Global Partnerships of the Episcopal Church

The Office of Global Partnerships serves as a bridge for developing and nurturing relationships between the Episcopal Church and our partners around the Anglican Communion, our ecumenical and interreligious partners, and with organizations such as the United Nations and the National Council of Churches. We are a resource for congregations and dioceses as they develop and foster their own relationships around the world. We actively develop resources to strengthen and facilitate the global mission engagement of the Episcopal Church. We highlight issues of international concern and, in cooperation with colleagues across the Mission Department, mobilize engagement in these issues throughout the Episcopal Church. Our ministry is guided by the mission priorities adopted by General Convention, which include the Five Marks of Mission and the Millennium Development Goals.

“The history of Jerusalem is the history of the world,” so begins historian Simon Sebag Montefiore’s book Jerusalem: The Biography.

I love history. It was always my favorite subject in school.

As a perPools of Bethesdason of faith, the opportunity to experience the history of Jerusalem takes on a deeper meaning.

While walking to a meeting in the Old City one day, my colleague Bob pointed to some ruins and said, “those are the pools of Bethesda, you know, where Jesus healed the paralyzed man.” (John 5:2-18) After our meeting, we walked out of Lions’ Gate and Bob told me to look straight ahead, “that’s the Mount of Olives.” We also walked along part of the Via Dolorosa, visited the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and drank water from Jacob’s Well (where Jesus asked the Samaritan woman for water and offered her living water, John 4:5-42)

We also worshipped with the community at St. George’s Cathedral – in Arabic and English – and I was reminded again of tSt. George's Cathedralhe great gift our tradition of Common Prayer. Even though my Arabic is limited to just a few words, I could follow along with the liturgy and felt deeply connected to the worship. The Cathedral is a beautiful place and community that lives out Archbishop Suheil Dawani and Dean Hosam Naoum’s vision of being a space of welcome for all people.

The opportunity to combine history and faith and walk where Jesus walked was remarkable, mind boggling, and, at times, a bit overwhelming in the best possible way.

They’re important, our history, our traditions. They matter. They help guide us. They help center us. They can bring us back when we wander away. They can connect us to places we’ve never been and people we’ve never met. You don’t have to love history to feel it moving all around you and helping shape the present.

While I am immensely thankful to have had the opportunity to experience the historical places, what will stay with me the most from this brief time in Jerusalem are the people and the modern-day expressions of and commitment to faith that I witnessed and heard about.

Led by Archbishop Suheil Dawani, the Diocese of Jerusalem stretches across Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Israel, and Palestine. It has 7,000 members in 27 parishes. While small numerically, the Diocese has a huge heart and the impact it has on its diverse community is astounding. There are 7 hospitals, clinics, and centers that provide everything from basic health care to specialized treatment of several kinds, including a full-service hospital in Gaza. Expert and compassionate care is provided to everyone regardless of who they are, where they’re from, or how much they can afford to pay.

The 20 educational institutions run by the Diocese offer K-12 education, vocational training, and educational opportunities for children with special needs. Again, all children are welcome regardless of their faith.

I had the opportunity to visit two diocesan ministries: St. Luke’s Hospital in Nablus and the Jerusalem Princess Basma Center.

Dr. Walid and SalwaSt. Luke’s was the first hospital built in northern Palestine. It dates back to 1900 and has a strong history of service. During our visit, we met with Dr. Walid Qirreh, the Director, and Salwa Khoury, the Public Relations Officer. They could not have been more gracious as they showed us around the hospital, introduced us to staff members, and shared the story of the ministry of St. Luke’s. I particularly appreciated that Dr. Walid and Salwa made sure to say hello to patients and their families as we were walking around. What struck me the most about St. Luke’s was the depth of dedication to and compassion and respect for the patients and their families that is the foundation for this ministry. It’s not just about physical care but a holistic care of the soul as well.

The day before we left to return home, we visited the Jerusalem Princess Basma Center, which specializes in caring for and empowering children with disabilities and supporting and educating their families. It offers an intensive child rehabilitation program that treats children from Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza. As part of this program, the mothers of all the children also receive psychosocial support, education, and training so they can continue the rehabilitation work at home. Physiotherapy is also offered for adults and the Center runs a vocational training program for adults with disabilities who work in a sheltered workshop and produce beautiful furniture, baskets, and tile boxes.

IbrahimThe Princess Basma Inclusive School has a student body of over 500 children, over 160 of whom are children with disabilities who receive additional support and therapy. Ibrahim Faltas, the General Director, walked us through the whole Center and introduced us to physiotherapists, teachers, administrators, and students. We saw classrooms that are fully accessible for all of the students who attend the school, visited the Autism Unit (including an fantastic multi-sensory room), and learned about the outreach programs in the West Bank and Gaza. As with St. Luke’s, the Princess Basma Center seeks to care for the whole person whoever they are, wherever they come from. In both places the sense of care, compassion, and dedication from the staff was palpable.

I’ve been back in the United States for just over two weeks now and there hasn’t been a day when some facet of my visit to Jerusalem hasn’t been on my mind. It is, without a doubt, one of the most powerful places I’ve ever been. I didn’t want to leave when it was time to go home and I can’t wait to go back. As I’ve tried to wrap my head around the whole experience and identify what exactly it is that spoke to me so strongly, I can’t really articulate a reason that would make sense to anyone else. Maybe that’s because it’s not really a reason but something deeper than that. However, I think a big part of it is this combination of the history and holiness of the place with the obvious dedication to peace, reconciliation, and community of the Diocese.

So, visit. Walk in the footsteps of Jesus and so many other faithful people who’ve gone before us. Walk alongside those who welcome everyone in the name of Christ today. Make a pilgrimage that honors the past but don’t miss the living and vibrant faith of the present. Visit the schools, hospitals, and churches of the Diocese of Jerusalem. Listen to the commitment to be a presence of reconciliation in a land of conflict and separation. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Remember that Jesus is more than someone we read about in the pages of our Bibles. Jesus is someone we have the opportunity to meet on a daily basis in Jerusalem and in our own communities.

“The history of Jerusalem is the history of the world,” so begins historian Simon Sebag Montefiore’s book Jerusalem: The Biography. I love history. It was always my favorite subject in school. As a person of faith, the opportunity to experience the...

“We pray for the peace of Jerusalem.”

I’ve heard these words before. I’ve prayed these words before. But they took on a deeper meaning after I heard them prayed while sitting in St. George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem. By that point, I had only been in Jerusalem for about 42 hours but I had already met some of the people whose presence in my life changed this prayer for me. I found myself thinking of it and praying it quite often during my brief time in Jerusalem - while sitting quietly in my room or in the Cathedral and while walking along the Nablus Road and through the Old City. It’s different when you can see the faces and hear the voices of people for whom this prayer is not an abstract concept but an immediate need and reality.

I also thought about these words found in the Books of Isaiah and Micah: “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” (Micah 4:3)

I don’t think I saw any swords or spears but I did see lots of guns and razor wire.

My favorite line from the Micah “swords and plowshares” verse is “but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.” (Micah 4:4) To me, this additional line makes the preceding ones that much more powerful because it shows us what a future without war and the weapons of war could look like.

Now, to be honest, I have no idea what a fig tree looks like. Maybe I saw some. Maybe I didn’t. I really don’t know. (Dendrologists, gardeners, and people with more tree knowledge than me, please feel free to laugh!) I did, however, see a lot of olive trees. So now, when I think about this verse from Micah, my fig trees look like olive trees.

The Olive Trees in the West Bankplace where I remember seeing the most olive trees was in the West Bank on the way up to Nablus to visit St. Luke’s Hospital. There were rows and rows of them – some clearly very young and some that looked like they had always been there, silent witnesses to history both past and present.

To get into the West Bank from Jerusalem you pass through a checkpoint in the separation wall. I took a few pictures of it as we drove past and then I just stared at it until it was out of sight. The wall remains one of the abiding images of my visit. And sometimes, when I close my eyes, the wall merges with the peaceful image from Micah and I see the wall looming over the trees and the trees consumed by its shadow.  

It’s not a particularly hopeful image and certainly not a peaceful one. And yet, for me, it symbolizes the tension and challenge of living a life of peace in the midst of conflict and complexity. Even in the shadows, life continues.

The commitment of Christians in the Holy Land is to pray for peace and then live out that prayer in their daily lives by recognizing that we are all children of God regardless of our religious belief or ethnicity; by actively choosing to be a presence of reconciliation in their communities; and by reflecting the love and light of God in the shadowy places of life. The Diocese of Jerusalem lives its prayers for peace by providing education and healthcare to all who need it regardless of who they are or how much they can pay, empowering women, and developing youth leadership in parishes and communities.   

So, we pray for our brothers and sisters in the Diocese of Jerusalem for whom the act of existing peacefully is a form of resistance to the conflicts around them and whose choice to be a presence of reconciliation is a witness to God’s love for this imperfect world of ours.

And we all pray for the peace of Jerusalem, a holy city for so many people. A witness to the worst humanity has had to offer time and time again. And yet, home to an inextinguishable hope that reminds us that a different way is possible and calls us to be our best selves as we follow that way together.

“For all the peoples walk, each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever.” (Micah 4:5)

“We pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” I’ve heard these words before. I’ve prayed these words before. But they took on a deeper meaning after I heard them prayed while sitting in St. George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem. By that point, I had only been in...
Tagged in: Anglican Communion

On Saturday, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry tweeted the following: “Jesus taught us to both love our neighbor, and to be neighbors. Refugees are our neighbors, and we are their neighbors. Luke 10: 25-36”

On Sunday, I sat in a pew at the Church of the Heavenly Rest in New York City and listed to the Rev. Matthew Heyd, the church’s rector, preach a powerful sermon, based, in part, on this line from the Book of Jeremiah: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” Fr. Heyd spoke about the church’s long history of community engagement and living out the reality that “through the love of Christ there is no they. There is only we.”

I have worked on the staff of the Presiding Bishop for almost six years. In that time, I’ve met a lot of neighbors I didn’t know I had and am incredibly fortunate to now call many of them friends. I use the pronoun “we” a lot.

My neighbors come from across our own Episcopal Church - which includes members in the United States, Puerto Rico, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Venezuela, Curacao, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Haiti, Honduras, Micronesia, Taiwan, and the Virgin Islands.

My neighbors come from around the Anglican Communion - a family of Anglican, Episcopal, and United Churches that spans the globe and includes over 165 countries.

My neighbors also come from the broad network of ecumenical and interreligious friends our Church has and from places like the United Nations.

My neighbors speak many languages, worship God in many ways or not at all, and vote for candidates across the political spectrum.

The thing that unites all of us is that we are neighbors – to one another and to countless others we simply haven’t met yet. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have differences of opinion – political, theological, and otherwise. However, the commitment to truly being a neighbor is a commitment to staying in relationship, to keep talking, to keep reflecting, and, most importantly, to keep listening.

As a member of the Global Partnerships Office staff, being a neighbor means that we strengthen and rebuild relationships around the world. We support the parishes and dioceses across The Episcopal Church in their efforts to do the same. Sometimes this work is public and sometimes it’s more private; there are visits to partners that are shared through the Episcopal News Service and on social media and there are also quiet conversations over coffee or tea and between meetings or workshops at conferences. All of it is a part of "changing the world from the nightmare it often is into the dream that God intends,” as our Presiding Bishop likes to say.

The true gift of loving my neighbors and being a neighbor is that it helps me fully live into my identity as a Christian. In our Baptismal Covenant, we answer a series of questions with “I will, with God’s help.” I can’t be who I am without God and I also can’t be who I am without community. I can’t be who I am in isolation.

My faith is inherently relational and incarnational. I am who I am because of my relationship with God and I believe that God is present in all people and in all places. Sometimes that’s really hard. Sometimes I need others to help me focus or refocus. But that’s the gift of Christian community – of having neighbors and being a neighbor. We invite others into our lives and we are invited into theirs -  not because any of us know more than the other, but we may know differently. We are stronger together because through our different experiences, thoughts, dreams, prayers, and hopes, we have a clearer view of the world as it can and should be. 

William Sloane Coffin by Br. RoyThese words from the late William Sloane Coffin, a former Senior Minister at The Riverside Church here in New York City, hang on the wall in my office - a gift from a neighbor who has become a close friend: “May God give you grace never to sell yourself short; grace to risk something big for something good; grace to remember that the world is now too dangerous for anything but truth and too small for anything but love.”

This blessing forms a perfect complement to the Parable of the Good Samaritan, which Bishop Michael quoted on Saturday. The parable shows us the journey of transformation that takes place in the lawyer’s mind and heart. He goes from asking who his neighbor is to understanding how to be a neighbor himself.  May we all have the courage to take Jesus’ command at the end of the parable to heart and live it out in our relationships with our neighbors both near and far: “Go and do likewise.”

On Saturday, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry tweeted the following: “Jesus taught us to both love our neighbor, and to be neighbors. Refugees are our neighbors, and we are their neighbors. Luke 10: 25-36” On Sunday, I sat in a pew at the Church of...
Tagged in: United Nations

“No peace which is not peace for all, no rest until all has been fulfilled.”

Dag Hammarskjöld

I recently attended the third annual Symposium on the Role of Religion and Faith-Based Organizations in International Affairs, which was held at the United Nations and co-organized by the United Methodist Church, the World Council of Churches, and the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. It focused on just, inclusive, and sustainable peace. All of the speakers commented on the importance of a holistic view of peace - one that echoes the Old Testament prophet Micah’s call for the transformation of swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks and demands that we do not learn (or teach) war anymore. Tellingly, peace, to Micah and the Symposium speakers, also includes freedom from fear: “…and no one shall make them afraid…” (Micah 4:3b-4a)

If the cessation of ongoing violence is essential to keeping the peace, the elimination of fear is imperative for building peace – a just, inclusive, and sustainable peace that allows for development, education, the eradication of poverty, and the empowerment of women and girls. The concept of an integrated and interconnected peace served as the foundation for each presentation by representatives from a variety of faith-based, state, academic, and UN contexts. All of the speakers shared a nuanced view of the important role that religious peacemakers, leaders, and institutions can play – and are already playing - in the creation of a more just and peaceful world.

Dr. Ganoune Diop, the Director of Public Affairs of the General Conference of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, told symposium participants to remember that “peace is a multifaceted reality.” It is relational, expresses itself holistically, and is ultimately the “act of building wholeness.”

Dr. Mohamed Elsanousi, the Network Director of the Secretariat of the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers, shared that he sees a very clear increase in the presence of religious actors in many traditionally secular contexts, including at the recent annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos. Mr. Elsanousi’s work brings together religious and state actors to build partnership and understanding. He sees the role of faith-based communities as essential to broader peace initiatives, particularly in assisting in the creation of “safe space for meaningful dialogue.”

Dr. Jeffrey Haynes, a professor of politics and the Director of the Centre for the Study of Religion, Conflict and Cooperation at London Metropolitan University, shared that faith-based actors tend to be more active in the transition period between conflict and post-conflict and work to foster reconciliation. He sees this work as essential for achieving improved human development. Religious peacemakers can provide emotional and spiritual support and effectively mobilize among local communities. Dr. Ulrich Nitschke, of the International Partnership on Religion and Sustainable Development, also highlighted the added value religiously motivated actors bring to peace negotiations precisely because of their community ties: “They are close to local communities and can identify the burning needs in ways that others may not be able to.”

The final panel session of the symposium featured state and religious representatives from the ongoing peace processes in the Philippines and Colombia. Secretary Jesus Dureza, the Presidential Adviser for the Peace Process (in the Philippines), shared that the government is seeking to engage with the wider community as part of their process. There are bishops from multiple denominations as well as Muslim clerics working alongside the government in these initiatives, with Secretary Dureza sharing that the government feels that “religious leaders are important partners in engaging the local communities.”

Monsignor Hector Fabio Henao, the Director of Caritas Colombiana, spoke of the work churches and faith-based organizations are doing in Colombia, highlighting, in particular the importance of accompaniment, listening, and the creation of safe spaces for conversation at the local level. He believes it is important to lift up “local experiences of peace” which encourage people to reflect on their immediate environment and personal choices about dealing with conflict in new and transformative ways. Peacebuilding, according to Monsignor Henao, works “…to destroy barriers and walls of hostility in the effort to create a new humanity…” that includes everyone.

Monsignor Henao’s Biblically based vision complemented an earlier discussion of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals as a framework for peace. The SDGs were outlined in a document entitled Agenda 2030: Transforming our World and adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015. They were designed to enhance and replace the Millennium Development Goals that expired that year. Thomas Gass, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, spoke compellingly about the UN’s 2030 Agenda as an interconnected and interdependent vision of a shared future for the world. The 2030 Agenda presents a “shared vision of humanity” that seeks to ensure that no one is left behind and “…builds bridges of cooperation and understanding to affirm the dignity of all.”

The affirmation of dignity is something that should speak to us as Episcopalians. In our Baptismal Covenant, we commit ourselves to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” These words help frame how we live out our faith just as the 2030 Agenda helps the wider world live out its commitment to building just, inclusive, and sustainable peace in which everyone is free from fear. There is still so much that must be done, but I left the Symposium with a deeper knowledge of and appreciation for the faith-based and secular work that is already being done and that will continue to include more and more people. And that gives me something else that is key to our daily efforts to create a culture of peace: Hope.

*********

Quote from Dag Hammarskjöld's Markings (Vintage Books, October 10, 2006, p. 35) 

“No peace which is not peace for all, no rest until all has been fulfilled.” Dag Hammarskjöld I recently attended the third annual Symposium on the Role of Religion and Faith-Based Organizations in International Affairs, which was held at the...

Today marks the three-year anniversary of the outbreak of open conflict and fighting in South Sudan. The Rev. Ranjit K. Mathews, Staff Officer for Africa Partnerships, has shared a reflection about his visit to South Sudan earlier this year. 

I remember it like it was yesterday.

On the surface it looked like a scene you would see on a typical Sunday morning in many churches around the world. People were dressed in their Sunday best; hymns were sung; the lessons were read; and the Gospel was proclaimed. And then, there was preaching – preaching like I had never heard before. The Rev. Dr. Joseph Bilal was preaching at a packed All Saints’ Cathedral in Juba, South Sudan. He was preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the midst of a civil war. You could have heard a pin drop it was so quiet as people listened to the Good News amidst the despair and horror that have become common place in South Sudan. 

As a foreigner, a guest in South Sudan, I was struck by how the normal act of going to church felt anything but normal as I sat there and thought about what was going on outside the walls of this Episcopal Cathedral in the world’s newest country.  

Listening to friends in South SudanI had spent a lot of time with Joseph before I heard him preach. He spent several days with my colleagues from the American Friends of the Episcopal Church of the Sudans (AFRECS) and me, accompanying us as we met with the Justice, Peace, and Reconciliation Commission of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan (ECSSS). He is a man of integrity who lives out his faith in the most trying of circumstances. As he preached, his faith, integrity, and deep commitment to his people were on display for all to see, hear, and learn from. He spoke of the desperate need for reconciliation in South Sudan and he called on the government and opposition forces to repent. He spoke with boldness about the mass atrocities that were being perpetuated. The gang rapes. The incredible turmoil that has taken over the country.

I’ve heard powerful preaching before, but never like this. I’ve never sat in a pew and listened to a sermon that could cost the preacher his or her life. That is the gift that Joseph gave me and everyone else in that Cathedral. We saw a man of immense faith living out his vocation as a priest and fully embracing the Gospel imperative to preach the Word of God. He spoke truth to power and didn’t pull any punches. What I heard that day was a clarion call for Christians to live out their faith boldly, even when doing so could have the harshest of consequences.

Joseph must have known that there were members of the government who were in the congregation that day and yet he felt it was less risky to tell the truth than it was to stay silent.

We do not all encounter the same realities that our brothers and sisters who live in the midst of daily conflict and violence do. And yet, as Joseph Bilal reminded everyone that day, we are all called to claim our faith boldly and follow the way of Jesus of Nazareth. When we do this, we look at the world through the lens of our faith in the God who loved us so much that he came to be present with us here on earth. We see the ongoing violence, massive food insecurity, and the real threat of genocide in South Sudan. We see this and we know that we are called to pray for and with our brothers and sisters there. We are called to speak up and speak out on their behalf in our churches. We, like Joseph, are called to have the courage to take up the mantle of Luke 4:18, “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…”

Walking with brothers and sisters in South SudanIn times like these it is easy to feel lost, to give into despair, and to lose hope. The season of Advent reminds us that we have the opportunity to wait and watch for the Christ child to be born in our hearts anew. And with the reminder that Christ has always been present, is present, and will be present in us, around us, and through us; may we step out in faith and let our Sudanese brothers and sisters know that they are not forgotten and that we will be with them in thought, word, and deed.

It seems appropriate to end this in the words of Canon Ezra Lawiri, the well-known Sudanese teacher, priest, and Bible translator, “but God is not defeated!”

To learn more about how you can support the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan, please visit www.afrecs.org.

For an in depth view of what is currently happening in South Sudan, please watch the recent United States Institute of Peace seminar “Not On Our Watch in South Sudan” available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WAr7XvzIfZs   

Today marks the three-year anniversary of the outbreak of open conflict and fighting in South Sudan. The Rev. Ranjit K. Mathews, Staff Officer for Africa Partnerships, has shared a reflection about his visit to South Sudan earlier this year.  I...

“Reconciliation is the ultimate test of Christian mission." Presiding Bishop Michael Curry

These were some of the provocative words we heard at the recent GEMN (Global Episcopal Mission Network) conference in Puerto Rico. Even more provocative was the question addressed to a group of missionaries sharing their own stories of mission in a small group, "how does a missionary do reconciliation?"

Little did we know that 2 days after returning from this conference would we be witnesses and part of one of those missionary moments of reconciliation. 

A community who experienced a schism 12 years ago in the northeast of Brazil, a community divided, wounded, church buildings, or I should say, spiritual homes, taken and then left abandoned, ruined, brought a people to this moment in time. 

After 12 long years of struggle, legal battles, waiting, they finally won their properties back just 2 months ago. Finding the structures in ruin at first was overwhelming, how do we move forward in the midst of this? Something not unfamiliar to The Episcopal Church, and even to our own Diocese of Virginia.

But the Bishop of Recife, Dom João Peixoto, did not skip a beat in celebrating the realm of new possibilities and was never daunted by the challenges ahead. His enthusiasm, leadership, and vision led the way forward to jump in, roll up his sleeves, and start rebuilding. 

Rebuilding not just the damaged physical structures, but rebuilding the body of Christ.

And the excitement, pure joy (beleza pura) was palpable in the church on the Feast of Corpus Christi, extremely apropos. 

At the end of the XXXI Diocesan convention, and the end of the closing Eucharist at the parish of Bom Samaritano, Recife, the closing song "A New Moment", singing a new song, could not keep this community from jumping out of their seats, pouring into the aisles and singing and dancing around their church, their home, hands uniting them in this celebration of life, community, a true reconciliation moment we could only witness to. One in the Body of Christ. Rebuilding the body of Christ together. Moving forward together. 

We had the honor as missionaries to be invited to this diocesan moment, offering as a sign of these bonds of affection a cross of St. Damian at the opening Eucharist. This cross tells the story of St. Francis, who while praying and pondering the challenges ahead, received a message from the Lord, "Francis, don't you see my house is crumbing apart? Go, then, and restore it."

Our parish of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Richmond, VA offered this small gift, this icon of the Cross of St. Damian, which was graciously received by Bishop Peixoto and the community at the offertory as we brought it forward.  He immediately placed it on the altar where a similar one once stood many years ago and was lost during this painful period of division.   

Our love is tested when we are at odds with someone else. When we feel hurt and angry for something someone has done to us. We were witnesses and bridges of how true reconciliation is not cheap. It cost God the death of His only Son. How far do we follow?  

May this cross of St. Damian remain and remind all of us that we are all given the glorious ministry of reconciliation, wherever we may be. From far away lands to our own backyards.

Heidi Schmidt and Monica Vega are missionaries of The Episcopal Church serving with the Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil

“Reconciliation is the ultimate test of Christian mission." Presiding Bishop Michael Curry These were some of the provocative words we heard at the recent GEMN (Global Episcopal Mission Network) conference in Puerto Rico. Even more provocative was...

How wonderful to gather with you today as the 60th [session of the] UNCSW begins. Voices of faith have long been heard alongside member states working together for the empowerment of women and children and men. The history for some of us in this room began with Beijing and even more in earnest with Ecumenical Women 2000.  Anglicans were first an official delegation in 2002 when there were 4 (ask Elizabeth Loweth or Alice Medcof or Phoebe Griswold or Marge Christie or Tai and they could tell us for sure). The next year there were 11 from around the world. And in 2004 there were representatives from all the 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion. But that is only the number of delegates. Countless volunteers over the years as part of AWE [Anglican Women’s Empowerment] and other groups offered hospitality, side events, welcome, resources, and so much more!! Today girls and men have become an integral part of UNCSW.    During these two weeks there will be moments sharing the story, this history-- to remember and to plan for the future. I offer this brief synopsis today, however, not as a history lesson but as a JESUS lesson - and perhaps as an Elisha lesson.  AND most of all as an invitation to claim the witness and power of the women in our biblical texts today - which were AMAZINGLY  appointed for the 5th  week of Lent. 

Each is about healing and resurrection: Elisha who heals the Shunammite Woman’s son and Jesus who brings Lazarus to life.  But it is the women who brought these healers where they needed to be.  The women who were the messengers, the women who refused to give up when others were paralyzed by mourning, the women who proclaimed the possibility of new life and redemption, the women who named Jesus as Messiah. And it was the women whose suffering transformed Elisha and Jesus and brought them into the circle of their pain and grief. The healing power of Jesus and Elisha was evoked by the suffering of others. 

We who gather here today for this 60th [session of the] UNCSW know something about suffering. We come to the UN, not just to attend meetings, write statements, or to network, important as that is. We come because we too, like the women in today’s texts, like Mary and Martha and the Shunammite woman, are bound by a sisterhood of suffering; compelled by our faith in Jesus and the Gospel to speak and to act on behalf of a world which is so in need of resurrection and new life; to bring healing power to bear. 

Now, Sisterhood of Suffering is not my phrase. It is yours. Many of you may remember. Back in 2007, our beloved Anglican Communion was in conflict - not unlike that of today. And as the women gathered for the 51st UNCSW, we did not want those conflicts to blind us to the needs of our sisters and brothers around the world: for food, for education, for clothing, freedom from violence, from war or rape. The Anglican Communion statement to the UN and a similar statement sent to the Primates signed by over 80 Anglican women proclaimed:  “Our sisterhood of suffering is at the heart of our theology and our commitment to transforming the whole world through peace and justice.  Rebuilding and reconciling the world is central to our faith.” We at the 60th UNCSW are here these two weeks to continue that work and to gain strength for the Gospel journey of rebuilding and reconciling the world. 

It is the witness of these Biblical women who taught us this so well. Read their story carefully again and notice that  Mary and Martha and the Shunammite woman compelled the men around them to engage in the healing that they were able to offer from God. These and many more  who give us the courage to speak and act here at the UN, in the market place, in the public square; to move out from the bubble of buildings or churches or even our families –out into the world on behalf of ourselves and others who are suffering.  We claim that the power to be so BOLD, to speak, even when some, citing scripture, would challenge women to be silent, comes from Jesus himself. We, like those biblical women, will not be deterred.

Recognizing Elisha as a man of God, when her son falls ill unto death the Shunammite goes to find Elisha. Her husband and family tried to dissuade her. “It is too late,” they may have said. Elisha’s servant, Gehazie, wants to push her away.  She does not go.  Elisha himself tries to send his servant instead but the woman will have nothing of it.  Finally, Elisha, seeing her bitter distress joins her in the sisterhood of suffering. Seeing her bitter distress, he goes to her home where the son is revived.  And she praises God. 

The same determination comes from Mary and Martha in the story of the raising of Lazarus.   When her brother dies, it is Martha who is the messenger for Jesus begging him to come.  The sisters, claiming their bold relationship with Jesus, chide:  “If you’d been here this wouldn’t have happened. But even so, You can still make it right.” And it was Martha who proclaimed Jesus’s identity:  “You are the Messiah, the Son of God”—even as the disciples remained confused and wandering.   

Here too --- it is the suffering that brings Jesus to the women and to Lazarus….He weeps as he joins the sisters in their own pain. In the presence of this pain, Jesus calls Lazarus from the grave:  “Lazarus! Come out! Unbind him and let him go!”

Mary and Martha and the Shunammite woman were bold women, unbound and free in their love and discipleship. Uppity perhaps we might call them today, but uppity in the care of others. Uppity because they were empowered by some deeper sense of themselves not of their own making, empowered to act, to draw those whom they needed (Elisha and Jesus to name but two) into their own sisterhood. 

These three and so many others are our witnesses as we work together in these next weeks and beyond.  We are bound to this biblical witness and to each other by the wounds of God’s broken and hurting world so much in need of healing. We are bound, not by one political party or another, not by one denomination or another, not by one country or church or even by one faith or another, but by this sisterhood of suffering and Jesus who knows suffering well and gives us hope and power to address it.   

Today’s world needs that sisterhood more than ever. It is a sisterhood of suffering, not bound by burial cloths, but by a God who redeems us, claims us, and sends us into this very public square; undeterred, boldly proclaiming the possibility of wholeness – our own and that of God’s creation. 

Preached on Monday, March 14, 2016 at the Chapel of Christ the Lord at the Episcopal Church Center in New York, NY. Texts: 2 Kings 4:18-37 and John 11:17-34

 

How wonderful to gather with you today as the 60th [session of the] UNCSW begins. Voices of faith have long been heard alongside member states working together for the empowerment of women and children and men. The history for some of us in this...

Human trafficking is a global scourge affecting The Episcopal Church and all member provinces of the Anglican Communion. Countering this criminal phenomenon has been a mission priority for The Episcopal Church for decades, with General Convention passing resolutions and policies on human trafficking even as the United Nations was developing its global international legal framework to overcome trafficking in persons in the early 2000s. As Episcopalians’ awareness of human trafficking has increased, so has the number of local Episcopal programs and ministries providing critical information, resources, education, training, advocacy, counseling and other services.

One such ministry is that of New York’s Diocesan Task Force Against Human Trafficking, which recently displayed the UN GIFT Box at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the diocesan headquarters. Yvonne O’Neal, member of the Task Force, Team Leader for the GIFT Box initiative, member of the UN’s NGO Committee to Stop Trafficking in Persons and co-chair of the UN’s NGO Committee on Sustainable Development, reports on its impact.

A picture is worth a thousand words and the GIFT Box that was on display at The Cathedral of Saint John the Divine from November 2015 to January 2016 served as a graphic reminder of the nightmare that is human trafficking. The Task Force against Human Trafficking of the Episcopal Diocese of New York displayed the GIFT Box in the Cathedral during the Diocesan Convention so all members of the Diocese could see it. It was then on display outside by the Peace Fountain through the end of January 2016.

The GIFT Box is a walk-in piece of public art that was originally launched during the London 2012 Olympics by STOP THE TRAFFIK and the United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN GIFT). On the outside it looks like an enormous gift, but the pictures and stories inside the box tell about the insidious evil that is human trafficking. The GIFT Box introduces visitors to the reality of what human trafficking is like and causes people to take note.

A cadre of volunteers, including three from the Task Force, were trained to staff the box. It was a great opportunity to talk to people, not only from New York, but from different parts of the world who visited the GIFT Box. Task Force member Christina Hing vividly recalls the 7th grader from the Cathedral School who was visibly moved when he entered the box and read every word. The young man remarked, “This is very interesting.” This was probably the first time this young man, as well as many of the other visitors, heard about human trafficking.

The presence of the GIFT Box was a teaching moment for nearby schools. One group of young folks from an afterschool program visited, asked lots of questions and took copies of the Task Force’s brochure home with them. These young people can be advocates for change. Everyone who visited the GIFT Box was asked to sign a letter asking Congress to reauthorize the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act.

While the GIFT Box was inside the Cathedral, volunteers mounted a big social media campaign to let people know of its presence. One of my friends stopped by after he saw something I posted. In late December, the GIFT Box caught the eye of WCBS reporter Lynda Lopez, whose podcast is available online. We are grateful for the wide publicity and interest that her reporting generated.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime has noted that trafficking in persons is one of the fastest growing means by which people are enslaved. It is the fastest growing international crime. Human trafficking is the second largest source of illegal income worldwide - exceeded only by drug trafficking. According to the International Labor Organization, 5.5 million children are the victims of human trafficking, including sex exploitation, forced labor, and as prison/child soldiers.

The Diocese of New York’s Task Force Against Human Trafficking, chaired by the Rev. Adrian Dannhauser, aims to educate and advocate against human trafficking. We seek to bring greater awareness that this is a problem that exists all over the world, throughout in the United States – no State is immune – and that it is a big problem within our own Diocese. We urge people to learn more and see how they can be advocates for change. Any suspicious activity that looks like another human being is in captivity should be reported to the police or to the national hotline at 1-888-3737-888.

Yvonne O’Neal, Member, Diocesan Task Force Against Human Trafficking; Team Leader, GIFT Box at CSJD; Co-chair, NGO Committee on Sustainable Development; Member, NGO Committee to Stop Trafficking in Persons

Human trafficking is a global scourge affecting The Episcopal Church and all member provinces of the Anglican Communion. Countering this criminal phenomenon has been a mission priority for The Episcopal Church for decades, with General Convention...


The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence
November 25th – December 10th, 2013

 November 25th is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the first day of the annual 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence campaign. Each year, from November 25th through December 10th (International Human Rights Day), individuals and communities around the world make a special effort to raise awareness and advocate for change in our communities and government policies so we can end violence against women and girls.

This effort is especially important in 2015 as the United Nations has launched the Sustainable Development Goals,which provide a holistic framework for global action for the next 15 years. One of the 17 new goals is to “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.” A key component of the work needed to achieve this goal is to eliminate violence against women and girls.

During the next 16 days, we invite you to join with individuals and groups around The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion to listen and learn and speak up and speak out about gender-based violence. We also invite you to pray for all those who have experienced gender-based violence and all those who are working to create a world in which no one suffers violence because of who God has created them to be.


The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence November 25th – December 10th, 2013  November 25th is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the first day of the annual 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence...

IDG2015-avatarOctober 11th is International Day of the Girl Child, one of the newest United Nations days of observance. The Reverend Heather Melton, who serves as the Missioner for the United Thank Offering and is the mother of one-year-old twin girls, reflects on the world she hopes her girls will experience as they grow older. Let us pray for the well-being of all girls this weekend, both in The Episcopal Church and around the world.

Promise me you’ll always remember: you’re braver than you believe,
and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.
Christopher Robin to Winnie the Pooh

Just over a year ago, I gave birth to twin girls. We spent a week in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, where the prayer of many was that they would fight: fight to breathe on their own, fight to eat and grow, and fight to get out of the NICU. I remember one of the nurses saying to me that our youngest daughter just had to decide she wanted to do these things on her own and she’d be fine. I watched her decide. I watched them fight. I got to be their cheerleader from the first day of their lives and I will be until their last. That’s what I learned being the mother of tiny babies. What I didn’t know then, was that being their cheerleader would come with some unexpected challenges right out of the gate.

I had never been to a baby clothing store before I had babies. I found that there was no end to the number of items I could purchase for my girls that extolled their physical appearance: from #Princess to Super Cute and Always Adorable, my girls could wear terms praising their looks at night on their pajamas, during the day on their shirts and coats, and even on fancy dresses. My children are always adorable to me, but I also want them to know that their self-worth is not tied to their appearance. Yes, I want them to eat healthy and exercise but I don’t want them to do it obsessively. I do not want them to train their waists, but to train their brains. This is why every time they hold up a square I say, “That’s a square, four equal angles and four equal sides” not, “aren’t you cute holding something.”

If you go to the other side of the store, where the boys clothes are, you’ll find a different set of words. Some shirts did say handsome but the majority said things like: brave little explorer, best friend, and little genius. I want my girls to be brave, to explore, to be a good friend, and to be as smart as they can. There was only one shirt in the girls’ section that referenced being smart, so I took it home with one from the boys side that also talked about being smart. I know that it is a small thing–words on a shirt before they can even make sentences–but words are powerful and can often have lasting effects on those who read them and those who wear them.

Lucy and Carrie Melton

Lucy and Carrie Melton

Here in the United States, women are still far outnumbered by men in the sciences. In 2013, the New York Times ran a story in which they interviewed women who succeed in tenured academic science positions. What stood out to me in this article was that time and again the women said that when they stopped comparing themselves to others and, when they had a mentor who believed in them, they were able to succeed.

This year, on the International Day of the Girl Child, I want to take this chance to be the cheerleader for all girls, not just mine. It will take all of our voices to help pave the way for girls to live to their full potential. We need to choose the words we use when talking to girls very carefully. As the International Day of the Girl Child webpage says: “If effectively supported during the adolescent years, girls have the potential to change the world – both as empowered girls of today and as tomorrow’s workers, mothers, entrepreneurs, mentors, household heads, and political leaders.” So let’s support them, encourage them, and love them; from the words on their shirts to the books they read and the toys they play with. Girls can change the world, but we must create safe environments for them to do it.

Back in the NICU so many prayed that my girls would fight; now I think my girls pray that we will fight for them. We need to demand that our society change to offer equal pay and opportunities. We must fight against social plights like human trafficking and child brides, which rob our girl children of the futures they deserve. Fight for our girl children, become a mentor, an advocate, and a friend. Advocate for change to make the world safe for girls and make space for girl children so they can change the world. Join me as we tell all girls, of any age, that they can change the world through their love and bravery, and that we are here to help them do it.

 

October 11th is International Day of the Girl Child, one of the newest United Nations days of observance. The Reverend Heather Melton, who serves as the Missioner for the United Thank Offering and is the mother of one-year-old twin girls, reflects...