Saturday, September 14, 2013

Lost and Found

Thoughts on Sunday's Gospel, Luke 15:1-10: Jesus is challenged by the Pharisees and the scribes about his practice of eating with tax collector and sinners. He tells them 3 stories - one about a lost sheep, another about a lost coin, and a third about a lost son. Sunday's reading focusses on the first two.

In our Bible study this week I was surprised to hear in one version of the Bible that Jesus left the 99 sheep in the open country. The versions I have always heard and all the Sunday School Bible art shows them in the wilderness. In my imagination, "wilderness" evokes a very different image than "open place." So I began to think about the initial encounter between Jesus and his challengers.

Pharisees, of course, were good religious people, trying to keep the faith in a time when it would be very easy to lose it. The Romans had conquered them and had a very different religion from the Judaism. It would be easier to go along and forget about God or just be private about one's faith. But the Pharisees chose a harder path - very public about their faith with many ritual practices to remind them of who they were. Scribes were the ones who helped keep everyone true to the religious laws. So they are shocked that Jesus would hang out with the tax collectors who worked for the Romans and with sinners - the ones were not observant or who showed no sign of being faithful. They may or may not have been living in sin as we interpret it - but for sure they were not faithful to God.

So back to the story:
As we read this translation - where it says the shepherd left them in an open place. I began to wonder if where they pasture sheep may be different from our thinking about wilderness or even that painting from Sunday School where the shepherd finds the lost one on a craggy cliff.

I wonder if Jesus is saying - yes you are following God but it is from relative safety-- you have homes, family, privilege (even though the Romans are in power). But God loves even those lost in unbelief, the unclean, the one's who never follow the outward signs of faith -- etc.

Then a friend, Robert Morrison, the interim rector of St. Alban's in Albany, OR, sent me his sermon with a link to an action by Pope Francis and his willingness to talk and listen to people who are doubting and who don't believe. Morrison writes:

Francis wrote a personal letter to a renowned journalist and nonbeliever. Back in early July and again in early August, Eugenio Scalfari, wrote essays, “musing about questions he'd like to ask Pope Francis if he ever had the chance.” 
Surprisingly, the Pope wrote a letter that was “splashed across the front page of La Repubblica, the country's most widely read daily. 
“In the letter, Francis makes three points that have all been said before, including by popes, but rarely with such clarity or in this kind of venue:
• God has never abandoned the covenant with the Jewish people, and the church ‘can never be grateful enough’ to the Jews for preserving their faith despite the horrors of history, especially the Shoah, the Hebrew word for the Holocaust.• God's mercy ‘does not have limits’ and therefore it reaches nonbelievers, too, for whom sin would not be the lack of faith in God, but rather, failure to obey one's conscience.• Truth is not ‘variable or subjective,’ but Francis says he avoids calling it ‘absolute’ -- truth possesses us, he said, not the other way around, and it's always expressed according to someone's ‘history and culture, the situation in which they live, etc.’ …
“This is apparently the first time, however, that a pope has personally responded to questions put to him in two newspaper editorials. Eugenio Scalfari, one of the founders of La Repubblica, penned the essays in early July and again in early August, musing about questions he'd like to ask Pope Francis if he ever had the chance.” 
Scalfari had referred to a recent papal encyclical “Lumen fidei, which said that ‘to the extent that they are sincerely open to love and set out with whatever light they can find,’ nonbelievers ‘are already, even without knowing it, on the path leading to faith.’ … 
“In his response to Scalfari, Francis wrote that he believes dialogue between the church and non-believers is important for two reasons. 
“The first, the pope wrote, is the historical breach between the church and the culture inspired by the Enlightenment. 
“‘The time has come … for an open dialogue, without preconceptions, which reopens the doors for a serious and fruitful encounter,’ Francis writes. 
“Second, Francis says, from the point of view of the believer, dialogue with others is not a ‘secondary accessory’ but rather something ‘intimate and indispensable.’" 
Francis knew that Scalfari wasn’t the least bit shy about expressing his criticism of the Roman Church in particular and Christianity and other religious belief systems in general. Yet Francis set out, using one of the riskier methods – opening himself up to criticism and ridicule by responding to the newspaper in which the journalist was in control.

And I am reminded of the Hymn "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing" 

More to ponder -- what do you think?

Friday, September 13, 2013

UTO: my thoughts

A question was asked in another place - why doesn't United Thank Offering just get its own 501c3 number instead of using the Episcopal Church's tax i.d.? Episcopal Relief and Development took this direction a few years ago - why not UTO?

Remembering the ER-D switch to its own 501c3 instead of the church's tax i.d. -- 3 reasons were given - one to protect assets from lawsuits against the church, two -to keep it less political - it could stay out of issues accruing to the National Church, and three - to allow it to go after grants from corporations that would not give to "a church" (like the partnership with Nets for Life and the NBA).

The UTO has not wanted nor needed that separation for any of those reasons. UTO and 815 needed to be clear about roles and tax status -- that was being worked on and agreed to by all. The sticking point is the movement from UTO doing the majority of the work of reviewing and granting within the structure --- to --- the COO and UTO coordinator doing this with a small advisory role for UTO.

It is not clear why this change was being made and there has been no explanation (except in the PBs letter where she says "official leadership (the President of the House of Deputies, the Chief Operating Officer, the Executive Officer of General Convention, the Treasurer, and I) have no intention of divesting the United Thank Offering of its funds or applying excessive controls to its practices."

But the bylaws proposed by the COO do not bear our this statement. Comparing the former bylaws (approved by GC and Executive Council in 2012 - has that much changed in tax law and why wasn't it questionedthen?) you can see the shift of control.

Now we find out that the PHoD (see previous post) did not see any of the documents that were released by the PB and COO.
I am not saying anyone set out with bad intent -- but it has played out in ways that make one wonder.
Prayers that the Executive Council will hear from all - including those who have resigned - and offer some reconciliation. UTO is to great a program to lose.

See previous blog items and Episcopal Café for more on this.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

President of House of Deputies responds on UTO

The President of the House of Deputies the Rev. Gay Jennings has written to Deputies to General Convention regarding the UTO revelations. Read her letter here to see links:
September 12, 2013

Dear Deputies:

In the last several days, many people in the church have expressed interest and concern about the United Thank Offering (UTO). I wanted to write directly to you to give you my perspective and ask for your thoughts.

First, some background as I understand it: Beginning this summer, a group of UTO board members and four people representing the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (DFMS), including a member of Executive Council, have been working to update UTO’s bylaws and memorandum of understanding (MOU) with DFMS and put standard business practices in place. This work builds on the work of a task force created by Executive Council in 2008 to strengthen the UTO for ministry in the 21st century (INC-055 Ad-Hoc Committee).

Like many of you, I was surprised and saddened to learn last week that four members of the existing UTO board have resigned their positions, at least in part because they were unhappy with the current version of the draft bylaws and MOU. It is clear from the statements and documents that have subsequently been released by both sides in the conflict that the situation is badly in need of reconciliation.

I believe that the original intent of this work was not to take authority or grantmaking decisions away from the UTO board, but rather to ensure that the United Thank Offering will continue its invaluable mission for years to come. Reasonable people can debate exactly how the balance of control over UTO funds should be shared between the volunteer UTO board, the Executive Council and the staff of the DFMS, but we all agree that UTO funds should be used only for their intended purpose: to make grants for mission work. However, as an officer of the DFMS who bears fiduciary responsibility for these funds, I believe that it is important to put some better business practices in place and delineate more clearly what powers both the UTO board and the DFMS possess and how they can best work together for the mission of the UTO.

Last Friday afternoon, Bishop Katharine released a statement about the ongoing conversations with the UTO, and I commend her statement to you. I agree with her assessment of the situation, and especially her reminder that, “The goal of all of this long work is to the continued existence and thriving of the ministry of the United Thank Offering.” I continue to be grateful for the strong working relationship that the Presiding Bishop and I have built, both on this issue and many others.

Unfortunately, both an unattributed summary of the situation and private correspondence between UTO board members and DFMS employees were also released on Friday. I had no prior knowledge of the planned release of these documents and I received them at the same time as the rest of the church. Had I been consulted, I would have voiced strenuous objection both to the tone and content of the unattributed summary and to the release of private correspondence without the consent of everyone involved. I am dismayed to be associated with this action by virtue of being mentioned in the unattributed summary.

What now? Some of the remaining members of the UTO board and those representing DFMS have resumed working on the draft bylaws and MOU, and it appears to be a positive engagement. Next month at Executive Council, the elected leaders of the church will be briefed, and depending on the status of these discussions, Council may need to consider additional ways forward to foster healing and reconciliation and to ensure that UTO is strengthened for the next 125 years of service. At that meeting, I will advocate for reconciliation and for a respectful, transparent outcome that is shaped and supported by the UTO board and Executive Council to ensure the continued vitality of the United Thank Offering.

I am also making a personal gift to the United Thank Offering today in gratitude for its 125 years of ministry and for the unstinting service of the laywomen who founded it and continue to lead it today. I invite you to join me by mailing your check to:

United Thank Offering
DFMS – Protestant Episcopal Church US
P.O. Box 958983
St. Louis, MO 63195-8983

Please also encourage congregations in your diocese to order United Thank Offering Blue Boxes online and hold ingatherings this fall and next spring.

Most of all, please pray for everyone struggling to discern the right path in this situation. As Episcopal Church Women President Nancy Crawford wrote last week, “I ask your prayers for those who administer to the needs of our church, and most especially for all the women of our church who strive daily to do the work God calls us to do in mission and ministry in the world, that we may shine forth the joy and wonder we share in God’s holy name.”

I hope that you will stay in touch with me as this situation unfolds and join me in praying for reconciliation and healing.


Gay Clark Jennings
President, House of Deputies of The Episcopal Church

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

UTO 4 blog

The UTO 4 have a blog to share their view of the events of the past few years. Read it here.