunday) I'll stand with faithful preachers all over America condemning racism and white privilege from the pulpit," he continued. "but I'm also giving thanks as the sun rises here in middle America, for yesterday's celebration of Christ's love!"

Former Anglican priest Fr. Dwight Longenecker has a unique understanding of what happened in Charlottesville. The priest, a convert from the Church of England, is now a Roman Catholic priest serving in Greenville, South Carolina.

"I'll tell you what's happened in Charlottesville this weekend," the priest explained in his Standing on My Head blog."It is human beings revealing what lies within. It's real simple and it's been happening since Cain killed his brother Abel."

"It works like this," he continued. "Human being is unhappy ... He doesn't know why he's unhappy ... Somebody must be at fault ... He needs to blame somebody for his being unhappy ... It can't be his fault because he's convinced that he's a good person ... So it must be somebody else's fault ... So he gets together with other people who are unhappy ... They talk about why they are unhappy and conclude that it must be somebody else's fault ... The other person is to blame, but who is that other person? ... It's the people who are not like them ... It's the people who disagree with them ... It's the people of a different religion, a different race or a different belief ... Those people are the problem ... To get rid of the problem they conclude that they have to get rid of the people who caused the problem ... First they try to exclude those people ... Then they try to persecute those people ... Then they try to kill those people ... If only they can eradicate those other people then they will be happy ... Once they did get rid of them they felt so good that it was like a drug ... So they will try to get that feeling again like any addict does."

"Charlottesville has revealed to all of us what it means to be an unredeemed human being," he continued. "Only repentance can solve this problem for repentance is, at its very heart, the simple act of a person taking responsibility for themselves -- for their own happiness and by God's help, the solution to their problems. Then once they take responsibility for themselves they might start taking responsibility for the happiness of others."


Anglican Bishop Calls for Prayer in Wake of Charlottesville Conflict

From Bishop John Guernsey
Bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic:
August 14, 2017

A Call to Prayer

The horrific events today in Charlottesville, VA, call us to pray and intercede for our communities that are in deep conflict. Psalm 145 reminds us of the hope we have as we pray: "The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them." Please join in praying for the community of Charlottesville and for all communities in our nation that face conflict, that the Lord may deliver us from bigotry and violence, and bring healing and salvation to all people in our nation.

"O God, you have bound us together in a common life. Help us, in the midst of our struggles for justice and truth, to confront one another without hatred or bitterness, and to work together with mutual forbearance and respect; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

--Texts for Common Prayer

This statement was endorsed by ACNA Archbishop Foley Beach

Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline

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