The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram » Religion and Values http://www.pressherald.com Mon, 02 May 2016 08:01:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.3.3 Reflections: No matter what happens, only love is guaranteed to last http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/30/reflections-no-matter-what-happens-only-love-is-guaranteed-to-last/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/30/reflections-no-matter-what-happens-only-love-is-guaranteed-to-last/#comments Sat, 30 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=859205 “She won’t know the difference.” The neurologist shook his head.

In my lap I held Ruth, a 2-year-old abandoned baby with cerebral palsy that my family and I hoped to adopt from an orphanage in Uganda. Ruth had arrived in Maine one year before on a medical visa to receive therapy for cerebral palsy, a brain injury that left her unable to walk or talk.

Months before, while serving as her host family, we’d discovered that Ruth was also profoundly deaf – a devastating diagnosis since she was unable to use her hands to communicate. Now, one week before taking Ruth back to East Africa on a month-long trip to collect paperwork for her adoption, I was being told not to bother.

Ruth’s disabilities meant that she would never advance beyond the physical abilities of a 6-month-old, the neurologist said. In his words, she was also likely profoundly mentally retarded. “In my opinion, it won’t matter whether you adopt Ruth or leave her in Uganda,” he said. “She won’t know the difference.”

My husband, Dana, and I – along with our three young children – adopted Ruth anyway. In our early 30s, we were young and naive enough not to realize how hard the road with Ruth would be. All we knew was that we loved her – despite what loving her would cost us. But, with all of his education and experience, the neurologist failed to realize what a lasting transformation such love can make in the life of a child and family.

No, Ruth didn’t pull her crooked legs out of her stroller and walk the triumphant August day we returned from Uganda with papers declaring her a permanent American resident. She didn’t open her mouth and speak at the little courthouse, just up the road from our home, the following February when we celebrated her adoption. But slowly, beautifully – as Ruth became rooted in the love of our family and church, and our schools and community – she blossomed into a radiantly happy little girl who defied the doctor’s dire predictions.

Despite being told that she’d never understand spoken language, Ruth learned to hear with the help of a cochlear implant. She loved books and school and by first grade could spell the names of all the kids in her class by sticking out her tongue when someone pointed to the correct letter on an alphabet board. And she loved to play, squealing with delight when her same-age sister dressed her as a queen and pulled her around the house in her wheelchair while pretending to be a horse.

But what neither the neurologist – nor we – expected was how little time Ruth had. Two months before her eighth birthday, the rare condition responsible for her cerebral palsy and deafness caused Ruth to die in her sleep. The shock and grief of losing our daughter was excruciating. Equally unendurable was the devastating suspicion that, in the end, our decision to adopt Ruth hadn’t mattered, after all.

“It didn’t make a difference,” I sobbed to Dana one night during that long, dark winter.

“How can you say that?” he challenged me. “We gave Ruth everything we had. That’s all God was asking. And you know what? She knew the difference. That girl knew we loved her.”

This April, Ruth would have turned 13. In the five years she’s been gone, we still ache from the loss of her. But in that time, we’ve also come to know that every sorrow and sacrifice was worth it. Instead of dying forsaken and unclaimed – as many people with disabilities do in the developing world – Ruth knew that she was beloved upon this earth.

“All the special gifts and powers from God will someday come to an end,” the apostle Paul wrote in I Cor. 13:8, “but love goes on forever.”

Nine months after our daughter’s death, that love changed the life of another little girl with cerebral palsy when Dana brought Ruth’s wheelchair to Uganda through a Christian outreach, Wheels for the World. So even if you love and lose, keep sharing God’s love anyway. Love in the face of suffering and grief and heartache and loss. Love beyond racial and religious and physical borders and barriers.

Love like a fool, without considering what such love will cost. Because, no matter how and when life ends, only love is guaranteed to last.

Meadow Rue Merrill writes and reflects on God’s presence in her ordinary life from her little cottage in the woods in the midcoast. Find her at meadowrue.com

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Reflections: Grow in spirit and celebrate the life of the Royal River http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/23/reflections-grow-in-spirit-and-celebrate-the-life-of-the-royal-river/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/23/reflections-grow-in-spirit-and-celebrate-the-life-of-the-royal-river/#comments Sat, 23 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=849122 What are your plans for World Fish Migration Day? You know, May 21, when people who care about rivers and fish around the world create celebrations along their river to honor the life of the river and the fish that move up and down it. There will be hundreds of celebrations on every continent in the world including the celebration of the Royal River in Yarmouth at Royal River Park.

People participating in Fish Migration Day in Yarmouth on the Royal River will be invited to consider the river as it has been, how it is now and what we can do for its health and well-being in the future. Opportunities to learn about the river will abound. Stories, speakers and guides will discuss life in and along it, people, plants and animals, from the days when the Wabanaki (meaning People of the Dawn, a people composed of many tribes), still here today, were caring for these lands, to the days of European settlements and industrialization to the postindustrial period of today.

I am particularly glad that John Bear Mitchell and Karyn Marden, members of the Wabanaki community, will be with us sharing their stories and knowledge. Native American spirituality and my own nature mystic Christianity teach me that the land, the waters and all forms of life are sacred.

I was introduced to this wisdom by John Waters, in his book “The Man Who Killed a Deer.” He tells a story of the Pueblo people of the American Southwest and their hunting ritual. When a hunter comes upon a deer, he acknowledges its sacredness and asks permission to take its life for the life of his people. He pledges to honor the deer with gratitude and the continuation of its sacred life in the life of the hunter and his tribe.

Europeans came to the shores of Maine, then a part of Massachusetts, to harvest the resources, cod, timber, whatever. Their rituals were spoken to an almighty God thought of as above them on a hierarchical ranking. What was harvested was below them. The worth of life below them was objectified as things, not sacred, and was calculated by what it provided them and theirs. This is the mindset that ultimately led to global warming. Of course, that was far beyond their horizon then.

In addition to Wabanaki spokespersons sharing stories and knowledge, Katie Worthing of the Yarmouth Historical Society will conduct a tour of the bones of industrialization to be found on the river today. She will tell how the town as we know it grew around industrialization and where industrialization went when it left. Landis Hudson of Maine Rivers will conduct a tour of the river today, its dams, their fish ladders that don’t work and consider, with you, what the river would be if fish could migrate on it today.

Yarmouth’s Merrill Memorial Library will have books about rivers for children. Classes from Yarmouth schools and North Yarmouth Academy will have tables to show you what they have been studying about the river. Environmental groups will be there to tell of their work.

Inland Fisheries and Wildlife will release 600 brown trout, half below the Elm Street dam and half below the Bridge Street dam. There will be 50 fishing poles for kids and people to help bait the hooks and conduct a catch and release learning project. Trout Unlimited will conduct a class in fly fishing for the first eight Yarmouth area women who sign up by calling Maura Halkiotis at 841-3327. There will be canoe rides and food, face painting and music.

What time and why? From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, May 21, answers the first question. The reason for the event is summarized in our working sheet: 1) To connect people to the Royal River, past present and future. 2) To raise awareness and caring for the river’s life – fish, plants, recreation and state of health. 3) To provide entertainment, education and fun for all ages.

Finally, why is this a column on the Religion and Values page of today’s paper? Because I am convinced that, as we come to understand the Earth and all life upon it as sacred, we will not only ask how the river can serve our lives but how can we serve the life of the river. When we grow in spirit to ask that question instinctively, we will be on the road away from environmental degradation and global warming.

Bill Gregory is an author and retired UCC minister. He can be contacted at: wgregor1@maine.rr.com.

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Transgender people in India seek religious parity http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/22/transgender-people-in-india-seek-religious-parity/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/22/transgender-people-in-india-seek-religious-parity/#comments Fri, 22 Apr 2016 23:58:59 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/22/transgender-people-in-india-seek-religious-parity/ UJJAIN, India — In the waning heat of the evening, a group from India’s transgender community clambered down steep steps to a holy river in India, their multicolored saris catching the breeze before they plunged joyfully into the glittering waters of the Shipra.

India’s transgender people have long lived on the margins of society and are a familiar sight at traffic stops or weddings, where they sing and dance and ask for money. But the group – known as “hijras” – have made huge strides toward greater inclusion in recent years, culminating with a landmark decision in 2014 by India’s Supreme Court that recognized a third gender that is neither male or female.

Friday, the hijras took their fight for equality to the riverbanks of one of India’s biggest holy festivals – a gathering called the Kumbh Mela. Millions of Hindu saints, holy men, seers and pilgrims will come for a month of worship, including a ritual river bath to purify body and soul.

The hijra leaders, fresh from their historic court recognition, began thinking about starting their own group to participate in the Kumbh Mela last year, according to Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, one of India’s best-known transgender activists.

“After the Supreme Court decision, we decided that we should reclaim our lost position in the religion,” she said. “Of course there is no place better to do that than the Kumbh Mela.”

The city has spent years preparing for the festival, which turns the normally quiet temple town in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh into a megalopolis complete with campsites, temporary places of worship, WiFi hotspots, green-friendly electric rickshaws and even tented “resorts” for well-heeled pilgrims. The river this year is dotted with floating filtration devices that clean India’s polluted river water for bathers.

The government has allotted the transgender group a space for its own camp this year as a nod toward its inclusion.

Yet the religious gurus who oversee the official 13 Hindu monastic orders – called “akharas” – that traditionally participate in the mela have said they will not recognize the hijras as a 14th akhara. Nor will they recognize a women’s group.

Those leaders say to do so would go against Hindu tradition that dates back centuries.

“We respect transgenders in society but we will not allow them for the holy dip. It’s against Hindu law,” said Narendra Giri Maharaj, the head of the All India Akhara Parishad, the umbrella group of the akharas. “We will never recognize them, under any condition.”

Tripathi and others argue that transgender people have been a part of Indian society since ancient times and that references to them appear in classical Indian texts. They were also prized courtiers during the times of the Mughal kings. It was only after the British colonized India and imprinted the land with its own system of justice that transgender people began to be ostracized, activists say.

In recent years, they have made some inroads into traditional society, becoming state legislators and mayors. Last year, the first transgender police officer was hired in the southern India state of Tamil Nadu.

In recent weeks, India’s social-justice and empowerment ministry has drafted a bill that would give transgender people greater protection from harassment and wrongful eviction. They are also likely to be included in India’s quota system, which reserves government jobs and education for disadvantaged groups.

But they say they still have had to fight for jobs and education despite the Supreme Court ruling supporting a third gender.

“The judgment of the Supreme Court is just in a file, not on the ground,” said Pushpa Gidwani, a social worker with the transgender community in the city of Jaipur. She estimates that of the 5,000 or so members of her community in that city, 1,000 keep their sexuality “hidden” and many in the group still beg or work menial jobs.

This week, transgender people from throughout India gathered at the group’s camp site in Ujjain, which included a large hall where devotees lined up Thursday evening to touch the feet of the hijras and receive their blessing. Throughout the monthlong festival, they have planned fire rituals, devotional singing and social outreach programs about the transgender community.

Rajit Ojha, a graduate student, said he has seen a “drastic change” in the treatment of hijras since the court ruling.

 

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Oklahoma voters to decide fate of Ten Commandments monument http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/22/oklahoma-voters-to-decide-fate-of-ten-commandments-monument/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/22/oklahoma-voters-to-decide-fate-of-ten-commandments-monument/#comments Fri, 22 Apr 2016 23:21:43 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/22/oklahoma-voters-to-decide-fate-of-ten-commandments-monument/ OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma voters will decide in November whether to abolish an article of the state Constitution so that a Ten Commandments monument can be returned to the Capitol grounds.

The House voted 65-7 late Thursday for a resolution calling for a statewide vote on whether to remove a constitutional prohibition on the use of state funds to support a religion. The state Supreme Court relied on that section of the constitution in June when it ordered a 6-foot-tall granite Ten Commandments monument moved from the Capitol grounds.

The monument’s removal angered many Oklahomans, particularly Republican lawmakers who vowed to return the monument to state property.

“Since the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s decision in June regarding the Ten Commandments monument, my constituents wanted to know what could be done,” said Rep. John Paul Jordan, R-Yukon, an attorney who sponsored the bill in the House. “I knew it would be a difficult proposition to undo the ruling, so we looked at giving voters the opportunity to remove the basis for the ruling.”

Originally authorized by the Republican-controlled Legislature in 2009, the privately funded monument has been a lightning rod for controversy since it was erected in 2012, prompting a lawsuit from Bruce Prescott, a Baptist minister from Norman who complained it violated the state constitution.

Its placement at the Capitol prompted requests from several groups to have their own monuments installed, including a satanic church in New York that wanted to erect a 7-foot-tall statue that depicts Satan as Baphomet, a goat-headed figure with horns, wings and a long beard. A Hindu leader in Nevada, an animal rights group and the satirical Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster also made requests.

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Board to review policy on 
prayer space at University of Iowa http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/22/the-iowa-board-of-regents-%e2%80%a8will-review-campus-policy-on%e2%80%a8prayer-space-at-the-university-of-iowa/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/22/the-iowa-board-of-regents-%e2%80%a8will-review-campus-policy-on%e2%80%a8prayer-space-at-the-university-of-iowa/#comments Fri, 22 Apr 2016 23:07:43 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/22/the-iowa-board-of-regents-%e2%80%a8will-review-campus-policy-on%e2%80%a8prayer-space-at-the-university-of-iowa/ IOWA CITY, Iowa — The Iowa Board of Regents is examining the University of Iowa’s decision to have designated prayer and meditation spaces on campus.

The university created the spaces in the Iowa Memorial Union earlier this year after Muslim students, faculty and staff said they have trouble finding a place to fulfill their prayer obligations, the Iowa City Press-Citizen reports. School officials have said the spaces are available to people of all faiths.

“It’s the right thing to do,” President Bruce Harreld said during a board meeting in Council Bluffs Thursday. “We don’t want to be a community of exclusion. We want to be a community of inclusion.”

Regent Subhash Sahai asked Harreld how many non-Muslims have been using the rooms, but he didn’t have any statistics available.

“But I can assure you that at least one Christian has prayed there: me,” Harreld said.

The Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation asked the university last month to close the rooms because of concerns over separation of church and state issues.

The foundation’s letter specifically raised questions about temporary signs the Muslim Student Association places in the rooms to separate spaces for different genders and to ask people to remove their shoes.

Aimee Claeys, associate counsel for the regents, said the rooms are bare and are not segregated by gender.

“Providing these spaces that may be used for religious purposes is not in itself a violation of the constitution,” she said.

Members of an organization for agnostic and atheist students, Secular Students at Iowa, have been supportive of the decision to open the space.

President of the board, Regent Bruce Rastetter, said the regents will review the use of such spaces as part of the board’s overall policy. Discussion about the issue will continue in its June meeting.

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Religion Calendar http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/22/religion-calendar-119/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/22/religion-calendar-119/#comments Fri, 22 Apr 2016 22:34:53 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/22/religion-calendar-119/ People of the Earth: Indigenous Spirituality of Old Europe. Andras Arthen, vice chair of the Parliament of World Religions, presents his experiences with indigenous earth-based cultures of Europe. $20 suggested, Unity of Greater Portland Church, 54 River Road, Windham, unitygreaterportland.org, 10 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. Sunday.

Christians and Islam, a talk outlining these religious traditions, free, Christ Church, 6 Dane St., Kennebunk , www.christchurchkennebunk.org, 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Sunday.

Interfaith Dialogue Dinner. Soup, bread and dessert will be served, with a discussion of many traditions. $10 suggested donation, St. Pius X Hall, 492 Ocean Ave., Portland, www.facebook.com/events/497611640439864, 5:45 to 8:15 p.m. Tuesday.

To submit an item for the Religion Calendar, go to MaineToday.com and click on the calendar tab.

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Reflections: Remember the Buddha: ‘Suffering is caused by desire’ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/16/reflections-remember-the-buddha-suffering-is-caused-by-desire/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/16/reflections-remember-the-buddha-suffering-is-caused-by-desire/#comments Sat, 16 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=838283 As I was writing in my journal one morning, facing my backyard, I watched a squirrel running around frantically looking for nuts. He was digging everywhere. Sometimes he was lucky. I saw myself in that squirrel’s behavior because for the last three or four weeks I had been perseverating over everything: my finances, my spiritual direction practice that was slow to get off the ground, the repairs that needed to be done to my condo and the lack of funds to do it, etc. I was filled with desire for many things. The more I allowed myself to be in that space, the less I turned to prayer, meditation and trust. I also fell back to self-blame and shame and old thinking about what I had done wrong to get myself in this state.

I was in a whirlwind and like Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz,” I ended up in a place far from my inner home. I realized fully that sometimes it’s hard to dig ourselves out from the debris when we spend time focusing on it. But as we often see on television after a catastrophe, folks who are interviewed talk about how they’ll get started right away on the cleanup, working with neighbors and volunteers to try to get back to normal. Sometimes, though, they have to settle for a new normal and find the courage to begin anew.

I was thinking that the latter would be true for me. But I kept focusing on lack and all the things I wanted. I was in a tizzy as I spoke to my spiritual director, who helped me look at all my present options. Then she told me to not make any decisions for a few days. I tried to follow her advice and rested, read a book, took walks, as I did the inner work of trying to get myself back to the serenity of “home.” I was still edgy and somewhat angry that my answers weren’t coming more easily. I was stuck in my mind and not in my heart.

I went to yoga practice one morning and my yoga teacher began the class with this saying from the Buddha: “Suffering is caused by desire.” My heart skipped a beat. I knew that message was for me. I had been causing my own suffering by staying in the whirlwind. She played my favorite meditative CD. I hadn’t played it myself in months because I had misplaced my copy. I had just found it a few days previous, so when I got home, I decided to sit in meditation with this CD and slowly I began to feel at peace, to remember who I really was and that I was not alone. I had forgotten that it was only in deep surrender and letting go that I had ever moved forward freely. I believe we all have spirit guides, or angels who surround us on this earth journey and are supporting us whether or not we are aware of it. I allowed myself to be surrounded by the love of these beings of light and I returned to my deep belief that the Universe does provide for all my needs. So what was there to do at the end but surrender?

“Suffering is caused by desire,” the Buddha said, and I was reminded again of my vows to be mindful and present, staying in the “fertile void” until the answers come. Surrendering to what is, is not giving up. It’s a relief and a release. It frees us to move forward and it brings us back to our true home.

Rev. Helen Rousseau is an ordained Interfaith Minister and trained Spiritual Director. She can be reached at helen@helenrousseau.com or visit www.helenrousseau.com for more information.

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Religion Calendar http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/16/religion-calendar-118/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/16/religion-calendar-118/#comments Sat, 16 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=838355 Singer-songwriter Dean Richardson and Eric Bro. Free. Church of the Holy Spirit, 1047 Congress St., Portland, www.facebook.com/holygroundsportland, 6:30-8:30 p.m. Saturday.

Rejoicing Spirits, a special worship service for persons with cognitive or developmental disabilities, followed by fellowship and supper. Free. Trinity Lutheran Church, 612 Main St., Westbrook. 4 p.m. Sunday.

The Wisdom in Brokeness: An Interfaith Worship Service. ChIME student Joyce Fraganeno explores the wisdom in vulnerability. Free. Portland New Church, 302 Stevens Ave., Portland, www.chimeofmaine.org, 10:30-11:30 a.m. Sunday.

Christians and Muslims discuss life for Muslims in Portland. Seeley Hall, Woodfords Church, 202 Woodfords St., Portland, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Sunday.

Community Seder-Passover Across America. Celebrate Passover with new and old friends at a community Seder, $15 per person or $40 per family, Temple Beth El, 400 Deering Ave., Portland, leveydayschool.org, 6-8:30 p.m. Friday, April 22.

To submit an item for the religion Calendar, go to MaineToday.com and click on the calendar tab.

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Family battles Scientology to see their kids http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/15/family-battles-scientology-to-see-their-kids/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/15/family-battles-scientology-to-see-their-kids/#comments Fri, 15 Apr 2016 23:04:23 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/15/family-battles-scientology-to-see-their-kids/ There’s a billboard in Los Angeles dotted with dozens of faces representing Scientologists who have separated from their families. It reads: “To my loved one in Scientology . . . call me.”

The massive message was placed in Echo Park this month by Phil and Willie Jones, former Scientologists who say they have lost their two adult children, Mike and Emily Jones, to a practice known as “disconnection,” which believers describe as a last resort – ending communication with people who are “antagonistic to Scientology” to protect themselves from being torn from the religion.

Phil Jones told NBC’s “Today” that his son has told him he never wants to speak to him again.

“That’s what they do,” Jones said, sobbing. “It’s a cruel and vindictive organization to do something like that.”

The Joneses, from Las Vegas, were in the church for 40 years and have now begun a campaign called Stop Scientology Disconnection to raise awareness about the religious practice that they say separated them from their children.

The purpose, according to their website, is to “make people more aware of Scientology Disconnection, as well as hopefully entice those in Scientology to take that step of calling their loved ones, family, friends, or whoever they have disconnected from due to pressure from the Church of Scientology.”

The couple launched a GoFundMe page to help raise the more than $8,000 needed to pay for printing and installation costs. They had raised about $16,500 and secured the billboard for a second month.

The Church of Scientology was founded by former science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in 1952 and the religion has become popular in recent years, in part because of celebrity members such as Tom Cruise.

But the church has generated considerable controversy.

Since the 1970s, Scientology has taken heat from academics, journalists and ex-members who describe near- slavery conditions they say they lived through.

The church denies more recent allegations of physical abuse by some top ex-officials.and says the former members are liars.

Lawrence Wright’s book, “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief,” and an HBO documentary, also called “Going Clear,” exposed such alleged abuses.

The Joneses told the Hollywood Reporter that they began to have questions about the religion about five years ago and that Phil Jones’s sister, who is also a Scientologist, went straight to church leaders to tell them that her brother and sister-in-law were having doubts.

The couple said they were excommunicated and have not heard from their children the past few years.

“Once you’re in it, there is a process that has a creep factor, there’s a degree of hypnotism, of mental conditioning,” he said. “Once you get in too deep, it’s tough to break out. My wife and I met in Scientology when she was 17 and I was 18. We’ve been together ever since.

“We raised our children in it.”

The problem, Jones told the Hollywood Reporter, is trying to get someone out of the church.

“Every single person will say, ‘No, I want to be here. I’m here of my own choice.’ Because there is a brainwashing to it, a hypnosis,” he said. “If I’d try to take my kids out, they will not want to go.”

Jones said their children joined the Church of Scientology’s Sea Organization, which is described as “a religious order for the Scientology religion and is composed of the singularly most dedicated Scientologists.”

“That’s where you sign a billion-year contract,” Jones said. “You work there, eat the food there, you work 100 hours a week for 10 cents an hour. It’s just brutal.”

“In 20 years, our kids were never allowed to leave for Christmas or visit us,” he added. “We could visit them and maybe get an hour with them. What usually happens is, something triggers them to want to leave. Sometimes something changes in their life, or they get beat up badly. The other thing is, the majority who get out say, ‘I read something on the Internet’ or ‘I saw something on the news.’

“That’s why we’re doing the billboard.”

The Church of Scientology dismissed the billboard in a statement to The Washington Post.

“The billboard in Echo Park is simply the latest in a series of publicity stunts by Phil and Willie Jones to stalk and harass their adult offspring…,” the statement said. “For the past several weeks Phil and Willie Jones have been working with a reality TV producer staging stunts intended to harass their adult children, despite their children telling them directly to back off and stop.

“It is shameful that two people … would hook up with a reality TV producer to shamelessly exploit and harass their two adult children for money. It is equally despicable that these individuals would use a private family matter to promote anti-religious hate and bigotry and harm their kids.”

Jones confirmed to the Hollywood Reporter that the couple is “documenting our journey.”

Willie Jones told the “Today” show that the church has torn their family apart.

Then, she addressed her children.

“We love you guys so much and miss you so much,” she said.

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Reflections: God must have a sense of humor http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/09/reflections-god-must-have-a-sense-of-humor/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/09/reflections-god-must-have-a-sense-of-humor/#comments Sat, 09 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=831930 Does God have a sense of humor? Growing up in the Bible belt of Indiana, religion was a serious affair. I remember swinging my patent-leather-clad feet from the edge of the pew and making little hammocks out of my mom’s handkerchief while the minister seemed to drone on and on for hours. Apparently, there was the obligatory joke because every once in a great while the adults would politely chuckle.

I moved away from traditional religion in my 20s while still searching for answers about God. When I first started to attend classes with my spiritual teacher, there was plenty of talking and meditation and prayer, but there was also a great deal of laughter. In fact, I remember my teacher saying once that God has a sense of humor. I nearly fell over, I was so stunned by that idea.

This was not the God I grew up with. You know, the white man with the flowing beard sitting in the clouds, the one who could turn people into salt, or rain pestilence down on entire populations because of something their leader did or didn’t do, or ask a father to sacrifice his son to prove his devotion.

Who was this God with a sense of humor? It was the beginning of my journey of the stripping away of what I consider now to be false notions of God.

I suppose many people would think that if there is a God and she or he has a sense of humor, it would be some kind of cruel joke because just look at the state the world is in. On the other hand, to find a reason to laugh and be joyful even in the midst of great suffering is a gift that humans have been given. If one believes in a higher power, it is logical that we are simply tapping into something we share with that mysterious presence.

Of course, there are people who use a perhaps more sarcastic sense of humor to belittle others, to exclude others (as in the inside joke), to avoid responsibility, to interrupt sacred moments, etc. This is not the kind of humor I envision as “godly.” Like any great gift, it depends on how it is used.

To me a sense of humor can be one of the greatest tools for cultivating humility. Like my perception of the religion I grew up with, the ego tends to take itself very seriously. To be able to see our own foibles and transgressions and laugh at them is to loosen up that very serious hold the ego wants to have on our own perceptions of ourselves. Laughter lightens the load of being who we are, of being disappointed in ourselves and others, of living in a world that sometimes makes no sense at all to us.

I can’t claim that my conversations with God or prayers or meditations bring me to laughing out loud, though I often feel a deep sense of quiet joy. I did once have a moment of solitude in which I did laugh out loud and which somehow seemed divinely inspired. I was standing looking out at my deck and the gushing brook that is the boundary of my backyard when simultaneously the song “The Typewriter” came on NPR and a squirrel leaped up on the snowy railing of my deck and proceeded to do what I can only describe as a dance to the exact rhythm of the song on the radio. The squirrel seemed to be looking at me the entire time and the moment the song was over he leaped into the trees and was gone. I did laugh out loud and thanked the squirrel and divine nature for showing me once again that surprises and connections are everywhere when we take the time to see them.

Though I don’t often laugh out loud when I feel the most deeply spiritually connected, I do associate a great sense of humor with people I’ve met who exude a spiritual presence. The hours and years of spiritual practice and meditation seem to unlock a special kind of sense of humor. I am thinking of the Dali Lama, who seems to laugh a lot whenever I hear him speak. I once took a class from his brother, who laughed more than any adult I have ever known, and mostly he was laughing at himself. I am also thinking of my interfaith friends, and some of the Catholic monks and nuns I have met who seem to share a wild kind of sense of humor grounded in the spirit. It is as if the commitment to silence, solitude, prayer and a deep inner connection to the divine can unlock a way of being with people that is ripe with humor and the sheer joy of being alive.

One of my favorite spiritual giants, who I am quite certain was intimately familiar with the divine sense of humor was Hafiz, a 14th century Sufi poet. This is one of my favorite poems of his:

Ten Thousand Idiots

It is always a danger

to aspirants

On the

Path

When they begin

To believe and

Act

As if the ten thousand idiots

Who so long ruled

And lived

Inside

Have all packed their bags

And skipped town

Or

Died

The story is told about my great grandfather, who left the strict Apostolic church of his family. When told he was going to hell, he replied that it was fine with him because he would rather be in hell with all his friends than in heaven with the members of the church.

I feel the same way about God. Though there are certainly many things in this world that must be taken very seriously, to imagine a creator of this world who has no sense of humor is, to me, a God I cannot live with.

The Rev. Cathy Grigsby is an Interfaith minister who teaches at the Chaplaincy Institute of Maine and is the co-founder and coordinator of the Interfaith Ministers of New England. She can be contacted at: cgrigsby@myfairpoint.net.

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Indiana state trooper fired for preaching while on duty http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/08/indiana-state-trooper-fired-for-preaching-while-on-duty/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/08/indiana-state-trooper-fired-for-preaching-while-on-duty/#comments Fri, 08 Apr 2016 23:57:37 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/08/indiana-state-trooper-fired-for-preaching-while-on-duty/ INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana State Police fired a trooper who is facing a second lawsuit accusing him of preaching to citizens while on duty, saying Thursday he disobeyed a written order to stop the practice.

Superintendent Doug Carter fired Senior Trooper Brian Hamilton of Connersville for insubordination, the agency announced. Hamilton admitted the violations, it said.

Wendy Pyle of Connersville had filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis claiming Hamilton violated her civil rights by asking her what church she attended and whether she was saved during a January traffic stop. She is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana.

“While all of us – citizen and police officer – enjoy the right to freedom of religion and freedom of speech, there are appropriate and proper restrictions placed on agents of the state related to their actions while engaged in their official duties,” Carter said in a news release.

Pyle, whom Hamilton gave a warning for speeding, filed a formal complaint with state police on Jan. 14, and on the following day an internal investigation began and Hamilton was assigned administrative duties, the ISP said. The drafting of formal internal charges against the 14-year veteran began on March 9, and his hearing was scheduled for Thursday.

Pyle’s lawsuit did not name the state police as a defendant.

In 2014, Hamilton was sued following a similar traffic stop in which driver Ellen Bogan of Huntington accused him of violating her constitutional rights. He was given a written order on Aug. 29, 2014, saying that “in the course of his official duties, S/Trp Hamilton will not question others regarding their religious beliefs nor provide religious pamphlets or similar advertisements.”

Hamilton also was suspended without pay for 15 days in 2012 when he refused an order to investigate a rape complaint, saying he was off-duty when he was not.

A telephone message seeking comment was left at Hamilton’s home.

In her lawsuit, Pyle said Hamilton’s preaching was upsetting and unreasonably prolonged the traffic stop. She is seeking punitive damages and attorney fees. She also wants a jury trial.

Pyle does not have a published telephone number and she could not be reached for comment. A message seeking comment was left for an ACLU attorney.

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Bernie Sanders to speak at conference hosted by Vatican http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/08/bernie-sanders-to-speak-at-conference-hosted-by-vatican/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/08/bernie-sanders-to-speak-at-conference-hosted-by-vatican/#comments Fri, 08 Apr 2016 22:47:56 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/08/bernie-sanders-to-speak-at-conference-hosted-by-vatican/ NEW YORK — Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, an enthusiastic fan of Pope Francis’ work, plans to speak next week at a conference hosted by the Vatican on social, economic and environmental issues.

The Vermont senator plans to head to Rome immediately after a high-profile debate scheduled here with Hillary Clinton on Thursday.

Sanders will speak at the gathering hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, he said.

“I am grateful to the Vatican for inviting me to talk about an issue that is very dear to my heart, which is how we create a moral economy that works for all of the people rather than just the top 1 percent,” Sanders said in an interview.

“I will also in my remarks be addressing the planetary crisis of climate change and the moral imperative to make sure we leave this planet in a way that is healthy and habitable for future generations,” he said.

Sanders, who would be the nation’s first Jewish president, often refers to Francis on the campaign trail, praising his leadership on economic and environmental issues.

Sanders said he believes he will be the only U.S. public official speaking at the gathering.

“I think the Vatican has been aware of the fact that, in many respects, the pope’s views and my views are very much related,” Sanders said.

“He has talked in an almost unprecedented way about the need to address income and wealth inequality, poverty and to combat the greed that we’re seeing all over this world, which is doing so much harm to so many people. . . . For me, it is an extraordinary honor to receive this invitation.”

The planned visit has also prompted a dispute among Vatican officials, Bloomberg Politics reported Friday.

Margaret Archer, president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, which is hosting the event, said that Sanders didn’t follow proper protocol by failing to contact her office – which she termed a “monumental discourtesy” – and that his presence threatens to make the event political.

However, Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, the academy’s chancellor, said he had arranged the invitation and that Sanders’s presence is welcome.

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Mormon conference urges common ground, tolerance at all levels http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/02/mormon-conference-urges-common-ground-tolerance-at-all-levels/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/02/mormon-conference-urges-common-ground-tolerance-at-all-levels/#comments Sat, 02 Apr 2016 23:20:49 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/02/mormon-conference-urges-common-ground-tolerance-at-all-levels/ SALT LAKE CITY — Mormon leaders called on members to practice tolerance despite political differences, providing the faith’s U.S. members guidance at a church conference Saturday amid a presidential campaign marked by harsh rhetoric.

The faith’s leaders also reiterated the belief that the religion is the only true church, and that its leaders are prophets speaking for the Lord. They implored members to be more thoughtful and sensitive toward children from all backgrounds, many of whom don’t come from “picture-perfect” families.

In a nod to the faith’s global footprint, five of 11 men announced as new members of a second-tier leadership council are from Guatemala, Argentina, Italy, Australia and New Zealand.

Church President Thomas S. Monson, 88, was in attendance, but he did not give any speeches.

The comments on politics came from Kevin R. Duncan, a member of the Quorum of the Seventy. He said people should be wary of resenting others because they belong to another religion, hold opposing political views or even root for a different sports team.

“Let us all remember that God looketh not upon the color of the jersey or the political party,” Duncan said. “In the competitions of life, if we win, let us win with grace. If we lose, let us lose with grace.”

Mormon leaders don’t endorse candidates or parties, but they may weigh in on what they consider crucial moral issues.

This presidential cycle, the church has defended religious liberty after Donald Trump suggested banning Muslims from entering the U.S. It also renewed calls for an end to culture wars.

Neil L. Anderson of the Quorum of the Twelve urged members to embrace all the children of the faith – no matter their family situation.

“While a child’s earthly situation may not be ideal, a child’s spiritual DNA is prefect because one’s true identity is as a son or daughter of God,” Anderson said.

Anderson didn’t mention children of gay parents. The church came under fire last year when it announced new rules banning baptisms for children living with a gay or lesbian parent.

Those children are still welcome at church services. Church leaders have said the rules were intended to prevent children from being caught in a tug-of-war between teachings at home and church.

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Religiosity of women remains a mystery http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/02/religiosity-of-women-remains-a-mystery/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/02/religiosity-of-women-remains-a-mystery/#comments Sat, 02 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=828497 What do Jesus Christ, Muhammad, Siddhartha Gautama and Moses all have in common? Besides being religious figures, they are all men. Yet looking around the world, the majority of their followers are women.

Globally, more women than men identify with a religion, pray daily and say that religion is “very important” to them, according to data from the Pew Research Center. Around the world, 83.4 percent of women say they identify with a religion, compared with 79.9 percent of men, Pew says, meaning there are about 100 million more religiously affiliated women on the planet than men. But why?

This is an old question, one that experts have dubbed a “scientific puzzle.” Some researchers have argued that the difference is because of biology, some say that it’s a product of social and cultural factors, and some maintain that it’s both. But Pew’s data suggests that, at the very least, biology isn’t the only factor. Men and women’s religious behaviors and beliefs vary significantly by religious group and country, suggesting that the way men and women are raised and socialized does play a role.

The Pew study surveys six religious groups – Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews and the religiously unaffiliated – across 192 countries. It finds that, globally, women are more religious than men, while men make up 55 percent of the world’s religiously unaffiliated people.

This religious gender gap is even more pronounced in the United States, which is much more religious in general than other advanced economies. According to Pew, 64 percent of American women but only 47 percent of American men say they pray daily – compared with 30 percent of women and 28 percent of men in Canada and 15 percent of women and 9 percent of men in France. In the United States, 68 percent of atheists are men.

In the past, some researchers have argued that biology plays the most important role in this religious gender gap. One theory has been that higher levels of testosterone in men, which leads to more risk-taking behavior, also lead to a greater willingness to gamble on missing out on the afterlife. Other researchers have argued for biological explanations after observing that women with more “feminine” traits – like being affectionate, sympathetic, compassionate, tender and loving to children – are more likely to be religious.

But others insist that nurture – the way women and men are taught to behave and the values that they are taught to hold – is a more important influence on the religious differences between men and women than nature is.

Pew’s data may support this theory in two ways. First, it observes some big differences in the religious gender gap across different cultures – trends that suggest that men and women’s religious differences stem not just from biology but from culture.

Among Christians, women are more likely than men to attend services, pray daily, say religion is important, and believe in heaven, hell and angels. But among Muslims, the gender gaps are less consistent. Muslim men are a lot more likely to attend weekly religious services because of religious guidelines that encourage men to pray at mosques but allow women to pray at home. And while Muslim women are more likely than men to pray and believe in angels, other behaviors and beliefs are relatively the same between Muslim men and women.

Secondly, Pew finds that women’s religiosity varies somewhat depending on whether they work or stay home – a sign that religious beliefs might be affected by the environment men and women are exposed to. Women who work outside the home hold beliefs that are more similar to those of men, reporting lower levels of religious commitment than women who are not in the labor force, according to the survey. Or the causality could be the other way around – religious women could be more likely to stay home because of a belief in more traditional gender roles.

In addition, Pew finds that Christian countries in which more women work tend to have smaller religious gender gaps between men and women, though the trend doesn’t hold for other religious groups.

Researchers have floated numerous theories for how culture and social norms might create a religious gender gap. Some argue that, for women who didn’t traditionally work outside the home, the church offered the kind of social and psychological benefits that jobs offered to men, such as a personal identity and a social community.

Not having a job could also mean that women had more time for religious activities, or that women had less exposure than men did to the secularizing forces that have gradually come to predominate in public life.

Other theories include that women have been particularly pressured to be religious as a way to control their sexuality or that the Christian church has been less supportive of the identities of working women than of homemakers.

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Reflections: Practice leads us to self-realization, not perfection http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/02/reflections-practice-leads-us-to-self-realization-not-perfection/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/02/reflections-practice-leads-us-to-self-realization-not-perfection/#comments Sat, 02 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=828474 A number of years ago, I practiced tae kwon do, a Korean martial art with an emphasis on kicks.

Tae means foot or to strike with the foot. Kwon means hand or to strike with the hand. Do means discipline, art, or way.

This art of the foot-hand-way taught me about practice. My instructor, Master Choi, often voiced: “Teresa, practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes practice. It’s not about perfection, it’s about being in the practice.”

These words resonated as I listened to my grandson Jack express frustration while trying to dunk a basketball. I heard myself say: “It takes practice. All great athletes practice.”

My daughter chimed in: “You’ll get better with practice.”

Jack continued to aim for the hoop. While his frustration lessened, it didn’t immediately go away. He was not buying into our collective wisdom.

Many of us want to achieve instant results; we want to dunk the ball the first time. We want perfection and we want it without practice.

And yet, what does it really mean to practice? What is the art of practice all about?

In general terms, practice is defined as habitual or customary performance; repeated performance or systematic exercise for the purpose of acquiring a skill or proficiency or a condition arrived at by experience or exercise.

We all know that practicing anything can be a humbling experience. Even though we enter into practice with enthusiasm and expectation, we learn that practice can be more challenging and frustrating than we anticipated. It doesn’t always come naturally or easily.

We often enter into practice intending to improve or to change something. We believe, if we meditate daily, we will calm down and become a better person. If we practice making the shot, we will dunk the ball and become a better athlete.

While some of our beliefs may be true, do we really practice to get better or to change something?

Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun, provides insight into the art of practice. She shares that people often enter into a spiritual practice with the intent to improve or transform themselves.

Yet a spiritual practice such as meditation is really about befriending who we already are. Right here, right now. This practice of self-realization allows us to get to know ourselves with interest and curiosity.

Practice doesn’t necessarily mean we need to change anything or become better at something. In fact, if we become so intent on changing or improving something, we may miss what is right in front of us.

One of the Buddhist teachings on self-realization is revealed in a story about four types of horses: the excellent horse, the good horse,the poor horse and the really bad horse.

The excellent horse is highly aware of the driver and the slightest sounds; this horse moves before the whip touches its back. The good horse moves at the lightest touch of the whip. The poor horse waits to feel the pain before moving, and the very bad horse doesn’t move until the pain intensifies and reaches its core.

Most of us want to be the excellent horse or at least second best. Yet the intent of our practice is not to become the best horse.

In fact, Buddhist teachings reveal that the very bad horse is most likely the best practitioner and the most valuable. It is often in our imperfections that we find our true selves. Those who have difficulty practicing will ultimately find more meaning.

This is a wonderful reminder that practice isn’t about being the best or the worst, it’s about finding our own true nature and voice so we can speak and act from this place. The practice of finding our own true nature is a continuous journey.

The art of practice is about trusting the basic goodness of who we already are, what we already have, and the wisdom that exists in all of it.

Practice doesn’t make perfect; practice makes practice, and it’s still wonderful when we dunk the ball the first time.

Teresa Schulz is a spiritual director, author, retreat facilitator and health care chaplain. She can be reached at taschulz56@gmail.com.

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Religion Calendar http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/02/religion-calendar-117/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/02/religion-calendar-117/#comments Sat, 02 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=828482 Dances of Universal Peace: chants from a variety of world spiritual traditions paired with simple circle dance movements. Suggested donation $5-$15. 2-4 p.m. Sunday. Creating Space Yoga Studio, 1717 Congress St., Portland. www.dancesof universalpeace.org/.

To submit an item for the Religion Calendar, go to MaineToday.com and click on the calendar tab.

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Street pastors practice caring, not conversion, on streets of Portland http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/31/portland-street-pastors-practice-caring-not-conversion/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/31/portland-street-pastors-practice-caring-not-conversion/#comments Thu, 31 Mar 2016 08:00:19 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=827523 The six street pastors joined hands and prayed before heading out from the Salvation Army on Cumberland Avenue just after 9 p.m. Friday, armed with Tootsie pops to hand out to whomever they encountered in downtown Portland over the next five hours.

What’s a street pastor? That’s what most of the people wondered when they were greeted by a group of strangers dressed in matching coats and ball caps bearing the title.

Some whispered to their friends after passing by the troupe: Were they police? Preachers?

Others who were curious enough to ask them to their faces were surprised by their answer.

“We’re just here to spread love,” said Scott Loeffel of South Portland, leader of the team that was out Friday night.

In total, 38 members of five churches have volunteered to spend one Friday night a month patrolling the streets of Portland for people who could use their help, whether that’s lending an ear or calling a cab.

In their walking tour of the heart of Portland – from Oxford Street, over to Congress Square Plaza, through the Old Port and down Commercial Street – they said hello to everyone they passed, while looking out for anyone in need, from the homeless to bar hoppers.

Police officers have a nightly presence outside the bars in the Old Port, but their purpose is to prevent revelers from getting out of control, not to offer them a hand. Although street pastors in other communities have reported that their work has resulted in a reduction in crime, Portland police are unsure whether the addition to the downtown will be an asset or a nuisance to officers.

After attending an eight-hour training course at the beginning of March, the first team hit the streets two weeks ago.

Portland is the third U.S. city to have street pastors. The first group formed in 2013 in Chico, California, a college town with an active bar scene. The next year, another one came together in Bangor.

LONDON TO BANGOR TO PORTLAND

The organization got its start in London in 2003 as an initiative of Ascension Trust, an interdenominational Christian nonprofit. Street pastors are now at work in about 270 communities in the United Kingdom and 11 cities and towns in seven other countries, from Jamaica to Gibraltar.

Kurt Holmgren, the outreach pastor at Eastpoint Christian Church in Portland, first heard about the program while listening to a podcast a couple of years ago, then read a book written by the founder of the street pastor program.

When he found out that a group existed in Bangor, he and a half-dozen people from his church went up to tag along for a night.

Since then, Holmgren has been working with the parent organization to get a group started in Portland, culminating with a launch event in January to recruit volunteers.

Every street pastor has to get a referral from his or her church and shell out $95 for a uniform and a background check.

A stipulation of the program is that the volunteers come from several churches, but, for now, most in Portland are members of Eastpoint, a congregation that’s rapidly growing and looking to relocate from a former warehouse by the Portland International Jetport into large, vacant store buildings near the Maine Mall.

Eastpoint paid to fly two trainers over from England and, so far, has covered the costs of supplies to hand out to people on the street, including water bottles, hand warmers, fleece jackets and flip-flops for women who want out of their heels.

Holmgren hopes donations will cover future expenses.

Members of the team walking its first shift Friday described their decision to volunteer as a calling.

Angela Story, Loeffel’s wife, said she felt a tug at her heart when she first heard about the mission, even though it was out of her comfort zone.

Not long after, she was talking to a childhood friend who is now a minister in London and the street pastors program came up without her mentioning it.

“I was like, OK, I get it, I’m supposed to be a part of it,” she said.

Jeff Verrill, a general contractor from North Yarmouth, said he sits in the back of the church during services and generally likes to stay behind the scenes. But when he heard about street pastors, something inside him told him to step up.

“I couldn’t explain it,” he said about the feeling he got.

Verrill believes it could be an unintrusive way to bring Christianity into the community.

“Knowing the spiritual deadness of New England, I felt that this was a good start,” he said. “We’re not judge. We’re not jury. We’re just out here showing people we care.”

HELPING ANYONE, RISKING TROUBLE

Eustace Constance, operations director for Ascension Trust and one of the trainers who visited Portland from England, said churches often are accused of not being involved in their communities.

Having church members, many of them senior citizens, outside at night catering to the bar crowd is a way to help change that.

“They kind of think we should be in bed,” Constance said about the reaction from the public.

And they’re doing more than making sure people get home safely, he said.

“Wherever our street pastors operate, there’s a reduction in crime and social disorder,” Constance said.

Police in Bangor and Chico, however, couldn’t vouch for that in their cities. They said they’re aware the street pastors are out there, but don’t have much contact with them.

Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck applauds the group’s intent, but is skeptical about what impact it can have.

“I think that all remains to be seen,” he said. “They seem like nice folks trying to do the right thing.”

However, he worries that they could elicit a reaction they aren’t expecting or find themselves caught in the middle of a fight.

“I always have concerns for people’s safety when they’re out in certain settings at certain times,” Sauschuck said.

Sure enough, not long after bar closing time on Friday night, the street pastors were talking to a bar patron on Wharf Street when shoving within a group nearby turned to fisticuffs, just out of sight of the line of police officers squared off along Fore Street.

The street pastors’ training taught them not to get involved and they retreated from the scene.

For most of the night, their work consisted of conversations.

They talked to people outside the Oxford Street Shelter, a young man in a wheelchair and a woman who told the volunteers how she had lost custody of her son. In the Old Port, there were people happy to have someone to chat with while standing outside to smoke a cigarette, and bar doormen who were curious about their cause.

Conversation topics ranged from March Madness basketball to poverty in Mexico. For some who told of the difficulties they were facing in life, the street pastors asked if they could say a prayer and found that their words were welcome.

Although some people they encountered mocked their religious beliefs and questioned their motives, most changed their tune when they found out they weren’t trying to convert anyone.

Alyssa Russell, 27, of Portland assumed they were Jehovah’s Witnesses when they approached her and her friends outside Binga’s Stadium on Free Street, and was pleasantly surprised to learn their purpose – and to get a Tootsie pop.

“If they’re just out here talking and looking around to see if people need help, that’s great,” she said. “We need more people like that in our community.”

IMPACT NOT IMMEDIATELY KNOWN

Near the end of the night, the street pastors were taking one last stroll down Fore Street when they saw a young woman by herself, without a coat, leaning against a fence, her head bent over her cellphone.

The two women on the team asked if she was all right, and soon found out she was having trouble standing, as she lost her balance while they spoke. She thought her friends had gone into the nearby Five Guys restaurant, but she couldn’t find them there or connect with them on the phone.

The street pastors gave her a bottle of water and helped her call her friends back, then waited with her, holding her steady, until someone came to pick her up.

Constance, the trainer from England, said it’s often not until after the fact that street pastors find out how much their help meant.

“People, their lives have been saved,” he said, noting instances where people have told street pastors they had been contemplating suicide on the nights they spoke with them. “You never know what you’ve averted until a person later comes up to you.”

And through those stories, their reputation has spread.

Much like the street pastors themselves, the organization doesn’t force itself on anyone, but provides support where it’s needed as new communities form their own teams.

“We don’t go knocking on doors and say do you want it,” Constance said about how cities end up with street pastors. “They get in contact with us and we take it from there.”

 

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Fast-growing Portland church finds a big-box answer to its space crunch http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/30/fast-growing-church-plans-to-move-into-empty-big-box-stores-in-south-portland/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/30/fast-growing-church-plans-to-move-into-empty-big-box-stores-in-south-portland/#comments Wed, 30 Mar 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=827053 SOUTH PORTLAND — The fast-growing Eastpoint Christian Church in Portland plans to move into two vacant big-box stores in a shopping plaza near the Maine Mall.

The unexpected location – in the former Bob’s Discount Furniture and HomeGoods building on Clark’s Pond Parkway – is one of many surprising aspects of the planned church.

The 92,000-square-foot building near a Home Depot and a Cinemagic movie theater would be six times larger than its current location, a 15,000-square-foot former DHL warehouse at 58 City Line Drive in Portland, near the Portland International Jetport.

The church plans to spend $7 million to buy the building and nearly six acres of land, and even more to convert the former big-box stores into a “community center with a church inside,” including a 1,500-seat auditorium, an indoor soccer field, an indoor basketball court and a 40-seat cafe.

Eastpoint’s pastors say they’re designing a newer style of church that’s meant to be totally engaged with the wider community and active seven days a week, not just on weekends. They were inspired when they recently visited the 242 Community Church in Brighton, Michigan. They walked in and saw sports news on big-screen TVs, a soccer field, a cross-fit center, a children’s play space and activity everywhere.

“They were offering the building as a gift to the community and that’s what we want to do,” said Kurt Holmgren, Eastpoint’s outreach pastor. “We could probably satisfy the needs of our church with 50,000 square feet, but we want to be more for the community.”

Eastpoint, a non-denominational, Bible-based church, has a purchase-and-sale agreement to buy the property. The project is allowed under city zoning and is on track for minor subdivision and site plan review by the Planning Board on May 10. Renovations would start in June and the church would move into the new space as early as February 2017, Holmgren said.

Eastpoint’s growth is unusual in Maine, which consistently ranks among the least religious states in America, along with the rest of New England. According to the Pew Research Center, only 34 percent of Mainers say religion is important in their lives and 22 percent say they attend worship services at least weekly.

The proposed Eastpoint Christian Church on Clark’s Pond Parkway in South Portland will create “a community center with a church inside” that is active seven days a week. Courtesy Dwight M. Herdrich Architecture + Design

The proposed Eastpoint Christian Church on Clark’s Pond Parkway in South Portland will create “a community center with a church inside” that is active seven days a week. Courtesy Dwight M. Herdrich Architecture + Design

ADDING FOURTH SUNDAY SERVICE

Founded in 2004, Eastpoint’s following has tripled over the last five years, growing from 300 to 1,200 weekly attendants at its current address, including 120 middle and high school students, Holmgren said. It gradually outgrew three previous leased locations in South Portland and Scarborough. About 2,200 people attended Easter services last weekend and the church is adding a fourth service to its regular schedule this Sunday.

“We’re sort of bulging out of this space,” Holmgren said.

Lead Pastor Scott Taube credits the church’s growth to building relationships.

“It’s providing a place for people to come and be part of the community,” Taube said. “It’s based on our faith. Jesus is at the center of our community. The key for us is to help people know Jesus.”

Eastpoint considered moving to other locations in Portland, South Portland and Westbrook before settling on the former Bob’s and HomeGoods building, which is empty because the stores recently moved to new buildings at 700 Gallery Boulevard in Scarborough.

As communities across the United States increasingly deal with vacant big-box stores, it’s not uncommon to see them converted into churches, said Sarah Schindler, a land use and real estate law professor at the University of Maine School of Law. She wrote an article, “The Future of Abandoned Big Box Stores: Legal Solutions to the Legacies of Poor Planning,” which was published in the University of Colorado Law Review in 2012.

“Churches are definitely some of the uses we see going in, along with bowling alleys, libraries, municipal offices and schools,” Schindler said. “There aren’t many uses that can fill a space that big. It can be very expensive to redevelop these spaces and they really weren’t built to last.”

‘A STEP OF FAITH’

The land and building at 333 Clark’s Pond Parkway are owned by CPSP LLC, a company held by Joseph Soley of Portland, according to the church’s proposal. Part of a larger shopping plaza, the property has an assessed value of about $5.4 million and a yearly tax bill of about $93,960, according to the city assessor’s records. As a church, the property would no longer be subject to taxes.

Currently, 10 of the 13 storefronts in the shopping plaza appear to be empty.

The church project is being financed through The Solomon Foundation, a nonprofit investment group in Parker, Colorado, that helps to establish Christian churches and ministries.

Exactly how much the church would borrow depends on the extent of renovations necessary and how much can be raised in donations, including corporate contributions, Holmgren said. Creating indoor soccer and basketball spaces would require costly removal of interior pillars.

Plans for the new church also show a large student ministry room, 11 classrooms, five event rooms, two conference rooms, a 40-seat café, a scene-building shop and offices. The 1,500-seat auditorium, where church services would be held, would accommodate nearly four times as many people as the current worship space. It would feature a stage equipped with the latest performance-level lighting and sound equipment.

The church set up an email address – ideas@eastpoint.church – to seek input from the wider community.

“This is a step of faith for us,” Holmgren said. “But we really believe this is the direction God wants us to go.”

 

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Pope re-emphasizes the Easter message of hope http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/26/pope-reiterates-the-easter-message-of-hope/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/26/pope-reiterates-the-easter-message-of-hope/#comments Sat, 26 Mar 2016 23:19:05 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=825558 VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis said Saturday that darkness and fear must not prevail as he concluded a bleak week in Europe with a message of hope during an Easter vigil service in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Francis entered the silent and darkened basilica with just a single candle guiding him at the start of the vigil. As he reached the altar, the basilica’s floodlights flipped on in a symbolic show of light after the darkness of Jesus’ crucifixion.

In his homily, Francis said the hope that Easter brings is a lesson for the Christian faithful to cast aside the hopelessness that can “imprison” people inside of themselves.

“We see and will continue to see problems both inside and out. They will always be there,” he said. But he insisted: “Let us not allow darkness and fear to distract us and control our hearts.”

The lengthy vigil service was to include a papal baptism for 12 adults hailing from around the world. A few hours later Francis was to preside over Easter Sunday Mass and offer his annual Easter blessing.

Francis’ message of hope followed his bleak condemnations on Good Friday and earlier in the week of the attacks by Islamic extremists in Brussels and elsewhere.

During remarks Friday at the Colosseum capping the “Way of the Cross” procession re-enacting Jesus’ crucifixion, Francis denounced the “terrorist acts committed by followers of some religions which profane the name of God and which use the holy name to justify their unprecedented violence.”

While the pope was at the Colosseum, his chief alms-giver was out on the streets of Rome giving out sleeping bags to the homeless Friday night in a show of papal support for the city’s least fortunate.

The services took place as Italy increased security at “sensitive sites.”

According to Reuters, police were checking people as they headed for the Basilica. People with tickets were subject to body and bag searches. Security was augmented with reinforcements from other Italian cities.

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Reflections: Easter offers God’s presence in the midst of suffering http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/26/reflections-easter-offers-gods-presence-in-the-midst-of-suffering/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/26/reflections-easter-offers-gods-presence-in-the-midst-of-suffering/#comments Sat, 26 Mar 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=824995 The morning dawned gray and hard. Freezing rain fell the night before and the branches of the trees and shrubs were encased in an icy sheath. Had the morning been sunny, those same branches would have sparkled in the sun’s rays, shafts of light igniting the rainbow flames locked in the ice … but not today. In the gray morning, the ice on the long needles of the white pine and the delicate, peeling branches of the Seven Sons’ Tree held invisible rainbows in the shadowed crystals, but I was content, mindful of the possibility of beauty hidden within, waiting only for a shaft of light to release it.

Over that past six months I have been staring into the hard gray of illness, wondering what, if anything to do with life, waited within. Since last October, I have been fighting a rare cancer that has required surgery and extensive chemo. In the weeks ahead, I will undergo a stem cell transplant. Along the way I have been graced with many moments of kindness and compassion. I felt the love of family and friends sustaining me through it all, each expression an embodiment of God’s presence in a scary and unholy time, each expression making a small crack in the hard reality of cancer, revealing a small flash of a rainbow of hope

Along the way, however, there have been searing moments when the only light visible was the iridescent glow of the chemo bag hanging in the darkness of my hospital room. Dark nights that were more than chronological but spiritual and emotional. Being mindful of the presence of God becomes a challenge in such times – in the dark times we have all had – but a challenge that pushes us to a wider understanding of what it means to be mindful of the Divine in those moments.

Mindfulness is a practice that is encouraged by all those seeking to deepen their spiritual life. Those of us seeking God, or an experience or the numinous, the holy, the sacred are advised to behold the world around us, to look for the face of the divine and hints of heaven in the moment. As the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins once wrote, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil,” thus people speak about spectacular sunrises, mountaintop vistas, soaring music, and the newborn’s face. These moments, as glorious as they are, are not the whole story. It is true creation can bring us to our knees, overwhelming us with such awe and grandeur, but the world can also push us down, overwhelming us with feelings despair and helplessness. Our practice of mindfulness falls short if we don’t include the latter as a place to experience God.

The world can be a place of terror, tragedy and personal trial. No wonder we rightfully grasp at moments of beauty and peace to reassure us of the presence of the Holy … of the Good. Such moments provide respite from the onslaught, but we need more in the midst of the onslaught. I need more, and the story of Easter offers it to me, it gives me a glimpse of the presence of God in the midst of suffering.

Whether you take the story literally or understand it as an archetypal metaphor, or somewhere in between, it tells a wider truth about life. You don’t have to be a believer. We have all had moments of crucifixion, times of entombment with no way out, times of sorrow and hopelessness. And we have also experienced our own resurrections, when against all odds we have been raised up and made whole. Some light has broken through and transformed the darkness into something hopeful, something promising. To me, that is the light of Easter morning, the light that shattered the stone and transformed death.

I am mindful that the gray ice on the trees needs only a ray of sunlight to release the beauty within. I am mindful that the darkness I experience through this disease needs only the light of Easter, which is not limited to one Sunday a year but is there all the time, to release the beauty of hope. And God is, indeed, present in it all.

Janet Dorman is the pastor at Foreside Community Church. She can be reached at revjkdsf@yahoo.com

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Reflections: Meditation lends calm for many of life’s stresses – at home and work http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/25/meditation-lends-calm-for-many-of-lifes-stresses-at-home-and-work/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/25/meditation-lends-calm-for-many-of-lifes-stresses-at-home-and-work/#comments Sat, 26 Mar 2016 00:36:29 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=825131 More than 92 percent of small businesses fail in the first three years. Lately, even some large established companies are disappearing in a short period of time. Stock market fluctuations are creating panic. Some people are working multiple jobs to make a living and have a limited time to rest. These situations and others are creating stress in our lives.

Meditation is a tool that can help us manage stress. My teacher, Lama Willa Miller says, “Meditation helps us by changing our relationship with our thoughts.” Meditation is a mind turning on to mind itself.

At our company iCST, an Information Technology staffing and software testing company, we meditate as a team before every weekly staff meeting and before important meetings. This helps us to work from a place of calm mind. We respect each other by listening and not interrupting even when we disagree. We discuss rather than arguing. We come up with solutions and ideas.

My colleague, Julie Tanner says, “I have never used meditation in my home or work life prior to joining iCST. The practice of meditation at work on Monday mornings allows me to clear my mind and then come in to focus for the meeting. I now think of these minutes spent as a calm way to start my week which is both busy at home and here at iCST.”

Meditation helps us to manage anger. At work, we face daily challenges and difficult situations. Instead of reacting to these situations, we pause, think and respond. Meditation helps us to be peaceful. It makes us be more empathetic to others and to ourselves. It helps us not to make decisions from jealousy. It helps us to cope with adversities.

Meditation can be done by anyone. It does not have to be based in religion. If you are a beginner, you could explore with just two minutes at a time for a few times daily. Ideally, dawn and dusk are good times due to the changes in our body and mindset. We can meditate anywhere. Sitting at the same location daily will create peaceful vibrations at that place. Group sitting will help to leverage group energy.

There are many techniques of meditation. One could sit in a chair or on the floor. Keep the spine straight so that energy flows freely. Clasp hands or keep your palms on your thighs. Close or slightly open your eyes. A simple way to start is to take deep breaths initially and then go back to natural breath. Relax the body. Eventually, meditations may become effortless. Thoughts can be your friends. Do not attempt to avoid or reject them. Just observe them.

Meditation can help us be more productive, give us better well-being, and allow us to enjoy our work and improve our relationship with people and our own thoughts.

Ashok Nalamalapu is the president of iCST and founder of Sadhana, a spiritual center. He offers meditation workshops. He can be contacted at: ashok@i-cst.com.

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Portland Catholics mark Stations of the Cross on Good Friday: Photos http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/25/portland/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/25/portland/#comments Fri, 25 Mar 2016 22:35:58 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=825002 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/25/portland/feed/ 3 http://www.pressherald.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/20160325_Stationsofcross_4.jpgFri, 25 Mar 2016 22:39:24 +0000 Reflections: Recognition of each other lets us experience the jewel of connection http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/19/recognition-of-each-other-lets-us-experience-the-jewel-of-connection/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/19/recognition-of-each-other-lets-us-experience-the-jewel-of-connection/#comments Sat, 19 Mar 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=821116 I was sitting near the South Portland Mall’s interior entrance to Sears a few days ago. Approaching was a woman pushing a wheelchair in which sat an elderly woman, perhaps her mother or an aged friend.

Heartwarmingly, my eyes rested on that tiny parade of humanity, while my thoughts strayed toward a mindfulness of the charity we owe one another.

As this small pageant drew abreast of where I was sitting, the younger woman turned toward me, gifting me with an unguarded smile.

Taken in by this woman’s recognition of me, I nodded while my lips formed a silent greeting.

Such exchanges of intimacy are not uncommon.

Life is a relational bazaar. Our encounters when uncorrupted by self-concern or unworthy motive sometimes bring us into a land of mutual giving where we are known as fellow travelers.

I am not persuaded that every attentive act should engender weighty reflections on our part.

Nevertheless, faced with another being thoughtfully attentive to us as a person may effect in us a feeling of belonging, bringing catharsis.

A stranger gives us an unguarded smile and we know that we are known as a separate being in all our fullness. It is a pleasing thing to be the recipient of another’s act of recognition.

Recognition! Perhaps it is what all of us want, though we have been unable to say it.

There is an inner level of self that wishes to be seen and known, desiring to be the subject of the innocent attention of another.

We seek fulfillment through recognition. Perhaps it is the deepest of all human longing. Soon or late what we realize is that each is a divine manuscript upon which God messages his love for the other.

Jesus taught that we are to commit ourselves to the fiction of “Neighbor = Me.”

Imaginatively, we are to practice seeing ourselves as the other every time we look at another, to see the other as a person and not a thing – a you and not an it.

As we can be encumbered with too much self, it may require practicing an emerging from the self if the body is to become the holy homeland of God’s love.

Annie Dillard in her book “For the Time Being” remembers words spoken by French paleontologist, priest and mystic Teilhard de Chardin: “By means of all created things, without exception, the divine assails us, penetrates us, and molds us. We imagined it as distant and inaccessible, whereas in fact we live steeped in its burning layers.”

On every side we are assailed by God’s infinite speech, whether it resounds from the fiery layers upon layers of swirling galaxies at the borders of the universe, or comes to us from the heart of our neighbor. Without our say-so, we are being steeped in the wonder and absurdity of creation.

Our anonymity and our loneliness are banished when we are recognized, remembered and acknowledged by the friendly presence of another.

Apart from the gifts others bring to us – their smiles and hugs, their assurances and affirmations, their wish-you-well words – we are incomplete beings.

Dostoyevsky long ago wrote of “the plague of self-sufficiency.” It’s not possible to live off the spare nutrients of our self-satisfactions. We are enriched and fortified by the attentiveness of others.

The best thing we can offer another is a humble, waiting patience coupled with a certain passivity that allows the other to be present as a vital and separate human being.

Recognition reveals itself sometimes in a look, a smile, an intonation or a handshake.

Being the recipient of an unguarded smile in a public place was to know myself as known apart from my reputation.

Recognition of another is among the greatest and most charitable of gifts!

The Rev. Merle G. Steva is Minister of Visitation Emeritus at First Parish Church, Saco, Maine.

He may be contacted at mesteva@maine.rr.com.

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Pope Francis to visit Armenia in June http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/18/pope-francis-to-visit-armenia-in-june/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/18/pope-francis-to-visit-armenia-in-june/#comments Fri, 18 Mar 2016 21:11:58 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=821061 VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis is planning to visit Armenia in June, a year after he termed the Ottoman-era slaughter of Armenians a genocide.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, stressed Friday that the trip was still in its planning stages and that no itinerary had been set. But he said that the dates under study were for the second half of June.

Francis sparked a diplomatic incident with Turkey last year when he marked the 100th anniversary of the slaughter with an Armenian-rite Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica and termed the massacre the “first genocide of the 20th Century.”

Turkey immediately recalled its ambassador in protest and accused the pope of spreading hatred.

Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I. Turkey denies a genocide took place and insists those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.

Francis’ proposed trip would come 15 years after St. John Paul II visited Armenia, a mostly Oriental Orthodox former Soviet state with a small Catholic minority.

It was during that 2001 trip that John Paul inked a joint declaration with the Armenian church leader Karenkin II calling the slaughter a genocide.

The plight of Armenians has long been close to the Vatican’s heart given that Armenia is held up as the first Christian nation, dating from 301.

The Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches split in a theological dispute over the divine and human natures of Jesus Christ, arising from the fifth-century Council of Chalcedon. But the Armenian church has established friendly relations with both the Vatican and with Orthodox churches.

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Religion Calendar http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/12/religion-calendar-116/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/12/religion-calendar-116/#comments Sat, 12 Mar 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=817096 Lecture: “Why World Peace Is Possible,” Paul K. Chappell, West Point graduate, Iraq War veteran and international peace leader, Unity of Greater Portland, 54 River Road, Windham, 10 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. Sunday.

Lenten Series III. This week’s hourlong forum: “Thoreau’s Social Protests,” will be led by Ed Mooney, Ph.D., Free, State Street Church, 159 State St., Portland, 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Sunday.

“The Art of Icon Painting” with Russian icon maker, teacher and lecturer Marina Forbes. Open house Sunday at Grace Christian Academy, 187 Lewiston Road, West Gardiner, 6 to 8 p.m.

Coffee House featuring Chris Kemp White, Falmouth Congregational Church, 267 Falmouth Road, 6:30 to 9 p.m. Friday.

To submit an item for the religion Calendar, go to here and click on the calendar tab.

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After abuses, pope reforms saint-making operations http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/12/after-abuses-pope-reforms-saint-making-operations/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/12/after-abuses-pope-reforms-saint-making-operations/#comments Sat, 12 Mar 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=817126 VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis imposed new financial accountability regulations on the Vatican’s multimillion-dollar saint-making machine Thursday after uncovering gross abuses that were subsequently revealed in two books.

The rules require external vigilance over individual Vatican bank accounts created for beatification and canonization causes, as well as regular budgeting and accounting to make sure the donations from the faithful are being used as intended.

The reforms were imposed after Francis tasked a fact-finding commission to investigate Vatican finances, including at the Vatican’s saints office. Two books by Italian journalists, based on the commission’s confidential findings, revealed that the Vatican’s secretive saint-making process brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations for each saintly candidate but had virtually no financial oversight as to how the money was spent.

The books estimated the average cost for each beatification at around $550,000, with much of it going to a few people with contracts to do time-consuming investigations into the candidates’ lives. The family of one investigator also had the Vatican monopoly on printing the documentation for each cause.

While candidates who inspire wealthy donors would sprint ahead, those with less wealthy fans would languish. American saints often cost the most precisely because the most money was donated, and the postulator could spend it on the best researchers, according to the book “Avarice.”

The new rules name an administrator for each saintly cause that will keep tabs on expenditures and donations.

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Missouri Senate moves to guard ‘sincere religious belief’ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/11/missouri-senate-moves-to-guard-sincere-religious-belief/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/11/missouri-senate-moves-to-guard-sincere-religious-belief/#comments Sat, 12 Mar 2016 00:23:02 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=817179 JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — After a failed 37-hour filibuster by Democrats, the Missouri Senate on Thursday passed a proposal to add greater religious protections to the state constitution for some business owners and individuals opposed to gay marriage.

Senators voted 23-7 along party lines to give the measure final approval following the Democratic filibuster, which ground work in the chamber to a halt.

Division over the measure highlights a national debate over how to balance the civil rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and religious liberties following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling last summer that legalized same-sex marriages in all states.

At issue is legislation to amend the Missouri Constitution to prohibit government penalties against those who cite a “sincere religious belief” while declining to provide goods and services for same-sex marriage ceremonies or ensuing celebrations taking place around the same time as a wedding ceremony. The measure cites photographers and florists as examples of those who could be covered. It would also shield clergy and worship places that decline to participate in such weddings.

“This amendment will protect those individuals from being commandeered into a wedding ceremony in violation of their religious conscious,” said Republican sponsor Sen. Bob Onder, of Lake St. Louis.

Democrats, who argued it would allow discrimination against LGBT people, stalled an initial vote on the measure from Monday afternoon to early Wednesday, when Republicans used a rare procedural move to end what was the longest continuous filibuster in recent state history.

On Thursday, action by frustrated Democrats continued to delay work in the Senate. Their pushback included nearly six hours spent reviewing and debating what’s in the official state record of Senate action this week before the measure came up for a final vote.

Democratic Sen. Scott Sifton said if senators and voters met his father and uncle, who are gay, and their partners, the proposal would fail and “Missouri voters would reject it unanimously.”

Some Democratic lawmakers invoked images of an era when businesses refused to serve people because of the color of their skin. Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, said the proposal could allow businesses to hang signs banning LGBT people.

“It’s wrong, and we shouldn’t do it,” he said. “Generations from now, people will look back on what we’ve done, and they’ll be ashamed of us.”

The proposal, which could go before voters as a ballot measure this year, is among the latest efforts by Republican lawmakers in some states in reaction to the high court’s ruling.

Missouri is among more than 20 states that have Religious Freedom Restoration Acts on the books, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Nine states are considering legislation on the topic this year.

Missouri’s existing law bans state and local government agencies from substantially limiting people’s right to follow their religious beliefs unless there is a compelling reason to do so, but the measure passed by the Senate would go further by specifically addressing religious objections to same-sex marriage.

Onder said ordinances barring discrimination against gays and lesbians have been used against people of religious faith. He said his bill is “a shield, not a sword.”

The proposal now heads to the House, where it has support from the Republican speaker and appears likely to pass. House Democrats don’t have the same filibuster powers as senators.

If passed by the Legislature, it would be on the ballot for Missouri voters to decide either in the August primary or November general election. It does not require the approval of Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, who opposes it.

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Evangelical leaders dismayed at Trump support http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/11/evangelical-leaders-dismayed-trump-support/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/11/evangelical-leaders-dismayed-trump-support/#comments Sat, 12 Mar 2016 00:04:37 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=817162 NEW YORK — The list of prominent evangelicals denouncing Donald Trump is growing, but is anyone in the flock listening? The bloc of voters powering the real estate mogul through the Republican primaries is significantly weighted with white born-again Christians.

As Trump’s ascendancy forces the GOP establishment to confront how it lost touch with so many conservative voters, top evangelicals are facing their own dark night, wondering what has drawn so many Christians to a twice-divorced, profane casino magnate with a muddled record on abortion and gay marriage.

John Stemberger, a Trump critic and head of the Florida Family Policy Council, an affiliate of Focus on the Family, said many evangelicals have changed. Litmus tests that for so long defined the boundaries for morally acceptable candidates seem to have been abandoned by many Christians this year, he said, no matter how much evangelical leaders try to uphold those standards.

“Evangelicals are looking at those issues less and less. They’ve just become too worldly, letting anger and frustration control them, as opposed to trusting in God,” Stemberger said.

Trump has won the support of one-third of self-identified born-again Christians across the dozen or so states that have held GOP contests and where exit polls were conducted. In eight of the presidential primaries, he won more evangelicals than Ted Cruz, a Southern Baptist who has made appeals to conservative Christians the core of his campaign, according to polling.

“We’re leading with evangelicals all over the country,” Trump said Saturday at a rally in Wichita, Kansas. “Leading big, because they don’t want to vote for a liar. You have lying Ted Cruz. … He holds up the Bible and then he tells you exactly what I didn’t say.”

NOT AFTER FORGIVENESS

Trump is a Presbyterian who has said he has never sought God’s forgiveness for his sins, botches Bible references and, on a recent campaign visit to a church, mistook a communion plate for a donation plate.

Critics insist exit polls have overstated Trump’s share of evangelical support, arguing that many voters identifying themselves as “born again” in primaries are only nominally Christian.

An October survey from the Public Religion Research Institute backs this view. In the poll, white evangelical Republicans and those leaning toward the GOP who attended religious services weekly were far less likely to support Trump than those who attended infrequently.

“There’s a form of cultural Christianity that causes people to respond with ‘evangelical’ and ‘born-again’ as long as they’re not Catholic, even though they haven’t been in a church since Vacation Bible School as a kid,” said the Rev. Russell Moore, head of the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. Moore was an early and vocal opponent of Trump.

Trump’s biggest evangelical endorsement of the race – from Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, who said the billionaire businessman “lives a life of loving and helping others” – reflected the rift among Christians and even within the university itself. Trump only got 90 of nearly 1,200 votes cast in the university’s precinct in the Virginia GOP primary last Tuesday.

In remarkably public criticism, Mark DeMoss, a Liberty board member and longtime adviser to the school’s founder, the late Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr., called the endorsement a mistake.

“My concern, thinking about evangelicalism and Liberty University, is more about a style and a behavior and a demeanor and a vocabulary that you can’t find any support for in Scripture,” said DeMoss, who had advised Republican Mitt Romney’s presidential campaigns. “I think the potential damage – and time will tell if there was real damage – was an erosion of trust in the school.”

LAITY HAS ITS OWN MIND

Yet it’s not clear whether conservative Christian voters are paying attention. Trump’s candidacy has revealed a distance between evangelical leaders and rank-and-file Christians similar to the one coming to light in the GOP. “The laity has its own attitudes and impulses,” Anderson wrote.

While Moore and others are urging Christians to evaluate candidates using the Bible, many evangelicals are using other criteria, such as seeking a candidate to protect them from the Islamic State group, liberalism, growing secularism among Americans and economic insecurity for the country and their families. The Public Religion Research Institute found that white, working-class evangelicals are more than twice as likely to support Trump than evangelicals with a college degree.

The Rev. Carl Gallups, a Southern Baptist pastor from Milton, Florida, who gave the invocation at Trump’s Pensacola rally last January, said he has had many conversations with fellow conservative Christians about making a pragmatic choice in favor of Trump.

“I tell them, if you are not thoroughly satisfied with what you might interpret the depth of his faith might be, then the next thing we must look at is the candidate who will best preserve your First Amendment rights and allow you to express your Christian faith,” Gallups said. “We’re not electing a priest, a pope or a pastor. We’re electing a president, a CEO, a commander in chief. I’m not perfectly happy with Donald Trump either, but I’m a realist.”

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Reflections: Live each day as if it were your last? How exhausting! http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/05/reflections-live-each-day-as-if-it-were-your-last-how-exhausting/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/05/reflections-live-each-day-as-if-it-were-your-last-how-exhausting/#comments Sat, 05 Mar 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=813036 Danny was totally blown away! He had seen his family physician presumably for a routine physical and cholesterol check, but his doctor found a “lump” when examining Danny’s abdomen. “How could there be anything growing in my belly? I feel fine,” Danny exclaimed. On the day of his physical, Danny exercised before 6, rode his bike, showered and dressed, ate breakfast with his wife and boys, drove to his office in Portland, sat checking his emails waiting for the office to open, saw a couple of clients, then drove to his doctor. All before 10!

Instead of receiving a card for a return visit in six months, Danny was handed a requisition for a CT scan at Maine Medical Center. The indication for the exam was “large mass in the abdomen.” When Danny arrived home after his CT, he discovered an email with an appointment for a needle biopsy of the “large mass.” A few days later, Danny found himself in my office, referred after the biopsy revealed a high-grade lymphoma. “How scary that my insides have been betraying me and I didn’t know it,” Danny shared with me at the consultation. “I was a little tired, but who wouldn’t be from a job with long hours, a new home to fix up, and a wife and two active young boys?”

As Danny sat holding the results of the CT scan and the biopsy in the waiting room and looking at the office sign over the secretary’s window, he knew his life was now radically changed. He would never be the same. How should he live from now on? Several acquaintances told Danny, “Live each day as if it were your last.” Danny recalled that the original phrase “carpe diem” in Latin was coined by the Roman poet Horace, who lived during the reign of Caesar Augustus (1st Century B.C.). Many other sages, ancient and modern, have espoused that same mantra, including Sir Thomas More, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Jean-Paul Sartre, Mahatma Gandhi, and Mother Teresa. Even Elvis. Danny told me he tried it for a week: “It was exhausting – trying to live each day as if it were my last, along with my full schedule and chemo added in. And feeling guilty when I couldn’t do it!”

While Danny started to doze off from weariness in my office during the first visits waiting for more blood tests and X-rays, he became skeptical that carpe diem related to his own life. During a lengthy session in the treatment room receiving chemotherapy, Danny had his eureka moment. On days when he could hardly keep on his feet from the treatment, he realized he had to prioritize what he could do and think. On other days that he was confined to bed and could only think, he had to narrow his focus even further – to the essentials of life from which he could get help. On these “rotten” days, Danny discovered the essentials in his life were someone to get him through the cancer and the chemo and someone to be with him. For Danny, the only ones that could satisfy these needs were God and his wife.

With the help of his rabbi, Danny found Scripture passages that codified what Danny was trying to understand. God fulfilled the need for someone to get him through the chemotherapy: “The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer; my God is my deliverer in whom I take refuge. He is my shield, and the horn of my Salvation, my stronghold. I call to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I am saved from my enemies” (Psalm 18:2-3). Danny’s wife fulfilled his need to have someone to be with him: “Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life” (Proverbs 31:11-12).

Danny discovered for him that carpe diem did not always apply to his life in all its situations. When Danny was very sick, he realized he could not live like today was the last day of his life with an exhausting number of actions and activities. Rather than struggling with what he could not do, he had to find rest in what was essential to him. “It must be about resting,” Danny quipped. “That’s in an old Talmudic prayer.”

Dr. Delvyn C. Case Jr. is a hematologist/oncologist, playwright and director, columnist, and consultant to the Department of Spiritual Care at Maine Medical Center in Portland.

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Religion Calendar http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/05/religion-calendar-115/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/05/religion-calendar-115/#comments Sat, 05 Mar 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=813082 Lenten Series II, Ed Mooney, Ph.D., to speak, free, State Street Church, 159 State St., Portland, www.statestreet church.org, 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Sunday.

Dances of Universal Peace, featuring chants from a variety of world spiritual traditions paired with simple circle dance movements. www.dancesof universalpeace.org/. Suggested donation $5-$15, Creating Space Yoga Studio, 1717 Congress St., Stroudwater, Portland, www.facebook.com/PortlandMEDancesOfUniversalPeace, 2-4 p.m. Sunday.

To submit an item for the religion Calendar, go here and click on the calendar tab.

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Papal adviser vows to help after suicides of victims http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/05/papal-adviser-vows-to-help-after-suicides-of-victims/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/05/papal-adviser-vows-to-help-after-suicides-of-victims/#comments Sat, 05 Mar 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=813099 ROME — A top Vatican official vowed Thursday to work to put an end to the rash of suicides in his Australian hometown over the church sex abuse scandal after meeting with victims and admitting that he failed to act on an allegation decades ago.

Cardinal George Pell, Pope Francis’ top financial adviser, met Thursday with some of the Australian abuse victims who traveled to Rome to witness his four days of remote, video-link testimony to Australia’s Royal Commission. The commission is investigating how the Catholic Church and other institutions responded to the sexual abuse of children over decades.

Emerging from the meeting with survivors at a Rome hotel, Pell read a statement pledging to help his hometown of Ballarat recover from scores of suicides of abuse victims. He said he hoped the city of 100,000 might one day become “an example for practical help for all those wounded by the scourge of sexual abuse.”

PREYING ON DOZENS OF KIDS

“One suicide is too many. And there have been many such tragic suicides,” Pell said. “I commit myself to work with the group to try to stop this so that suicide is not seen as an option for those who are suffering.”

Ballarat, a heavily Catholic city in Australia’s Victoria state, has had a devastating experience with the abuse scandal. Testimony to the Royal Commission revealed how the Christian Brothers religious order, in particular, preyed on dozens of children in the schools it ran from the 1960s to 1980s.

Pell was called to answer questions about his time as a priest in Ballarat, and as an auxiliary bishop in Melbourne. The four days of testimony saw the 74-year-old cardinal answer questions from the commission and a succession of lawyers.

Pell said he was also providing a daily summary of his testimony to Francis.

FAILURE TO ACT IMMEDIATELY

During the final round, Pell acknowledged that he didn’t immediately act when a schoolboy brought an abuse allegation to him in 1974 against a cleric. Pell told the inquiry he was a junior priest when the unnamed student at St. Patrick’s College in Ballarat told him that Christian Brothers teacher Edward Dowlan “is misbehaving with boys.”

Pell said he eventually raised concerns about Dowlan with the school chaplain. The chaplain replied that the Christian Brothers order was “dealing with” the allegations.

Dowlan was later removed from the school but he continued to abuse children as a teacher at other schools until 1985.

“With the experience of 40 years later, certainly I would agree that I should have done more,” Pell said.

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Father, son on mission to Philippines http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/05/father-son-on-mission-to-philippines/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/05/father-son-on-mission-to-philippines/#comments Sat, 05 Mar 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=813107 CAMP POINT, Ill. — Steve Keppner and his son, Jake, are taking father-and-son bonding to a new level – and distance.

The Keppners will be part of a 10-person mission trip this month, a two-week sojourn of more than 8,000 miles that will take them to the Philippines.

Steve and Jake, along with their pastor, the Rev. Cecilia Granadosin, a native of the Philippines, will be representing the Columbus and Mount Sterling United Methodist churches.

Jake, a 16-year-old high school junior, first became interested in the trip last year when he heard about it at a church function. His father soon knew his son was determined to make the pilgrimage, which will see the Methodist group help build a community center on Palawan, which lies between the South China and the Sulu seas.

“I couldn’t let him go alone,” Steve said.

Jake, although eager to be part of such an adventure, also knows that the time with his father will be extremely special.

“I really appreciate my dad for doing this with me,” he said. “I’m looking forward to meeting people from a different country and seeing how they live. I hope I can appreciate what we have (in this country).”

Palawan is in the southeast part of the islands and is known for its striking landscapes.

“This is considered one of the most beautiful areas of the world,” Granadosin said. “Much of it is untouched.”

Steve said he and Jake are the first members from the tiny rural west-central Illinois church to be part of such a mission trip.

“We’re very excited,” he said. “I’m sure this experience will change our perspectives.”

Steve also is looking forward to sharing the venture with his son.

“Jake likes adventure, but he is a very quiet and respectful kid,” Steve said.

Granadosin, who pastors at both the Columbus and Mount Sterling churches, has nothing but praise for Jake.

“He assists with the children’s ministries and helps take care of the parsonage,” she said.

The Keppners, who live in Coatsburg, have been longtime members of the Columbus church and appreciate the family atmosphere found there, Steve said.

“A lot of Sundays, we might only have about 12 people in attendance,” he said.

The rest of the mission trip participants will come from a United Methodist Church in the Rushville-Industry area, which is pastored by the Rev. Steve Granadosin, Cecilia’s husband. The Columbus, Mount Sterling and Rushville-Industry churches are all part of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference, which is providing financial assistance for the trip through a $10,000 grant. A $5,000 grant from the Fellheimer Foundation in Macomb also is helping.

There have been few problems working out the details of the mammoth journey.

“We started planning about six months ago, and things have just worked out,” Cecilia Granadosin said.

Especially for a father and his son.

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Athiest’s opening prayer falls short in Arizona House http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/04/athiests-opening-prayer-falls-short-in-arizona-house/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/04/athiests-opening-prayer-falls-short-in-arizona-house/#comments Sat, 05 Mar 2016 00:48:11 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=813073 PHOENIX — An atheist member of the Arizona House denied the chance to deliver the chamber’s opening prayer by majority Republican leaders last month got the opportunity Thursday, only to see leaders rule his prayer didn’t pass muster and call up a Christian pastor.

The opening prayer by Democrat Juan Mendez included a call to work to help the state and its residents flourish and to “honor the Constitution and the secular equality it brings.” But he didn’t pray to any deity, which infuriated some Republicans who are Christians.

Mendez said before the session that he had been invited to deliver the opening prayer by majority Republican leaders and that he didn’t plan to invoke God.

After his prayer, House Majority Leader Steve Montenegro said Mendez’s decision not to pray to God didn’t meet House rules he issued earlier this year for the opening prayer. Speaker David Gowan then said “point of order well taken” and called on a Baptist minister on hand in an apparently planned response.

“At least let one voice today say thank you, God bless you,” the Rev. Mark Mucklow said.

The minister’s invocation was followed by sharp comments from several Republicans who took issue with Mendez’s prayer.

Rep. Warren Peterson, R-Gilbert, said prayers have been part of legislative meetings “since the founding of this great country.”

“You know what it looks like, you know what it is, it has a long-standing tradition,” Peterson said. “We also know what it looks like when somebody is desecrating and mocking someone else’s beliefs.”

Several other Republicans also stood up object to the atheist prayer, including Oro Valley Rep. Mark Finchem.

“I’m saddened and offended that a member of this body would knowingly disregard our call for prayer and our House rules,” Finchem said.

Mendez didn’t respond to the comments, but Democratic Whip Bruce Wheeler did.

“Rep. Mendez was respectful – some people didn’t happen to like what he said, and so be it,” Wheeler said. “As a representative of his constituents he has a right to speak. And with that I just hope we can calm down a little bit and not make this into a bigger deal that is really is.”

The dust-up is the latest in Arizona regarding prayer in public meetings.

The Phoenix City Council voted Wednesday to restore a tradition of spoken prayer before meetings after cancelling them last month because a group with the word “Satan” signed up to present the invocation. The opening prayers will now only be given by police or fire department chaplains.

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Reflections: God provided for dying mother in many unexpected ways http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/27/reflections-god-provided-for-dying-mother-in-many-unexpected-ways/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/27/reflections-god-provided-for-dying-mother-in-many-unexpected-ways/#comments Sat, 27 Feb 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=808984 My mother’s probing fingers discovered the soft mound protruding beneath the hard lines of her ribs in the summer of 2014. It was probably nothing, a doctor assured her, but scheduled a biopsy to be sure.

Living in Maine, three states away, I couldn’t be there. But the week my 64-year-old, single mom expected the results, I sped down long miles of wooded highways in our family minivan, children crammed inside, to the small Connecticut community where she’d recently bought a cottage.

The Willimantic Camp Meeting Association, established by Methodists more than 150 years before, happened to be in the very town where my mother’s grandparents had run a furniture store and raised her father nearly a century before. After two decades of living out of boxes while traveling through Central Asia as a full-time missionary and linguist, translating the Bible into an endangered language, my mom finally had a home, which she renovated with the generous help of friends.

A few days after I arrived, Mom’s cell phone rang. She was on her way to a conference to talk about her work. She arrived home near midnight. Asleep on the living room futon, I awoke briefly as she brewed tea before sitting at her desk to work. It wasn’t until late the next morning that Mom mentioned the phone call.

“I have cancer,” she said softly. As her graying eyes filled with tears, I saw the disbelief written across the downward lines of her mouth. “But I know God can heal me.”

“Oh, Mom.” We hugged in her cramped kitchen as I grasped for words. Having grown up in church, I knew that God could heal too. If anyone deserved a miracle, it was my mom, who’d sold our family home to earn a divinity degree and pursue a life of serving others. But I also knew that, at some time or other, everyone dies.

Looking for comfort, I searched for scriptures on healing. Instead, God led me to the quiet reassurance of Psalm 27:13-14, “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. … Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord.”

And so I waited, praying – begging – to see God’s goodness. In the hard months that followed, Mom began chemotherapy and radiation. I visited as often as I could. When I couldn’t be there, new friends from her church and community filled in.

Even after the cancer spread to her bones, Mom cut her pain pills in half so she could stay up late, pouring over ancient Greek and Hebrew lexicons late into the night as she continued to work. We never talked about what stage the cancer was or how long she had. Instead, we enjoyed the time we had together as I clung to God’s mercy, seeking his grace and searching for his goodness.

I saw it in the neighbors who drove her to doctor’s appointments and picked up her groceries and medications. I saw it in my friends and family and neighbors who picked up my children after school and stayed with them so I could be with my mom. I saw it in my mom’s neighbors who opened their house to me while they were away so I could help care for my mom without disturbing her work or rest. I saw it in how God had provided for my mom in advance by leading her to this refuge of faith and love.

And that harsh December, six months after my mom’s diagnosis, as she lay dying in a Connecticut care facility, I saw it in the face of the wizened nun who prayed the Eucharist over her and blessed her and assured me that I would see my mom again.

Why didn’t God heal my mom? I don’t know. But rather than prescribing how he should act, I have learned to trust that – even in life’s deepest darkness and disappointment – God is still good. More than the assurance of divine healing, this is the certainty I cling to: that no matter what hardship we face, by the grace of God, we do not have to face it alone.

Meadow Rue Merrill is a midcoast writer, editor, inspirational speaker and mom of six who writes a weekly column Faith Notes. She can be found at www.meadowrue.com.

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Reflections: Teary ride home is inspired by profound gratitude http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/20/reflections-teary-ride-home-is-inspired-by-profound-gratitude/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/20/reflections-teary-ride-home-is-inspired-by-profound-gratitude/#comments Sat, 20 Feb 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=804971 My wife, Nancy, and I were driving home from a spectacular morning in our Yarmouth church last Sunday and basking in the experience and the beauty of a spectacular winter’s day in Maine.

I had been moved to tears on a number of occasions that morning. It had been Music Sunday and children, youth and adults had shared and led us in music – hymns, choir anthems, various musical selections accompanied by and featuring hand-bells, organ, piano, bassoon, flute, trumpet. A children’s choir enchanted us. Little sisters who weren’t old enough to sing stood, dressed in their Sunday best, with their older sisters, a bit self-conscious but delighted at the same time to be a part of it all.

After the service, a good number of us met over a soup lunch to hear from members of families in our congregation and community who are multi-racial by virtue of marriage or adoption. The gathering was part of a series we’ve undertaken to learn about our conscious and unconscious racism. The series began with an all-church read of Debby Irving’s book “Waking Up White.” The stories told brought me to tears for the hurt experienced and the profound trust and bonding generated by their being shared and respected. Love happened.

My tears often surprise me but are always welcomed. They are expressions of my heart, my soul, of my being alive. Prompted by deep sorrow or joy, they come from a place within where what I love and dream of, love and work for, love and know as sacred are either desecrated by cruelty and blindness or profoundly affirmed by sacred moments of courage, compassion and beauty experiencing with others.

Gratitude prompted tears of heartfelt joy on the way home. Back in our 20s, decades ago, Nancy and I redirected our lives, inspired and guided by the values and teachings of Jesus, to spend the bulk of our lives’ labor on Love’s purposes as we understood them in our liberal Christian tradition. We were college graduates on the secular cultural career escalator to security and success, which meant a business career for me. I wasn’t excited about being a businessman, but it was what my father had done. In my mid-20s I began to realize that it might be others’ calling but it wasn’t mine.

The little Congregational church we were attending wasn’t too exciting, but I heard things there that I didn’t hear elsewhere, things about justice and compassion, moral courage and personal meaning. The decision to pursue Christian ministry was life-affirming for me, not so much for Nancy. We challenged and grew one another. That we shared and share the same values and sense of humor gave us enough leverage to save the marriage and set out with our three children on a journey to wherever it led.

My teary ride home last Sunday was inspired by the profound gratitude that what we gave our lives to those many years ago, God is one name for it, the way of Jesus another, gave us what it promised. It has brought us to love, love of one another, love of our children and theirs, love for each and every person, whether we like them or not, love of our church, love of the Earth, love of justice and compassion and kindness and beauty, of life itself, in other words, love of God. We are blessed and so glad that we were led to the road we have taken. And, as you might suspect, I am a bit teary as I write this.

Bill Gregory is a writer, spiritual teacher, retired minister in the United Church of Christ. He can be reached at wgregor1@maine.rr.com

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Religion calendar http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/20/religion-calendar-113/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/20/religion-calendar-113/#comments Sat, 20 Feb 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=804950 Silent Saturday: Time to come away from the noises and demands of life and listen to the inner voice of your own authentic self, the inner voice of God, however experienced. You may choose to attend sessions of group meditation. Lunch is provided and a love offering is suggested, donation, Unity Church of Greater Portland, 54 River Road, Windham, Unitygreaterportland.org, 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday.

Holy Grounds Coffee House Presents EXIT 244. Church of the Holy Spirit, 1047 Congress St., Portland, www.facebook.com/holygroundsportland, 6:30-8:30 p.m. Saturday.

A Spark of Kindness: The Simple Beauty of a Benevolent Heart, Inspirational meet-up with music, readings, and meditations from various faith traditions. Free, Portland New Church, 302 Stevens Ave., Portland, www.chimeofmaine.org, 10:30 a.m. Sunday.

The Art of Icon Painting, Russian icon maker, teacher and lecturer Marina Forbes will offer four-week “The Art of Icon Painting” workshop, MarinaForbes.com, 12:30-5 p.m. Sunday.

The Mystic Heart of All Religion and Spirituality, the transcendent unity of all religion and spirituality is at the root of Aldous Huxley’s “Perennial Philosophy.” MECA Professor Dana Sawyer unpacks this idea in an informal way. Free, the Center for Grieving Children, 555 Forest Ave., Portland, www.chimeofmaine.org, 5:30-7:30 p.m. Tuesday.

To submit an item for the religion Calendar, go to MaineToday.com and click on the calendar tab.

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Pope warns against devil in hardscrabble Mexico City suburb http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/14/pope-to-bring-message-of-hope-to-gritty-mexico-city-suburb/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/14/pope-to-bring-message-of-hope-to-gritty-mexico-city-suburb/#comments Sun, 14 Feb 2016 15:58:22 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=801572 ECATEPEC, Mexico — Hundreds of thousands of people gathered Sunday for the biggest event of Pope Francis’ five-day trip to Mexico, a Mass in the capital’s crime-ridden suburb of Ecatepec, where drug violence, gangland-style executions and kidnappings are a daily fact of life. Francis had a clear message for the masses: “With the devil, there is no dialogue.”

The Mexican bishops’ conference said some 300,000 tickets had been handed out and that an estimated 2 million people were expected to line the pope’s motorcade route to the huge field where the liturgy took place. They tossed flower petals as Francis passed by and cheered with pom-poms in the yellow and white colors of the Vatican flag.

Francis was bringing a message of encouragement to residents of an area where the murder rate, particularly of women, was so high that the government issued a special alert last year. With a densely packed population of some 1.6 million, Ecatepec is a sprawling carpet of cinderblock slums mixed in with some better-off neighborhoods, and is a strategic point for drug gangs that thrive amid poverty, unemployment and impunity.

In a clear reference to the drug lords who hold sway here, Francis focused his homily on the danger posed by the devil and urged Mexicans to resist the temptations of wealth and corruption.

“Let us get it into our heads: With the devil there is no dialogue,” Francis said, improvising from his prepared text. “There can be no dialogue because he will always defeat us. Only the power of the word of God can defeat him.”

As a morning chill turned to a brilliant, warm day, pilgrims on foot and clad in white lined the streets leading to the field. Vendors sold T-shirts, plates with Francis’ image on them, pins, bandanas and cardboard-cutout figures of the pope.

“He’s coming to Ecatepec because we need him here,” said Ignacia Godinez, a 56-year-old homemaker. “Kidnappings, robberies and drugs have all increased, and he is bringing comfort. His message will reach those who need it so that people know we, the good people, outnumber the bad.”

Francis’ decision to celebrate his largest Mass in Ecatepec speaks volumes about his priorities and desire to go to the “peripheries” of Mexico. A day after he was feted in the grandeur of Mexico City’s historic center, Francis began the part of the trip that is certainly closest to his heart: offering words of hope and encouragement to society’s most marginalized.

At least 1,554 women have disappeared in Mexico State since 2005, according to the National Observatory on Femicide, and last year the government issued an alert over the killings of women in Ecatepec and 10 other parts of the state.

Nevertheless, women who came to see Francis said they felt safe, thanks in part to the huge security presence: The government assigned more than 10,000 police, soldiers and agents of the presidential guard to protect the pope’s motorcade and Mass.

Graciela Elizalde, 35, arrived at the field Saturday evening to wait for the pope and said she wasn’t at all afraid to spend the night on the street. She said she felt “protected by my faith and the joy of seeing the pope up-close.”

“The pope is not going to change things, but at least he will touch the hearts of those who do harm and are trying to destroy the country,” she said. “He is the ‘messenger of peace’ because that’s exactly what Mexico needs, not just Ecatepec.”

Conchita Tellez, 65, from the northwest Mexico border city of Mexicali, said she spent 38 hours on a bus to get to Ecatepec and was among the first in line for a spot at the Mass. She expressed hope Francis can help ease the troubled soul of the country, where 100,000 people have been killed and 27,000 disappeared in gangland violence since President Enrique Pena Nieto’s predecessor launched an offensive against drug cartels shortly after taking office in late 2006.

“The pope comes to Mexico at a very ugly moment,” Tellez said, “and he comes to pray for us and for all those who lost hope and have submerged the country in blood and violence.”

Francis’ is visiting Ecatepec a day after his grueling schedule appeared to be already taking a toll. He seemed tired and winded at times Saturday, and he appeared to nod off at an evening Mass and also lost his balance and fell into a chair set up for him to pray.

He appeared much livelier Sunday, beaming and waving at the crowds along his route.

The pope’s five-day trip to the world’s largest Spanish-speaking Catholic country is shining an uncomfortable spotlight on government and church shortcomings in dealing with social ills.

According to government statistics, about 46 percent of Mexicans live in poverty, including 10 percent in extreme poverty. Meanwhile, the homicide rate rose precipitously between 2006 and 2011, before declining somewhat for the next three years and then ticking up again in 2015.

Francis’ schedule Sunday includes three popemobile motorcades and a visit to a pediatric hospital.

“The pope is coming to Ecatepec because it needs him and because the faith is reeling,” said Petra Arqueta, a 62-year-old from Morelos who nonetheless spent a night waiting in line. “The poor and the working people are here, and this pope prefers to talk to the humble.”

 

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Reflections: Maine is in desperate need of population to survive http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/13/reflections-maine-is-in-desperate-need-of-population-to-survive/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/13/reflections-maine-is-in-desperate-need-of-population-to-survive/#comments Sat, 13 Feb 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=800879 A public service announcement: Do not panic if, while facing a mirror, you see a solo, curly and persistent gray hair shooting out of your ear, as if escaping a decaying body, like rats leaving a sinking ship. Everything will be fine; it is nothing but a sign of a chronic disease, called aging. Though ultimately fatal, it won’t kill you right away.

With no background in medicine, I’d depend on reliable sources, who tell me aging is an epidemic ailment happening all over the world. It knows no gender, race, class, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation. All are at risk. What bothers me, as someone at high risk, is why we weren’t warned of this malady before. For instance, we could’ve studied al-aging instead of algebra. Unable to find a use for algebra in adult life, tips on aging would’ve been nice.

Now, if you happen to see many elderly and folks with gray hair around, that may be good. You still have good sight, for Maine is officially the oldest state in the country. But, before you start to yawn and head for the exit, there’s more good news to share: As refugees, immigrants, asylum seekers and others arrive to start a new life in Maine, our cities are gaining some color. Maine is taking baby steps to look like the rest of the country and the world beyond. Immigrants arrive, contribute and add, just as the others before did, to the magic of America. Also, they’re changing the spiritual landscape of our state. Once mostly a Christian community, Maine is now a pluralistic society, home to many hyphenated communities, including Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Baha’is, in addition to Pagans and those who believe in no God. Maine now hosts some 10 mosques, a Buddhist temple and a Hindu one, an African and a Serb Orthodox houses of worship and churches of different forms of Christianity crowded by immigrants worshiping, singing and praising their Creator in languages as diverse as Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, Nubia, Arabic and French, to name a few. This is amazing considering it is happening in Maine, which was once named as the most “unchurched” state in the United States.

Just as in the past, refugees and immigrants arrive in Maine, with hope for a better future in addition to their spiritual beliefs tucked away in their hearts, where no hand of secret police and army could reach. In most cases, their names and faith traditions are all they have of their past, reminding them of their lives and communities lost to political and social upheavals.

Thankfully, the coloring of Maine continues in other ways, as well: Portland has a vibrant gay community, drawn to the area for its acceptance and progressive politics. Similarly, writers and artists, young and old, add color and shape to Maine’s cities with their pens, brushes, chisels. Dancers and musicians are doing their part to put Maine on the national artistic map. Maine, once seen in white and black, resembling an ink drawing of Aroostook County in winter, is now a rainbow of colors. These days, in cities across Maine, Muslim worshipers kneel down in their mosques, bringing their forehead to the floor in humility and submission, just as Buddhists and Hindus chant and burn incense, and many churches in southern Maine vibrate with the sound of worshipers calling their Lord in languages other than English. This is magical, considering Maine, a graying state, is in desperate need of population to survive. It is either the newcomers coming to Maine to start a new life, or, somehow, by some magic, we find a quick cure for aging.

 

Reza Jalali, a writer and an educator, is the author of “Homesick Mosque and Other Stories” and “Poets and the Assassin,” a play about women in Iran and Islam.

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Religion Calendar http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/06/religion-calendar-111/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/06/religion-calendar-111/#comments Sat, 06 Feb 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=796650 Introduction to Hinduism with Dana Sawyer. Hindu spirituality in all its richness and complexity is explained by a nationally known teacher, using stories, slides, rituals and chants. $60 (some scholarship assistance available). RSVP 347-6740, www.chimeofmaine.org, 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Saturday.

Embodying Christianity with Elaine McGillicuddy and Sara Ewing-Merrill, a talk geared to people in recovery from addiction. $60, Chaplaincy Institute of Maine, 555 Forest Ave, Portland, www.chimeofmaine.org, 9:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Sunday.

St. Augustine Anglican Church, Saco. Sunday services schedule, 615-7989, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Sunday.

Preach and Teach with Reza Jalali, faculty member and coordinator of Multicultural Student Affairs at USM, St. Luke’s Cathedral, 143 State St., Portland, stlukesportland.org, 10 a.m.-noon Sunday.

Dances of Universal Peace pair chants from a variety of world spiritual traditions with simple circle dance movements. www.dancesofuniversalpeace.org/, Suggested donation $5-$15, Creating Space Yoga Studio 1717 Congress St., Stroudwater, Portland, www.facebook.com/PortlandMEDancesOfUniversalPeace, 1:30 p.m.-3:30 p.m. Sunday.

Choral Evensong. All are welcome to this traditional service sung by the Cathedral Choir and a special invitation is extended to worshipers who have not previously attended a service of choral evensong. Hear the Scripture lessons read by members of the cathedral congregation and experience this service which is so unique to the Anglican tradition. Service will include choral music of Charles Stanford and David Ashley White. Call 772-5434 for further information. Free, donations accepted. St. Luke’s Cathedral, 143 State St., Portland, stlukesportland.org, 4 p.m.-6 p.m. Sunday.

Ashes To Go!, clergy from around Portland will distribute ashes for Ash Wednesday in front of the Portland Public Library. St. Luke’s Cathedral will offer Ash Wednesday services at 7 a.m., 12:10 p.m. and 7 p.m., St. Luke’s Cathedral Chapel, 143 State St., Portland, stlukesportland.org, noon-2 p.m. Wednesday.

Labyrinth walk, Trinity Episcopal is offering its indoor Chartres-style labyrinth for meditative walks on Ash Wednesday. Free, donations appreciated. Trinity Episcopal Church, 580 Forest Ave., Portland, 772-7421, 4-7:30 p.m. Wednesday.

To submit an item for the religion calendar, go to MaineToday.com and click on the calendar tab.

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Reflections: I believe I am a child of the Light, a child of the Universe http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/06/reflections-i-believe-i-am-a-child-of-the-light-a-child-of-the-universe/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/06/reflections-i-believe-i-am-a-child-of-the-light-a-child-of-the-universe/#comments Sat, 06 Feb 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=796670 My New Year’s meditation was focused on the Light. My prayer is to live in the Light, to be a light in my small part of the world, to refuse to allow any negativity into my mind or my soul. The daily news about the darkness in the world can be overwhelming: wars, mass killings, homelessness, police brutality, discrimination etc. My friend Tom, who visited at Christmas, had just come from a visit with his parents who had little to do but watch television. They lived in constant fear because the only world they were exposed to was on the television screen.

How to explain to them that there is so much good happening in the world? There are rescuers helping refugees when they arrive on shore, volunteers at soup kitchens, ministers to the homeless who walk the streets, healthy parents raising healthy children, people donating kidneys, and the list goes on.

Some news programs will show one little sequence about an act of kindness or someone who is making a difference and we tend to think that this is extraordinary. But extraordinary acts are taking place all over the world by ordinary people. I choose to focus on them and support their endeavors as much as I can.

The bottom line for me is that how we live our lives is a matter of choice. We choose how we respond. We choose if we are going to be self-centered or thoughtful and kind. We choose if we are going to be grateful. We choose if we will put the needs of others ahead of our own. And perhaps most importantly, we choose if we will allow fear to control us.

When I was coming out of a dark night and didn’t know what to think anymore or figure out how I would move forward, I began reading Louise Hay’s Power Thought Cards. I read a different card every day. Some sample cards are: I am safe; it is only change. All is well in my world. I trust the process of life. I copied the sayings in my journal, brought the cards into work so I could be reminded all day. Even though I didn’t feel it or sometimes even believe it, I chose to live my life with these positive affirmations. They eventually became a litany arising in my thoughts on their own. It wasn’t an overnight success, far from it. But I slowly changed my thinking to echo my belief that I am a child of the Light, a child of the Universe.

Perhaps as children, some of us were subjected to dogma or images of God that were negative. Over time, we chose to let go of these ideas as we grew. These thoughts return to our minds and cause us to reject anything spiritual because of our previous negative experiences. But as adults, we can revisit what we were taught and seek clarity. The Light that created all life has not changed. We are the ones who can grow in wisdom and knowledge. As we go deeper into our souls and seek the Light that illumines all falsehoods, we can come to a new understanding of the Divine, a new understanding of Life and our place in this world.

Helen Rousseau is an interfaith minister and spiritual director. She can be reached at helen@helenrousseau.com. Her website is www.helenrousseau.com.

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Phoenix bans prayer by Satanic group – and all others http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/05/ban-prevents-prayer-by-satanic-group-and-all-others/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/05/ban-prevents-prayer-by-satanic-group-and-all-others/#comments Sat, 06 Feb 2016 01:18:16 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=796886 For weeks now, Phoenix lawmakers have wrestled with the idea of allowing members of a Satanic group to give the invocation before an upcoming city meeting.

Phoenix City Council members arrived Wednesday at a controversial solution: Banning prayer altogether.

From now on, lawmakers decided in a 5-4 vote, council meetings will no longer begin with a traditional prayer, but instead open with a moment of silence.

Although the decision may block the Satanic Temple’s Feb. 17 invocation, it prompted outcries from some Phoenix residents and city officials who believe the prayer ban is a de facto victory for the Satanists.

“This is what that Satanist group wants,” Councilman Sal DiCiccio told the Arizona Republic. “A moment of silence is basically a banning of prayer. It’s to agree to the Satanic goal to ban prayer.”

In a tweet, DiCiccio called it a “sad day for Phoenix.”

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton and four members of the council voted in favor of the change and argued that an effort to silence particular groups could land the city in an expensive legal battle.

“The First Amendment to the Constitution is not ambiguous on this issue,” Stanton said, according to the Republic. “Discriminating against faiths would violate the oath that all of us on this dais took. I personally take that very, very seriously.”

PREDICITION CALLED SOUND

Gregory Lipper, a senior attorney at Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said the mayor’s prediction is sound.

Lipper, who has represented the Satanic Temple in previous legal battles, said that two years ago, the Supreme Court held in Town of Greece v. Galloway that a community’s practice of beginning legislative sessions with prayers does not violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. However, Lipper said, while local governments can open meetings with prayers, those governments cannot control the content of those prayers unless they denigrate other faiths or include proselytizing. Much of the resistance to the Satanic Temple, he said, comes from people who believe the group is made up of devil worshipers, and they tend to unleash fierce opposition that wouldn’t hold up in a court of law.

“This is an issue that will come up in homogeneous communities when a member of a minority religion takes advantage of the invocation and it tends to generate a backlash,” Lipper told The Post. “Most local governments are used to a steady drumbeat of Christian clergy delivering Christian prayers. We’ve seen this same issue with Muslim prayer-givers and Wiccan prayer-givers around the country.

“When they show up, all the sudden the practice generated a bunch of objections.”

Lipper said the Phoenix City Council made the right decision, but for “disturbing reasons.”

“They’re saying, ‘we don’t like their prayers, so we’re going to shut the whole thing down,'” he said. “It leaves a bad taste in the Satanist’s mouth.”

Contrary to the name, Satanic Temple members are non-theists who do not believe in the existence of the devil and promote the idea that religion can be divorced from superstition. On its website, the Satanic Temple describes its mission as encouraging “benevolence and empathy among all people.” Among the group’s seven tenets: “The freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend.”

“Our tenants are rational and we emphasize compassion,” Satanic Temple founder Lucien Greaves told The Washington Post. “Satan to us is metaphorical and represents a universal fight against tyranny and autocracy.”

ACTIONS GAIN PUBLICITY

The group has set off numerous headline-making free-speech debates in recent years by using provocative imagery. In 2014, it unveiled a proposal to place a seven-foot Satanic statue in front of the Oklahoma state capitol, next to a statue of the Ten Commandments.

Later that year, after threatening a lawsuit, the Satanic Temple – in conjunction with Americans United – convinced Florida officials to allow the temple to move forward with a holiday display in the state capitol in Tallahassee that showed an angel dropping from the sky into a pit of flames. The week-long display, which Florida officials had previously labeled “grossly offensive,” was placed in an area designated as an open forum for private speech.

Greaves said Thursday that the dispute with the Phoenix City Council began in December, when a local member of the Satanic organization applied via email to give the invocation before the governing body.

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Gay groups may buy Harlem church known for slurs http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/05/gay-groups-may-buy-new-york-city-church-known-for-slurs/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/05/gay-groups-may-buy-new-york-city-church-known-for-slurs/#comments Fri, 05 Feb 2016 23:19:30 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=796688 NEW YORK — The end may be near for a Harlem church known for hateful public messages condemning gays and President Obama to eternal damnation, and two groups that serve gay New Yorkers hope to get an ironic last word on the matter.

They want to buy the Atlah World Missionary Church at a foreclosure auction. One wants to turn it into housing for gay homeless youth. The congregation’s pastor has vowed not to let that happen.

“We’re not going to be pushed like this,” said Dr. James David Manning, who literally thumped a leather-bound Bible during an interview at his church this week. “I’m tired of people ramming their ideas down one’s throat.”

A fixture in Harlem for more than 30 years, the Atlah World Missionary Church has never been shy about expressing its own blunt ideas.

The large red billboard in front of the church is emblazoned with rotating messages like one that said to gays “cursed be thou with cancer, HIV, syphilis, stroke, madness, the itch, then Hell.” Others have gone after Obama, calling him “a Taliban Muslim illegally elected president.”

Manning, who is black, also rails against “sodomites” on the Manning Report, his three-hour daily radio broadcast, and in YouTube videos laced with gay slurs.

So, when news broke that the church owed $1 million to creditors and was facing a foreclosure auction Feb. 24, some quarters received it with glee.

One nonprofit group, the Ali Forney Center, has raised $175,000 on its website as part of an effort to buy the church and convert the building into transitional housing for homeless gay youths – the population, its leaders say, that is most harmed by the Atlah church’s message.

“We ask our kids why they weren’t safe in their homes. … The No. 1 reason is because of the hostile religious beliefs of their parents,” said the center’s executive director, Carl Siciliano.

He added that the church location, just a few blocks from the Ali Forney Center’s Harlem drop-in center, would be ideal “even if it didn’t have the Rev. Manning angle to it.”

A second effort to buy the four-story brick and terra cotta church building been organized by the Rivers of Living Water Ministries, which serves mainly African-American LGBT worshippers. The church’s GoFundMe drive had raised more than $23,000 as of Friday morning.

Rivers of Living Water shares space with other congregations in an Upper West Side church.

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Pope, Russian Orthodox patriarch to meet for 1st time since church split 1,000 years ago http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/05/pope-russian-orthodox-patriarch-plan-historic-meeting-in-cuba/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/05/pope-russian-orthodox-patriarch-plan-historic-meeting-in-cuba/#comments Fri, 05 Feb 2016 11:51:57 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=796278 VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis and the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church will meet in Cuba next week in a historic step to heal the 1,000-year-old schism that divided Christianity between East and West, both churches announced Friday.

The meeting between Francis and Patriarch Kirill will be the first ever between the leaders of the Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches.

Francis is due to travel to Mexico Feb. 12-18. He will stop in Cuba on the way and meet with Kirill on Feb. 12 at the Havana airport, where they will sign a joint declaration.

The two churches split during the Great Schism of 1054 and have remained estranged over a host of issues, including the primacy of the pope and Russian Orthodox accusations that the Catholic Church is poaching converts in Russia.

Those tensions have prevented previous popes from ever meeting with the Russian patriarch, even though the Vatican has long insisted that it was ministering to the tiny Catholic community in largely Orthodox lands.

In November 2014, Francis had said he had told Kirill. “I’ll go wherever you want. You call me and I’ll go.”

The meeting, which was announced jointly at the Vatican and in Moscow, marks a major development in the Vatican’s long effort to bridge the divisions in Christianity.

In the joint statement, the two churches said the meeting “will mark an important stage in relations between the two churches. The Holy See and the Moscow Patriarchate hope that it will also be a sign of hope for all people of good will. They invite all Christians to pray fervently for God to bless this meeting, that it may bear good fruits.”

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Israel approves Western Wall plaza change http://www.pressherald.com/2016/01/31/israel-approves-western-wall-plaza-change/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/01/31/israel-approves-western-wall-plaza-change/#comments Mon, 01 Feb 2016 00:57:36 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=793849 JERUSALEM — Israel on Sunday approved a plan that would dramatically change the layout of Jerusalem’s Western Wall plaza, one of the holiest sites in Judaism, creating a space for egalitarian prayer and mixed-gender ceremonies for non-Orthodox Jews.

The new area, which will enable men and women to pray side by side, is to be adjacent to the existing plaza run by ultra-Orthodox rabbis. That area is split into prayer sections for men and women, although women are not allowed to read aloud from the Torah, wear prayer shawls or sing there.

Along with creating a change to the delicate status quo, this marks an unprecedented move by the Israeli government to officially recognize the rights of Conservative, Reform and other Jewish denominations to hold organized prayer at the site.

Jewish groups in Israel and the United States hailed the decision as a historic step toward religious pluralism in Israel. American Jewish organizations, many of which feel that their religiosity is sidelined in Israel, have been integral in pushing the plan forward and assuring it remains on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s agenda.

“The Jewish state has always held a promise that it is for all Jewish people, and the Wall is such an amazingly spiritual and inspirational place,” said Jerry Silverman, president of the Jewish Federations of North America, an organization representing hundreds of Jewish groups.

“Now, to have a space that will recognize the way the majority of Jews practice their religion – at least Jews from the United States – is a monumental step forward,” he said.

After long-running negotiations with several Jewish groups, the plan was drafted by former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky, head of the Jewish Agency for Israel, and outgoing Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mandelblit.

The ultra-orthodox rabbinate, which enjoys a monopoly on religious Jewish life in Israel from births and marriages to places of worship, was unwilling to allow any changes at the site. Archaeologists expressed dismay that more development at the Western Wall could destroy precious artifacts and change a visitor’s view into the past.

The area around the ancient wall, part of the first and second Jewish temples, is also a sensitive spot for Muslims, who consider the adjacent al-Aqsa mosque compound the third-holiest site in Islam.

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Reflections: Now is when new life stirs, though hidden in the cold and dark http://www.pressherald.com/2016/01/30/reflections-now-is-when-new-life-stirs-though-hidden-in-the-cold-and-dark/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/01/30/reflections-now-is-when-new-life-stirs-though-hidden-in-the-cold-and-dark/#comments Sat, 30 Jan 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=793012 “In the bleak mid-winter, frosty winds made moan; Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone.”

The traditional Christmas hymn is perhaps more apt in these cold and bleak post-holiday weeks. There’s a comforting thread in historical religious and cultural observances on Feb. 2, known popularly as Groundhog Day, but with roots in Candlemas, St. Brigid’s Day, and Imbolc. New life stirs, though hidden in the cold and dark.

In ancient and contemporary pagan observance, Imbolc is the cross-quarter day halfway between winter solstice and spring equinox. Observed with the lighting of candles and fires, it celebrates the return of warmth and light, the barely perceptible stirring of life in the seed still deep in the ground, the animal still hibernating in the den, the child still hidden in the womb. Embraced particularly among Celtic cultures, it was dedicated to Brigid, the goddess of fire, warmth and light, poetry, healing and smithcraft.

As Celtic lands were Christianized, Imbolc was adopted as St. Brigid’s Day, and became known also as Candlemas. Dedicated to Mary, who, like Brigid, was revered as a divine mother figure, it commemorated her ritual purification following the birth of her son, Jesus.

Candlemas, brought to the United States by Pennsylvania Dutch (Germans, actually) included folklore that the weather on Candlemas predicted the advent of spring: “If Candlemas be fair and bright, Winter has another flight; If Candlemas brings clouds and rain, Winter will not come again.” The emergence of the groundhog from winter hibernation being a harbinger of spring made it natural to associate it with Candlemas on Feb. 2, and thus was born the uniquely American observance of Groundhog Day.

From ancient times to ours, we need something to celebrate when it seems the cold has penetrated everything to the core. Seasonal affective disorder (with its apt acronym, SAD) triggers serious depression for many and cabin fever means the blahs for most. The winter holidays feel so long ago, spring so far away.

Each of these diverse yet similar traditions tells us to take heart! Even now the signs of light and warmth and life are stirring! Through centuries and across cultures, people are heartened by the promise of light and warmth when it’s dark and cold, by believing that even “in the bleak mid-winter” lie the seeds of spring.

Can we find encouragement in the gradual increase of daylight, and in tiny steps toward a world of justice and peace? Can we believe that the warmth of human and divine love will melt the literal cold and that of loneliness, hatred, fear, and violence? Can we seek and find in the richness of religious and cultural diversity the universal hopes and dreams of the whole human family? Feb. 2 and the story of Imbolc, St. Brigid’s Day, Candlemas and Groundhog Day offer us inspiration to try.

The Rev. Andrea Thompson McCall is a retired United Church of Christ minister who served as interfaith chaplain at the University of Southern Maine.

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Reflections: Without God, life would be a futile aging into deepening sadness http://www.pressherald.com/2016/01/23/reflections-without-god-life-would-be-a-futile-aging-into-deepening-sadness/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/01/23/reflections-without-god-life-would-be-a-futile-aging-into-deepening-sadness/#comments Sat, 23 Jan 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=788816 Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard allowed that life is lived forward but understood backward. Wisdom gained may friend our tomorrows; however, it can only infer from what is over. Still, fresh bearings oriented to heightened discernments may be a true benefit.

Hugh Prather wrote in his “Notes to Myself:”

If I had only… forgotten future greatness and looked at the green things and the buildings and reached out to those around me and smelled the air and ignored the forms and the self-styled obligations and heard the rain on the roof and put my arms around my wife … and it’s not too late.

Prather’s “notes” are suggestive: They argue against our half-lived ordinary lives. Insinuated are missed opportunities for experiencing ourselves, others and our world more deeply, perhaps for failing to notice a whispering that came for you alone, saying there was something lost and waiting beyond now’s too much and, God forgive, you never went. The poet Rilke in his Duino Elegies also wrote of our stunted and uninspiring inner lives:

Yes – the springtimes needed you. Often a star was waiting for you to notice it. A wave rolled toward you out of the distant past, or as you walked under an open window, a violin yielded itself to your hearing. All this was mission.

But could you accomplish it?

“All this was mission” – what a striking statement! The question “But could you accomplish it?” – that is, were you available to life’s ordinary gifts of intimacy and beauty, attributes of the spirit so essential to the birthing of a nobler self? There is that about our world that wills us to be attentive to the whole of life – life with its magisterial variety and munificence and which insistently addresses us. This invading benevolence of the creation and its occasions challenges any who witlessly would shut themselves away from the splendiferous mystery of God’s presence permeating the moments and circumstances of our lives.

Were it not for my conviction that God has authored this drama of life, so vulnerable to chance’s enigmatic arithmetic but, which in the last must answer to an encompassing and mastering grace assuring me that in the last all shall be well, life simply would be a futile aging into a deepening sadness shorn of all hope. It would be as if I had never heard the Word, which once spoke so graciously: “I am the Way, the Resurrection and the Life” – hearing instead a voice from the depths: “I am the door forever locked, the road which leads nowhere, the lie, the everlasting dark.”

Humankind may forget the origins of its need; still individuals the world over, knowing themselves to be dying men and women, are furiously rummaging through the domains of film, literature and art for clues to the purpose of both their being, their journey and their goal. Similarly, I too plunder favorite poets and authors, frequent landscapes of former times, saunter along country roads, wanting to be nourished by what was and what is, while revisiting in my mind key moments where my life turned one way and not another. Hungrily, I through the years have desired that this wispy geometry of my inner being be magically touched by wonder and awe in the presence of the Unsayable. I want God’s eternal morning to break in me!

The Rev. Merle G. Steva is Minister of Visitation Emeritus at First Church, Saco. He may be contacted at mesteva@maine.rr.com.

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Pope allows women to join foot washing http://www.pressherald.com/2016/01/22/pope-allows-women-to-join-foot-washing/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/01/22/pope-allows-women-to-join-foot-washing/#comments Fri, 22 Jan 2016 23:52:24 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=788879 VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has changed church regulations to explicitly allow women and girls to participate in the Easter Week foot-washing ritual, after having shocked many Catholics by performing the rite on women and Muslims just weeks after he was elected.

Proponents of women’s ordination hailed Francis’ decree, while traditionalist Catholics warned that it would weaken the church and lead to questions about the inviolability of the all-male priesthood.

Vatican rules for the Holy Thursday rite had long called for only men to participate. Popes past and many priests traditionally performed the ritual on 12 Catholic men, recalling Jesus’ 12 apostles and further cementing the doctrine of an all-male priesthood.

Shortly after he was elected, Francis raised conservative eyebrows by performing the rite on men and women, Catholics as well as Muslims, at a juvenile detention facility in Rome.

He has continued to include men and women, young and old, sick and healthy and people of different faiths, traveling each year to encounter them to show his willingness to serve. It was a tradition he began as archbishop in Buenos Aires.

On Thursday, the Vatican published a decree from the Vatican’s liturgy office introducing an “innovation” to the church’s rules that better corresponds to Francis’ way of doing things.

The decree said the rite can now be performed on anyone “chosen from among the people of God.” It specifies that the group can include “men and women, and ideally young and old, healthy and sick, clerical, consecrated and lay.”

Priests must make sure that those participating are instructed beforehand as to the significance of the gesture, the decree said. While the phrase “people of God” generally refers to baptized Christians, the decree also said that pastors should instruct “both the chosen faithful and others so that they may participate in the rite consciously actively and fruitfully.” That could suggest that the rite could be open to non-Catholics as well.

In an accompanying letter, dated Dec. 20, 2014 but released Thursday, Francis wrote to the head of the liturgy office saying he wanted to change the current rules “to fully express the significance of Jesus’ gesture … his giving of himself to the end for the salvation of the world and his unending charity.”

The Women’s Ordination Conference, a group that has long advocated for female priests, celebrated the decree as a sign that “change is possible.” But it noted that Francis’ wishes clearly met resistance within the Vatican, given his letter requesting the change was dated more than a year ago.

Cardinal Robert Sarah, head of the liturgy office, is a staunch conservative.

“Our prayer during this Year of Mercy is that the inclusion of women in the church not stop at our feet, but will be one of many signs to include women fully in the institutional church,” the group said in a statement.

The traditionalist blog Rorate Caeli, meanwhile, warned that the accommodation could lead to questions about the inviolability of the all-male priesthood and bring the Catholic Church the way of the Anglican Communion, which has been badly divided over allowing female priests and bishops and blessing same-sex unions.

“What is most tragic is to see the very same impulses that imploded Anglicanism imposed on Latin Church decades later,” Rorate Caeli said Thursday.

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Reflections: Heaven isn’t a place we go, it’s how we reach the divine http://www.pressherald.com/2016/01/16/reflections-heaven-isnt-a-place-we-go-its-how-we-reach-the-divine/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/01/16/reflections-heaven-isnt-a-place-we-go-its-how-we-reach-the-divine/#comments Sat, 16 Jan 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=784226 One winter, when I was between homes, I rented a condo directly on the beach. It was my joy each morning to witness the most spectacular sunrises, unequaled to any I had ever seen before. I finally stopped taking photos and just let my spirit bask in the beauty of each moment while the sky was painted with an array of rainbow colors as the sun peeked above the horizon.

The beauty of these displays was never interrupted by my knowing that the sun really doesn’t rise and we are on a round planet with a 365 day yearly rotation around our sun. What other terms would we use for sunrise and sunset? Does it really matter? Who would spend time arguing this fact? Also, the ambiance of sunrises and sunsets is such a deep part of our psyches, our songs, our art and our daily living.

I see the words heaven and hell in the same way. Today the words heaven and hell are used very loosely in the English language. Swiss chocolate is heavenly, we say. When someone is happy, he or she might say, I’m in heaven. A person who is enduring a really hard time might say, it’s been hell. We know what they mean because most of us understand that to be in heaven is to be at peace, enjoying the reward of a good life. To be in hell is to be suffering bodily, spiritually or psychologically.

At a time when people thought the earth was flat, it made sense to believe that heaven was above where the gods lived. The night sky, thunder and lightning, rain, everything was a mystery that couldn’t be explained. Every people and tribe passed on creation stories and imagined gods above the earth who ruled over humans and could affect their fates. Conversely, the place of the wicked or the fallen gods and angels must be below earth in a place called hell, a place humans could end up if they defied the gods.

Many guides or holy ones, over the centuries, in all the spiritual traditions have taught us that God/Divinity/Life’s Source/Heaven is within all of us. Jesus said, The Kingdom of God is within you. From another tradition, we have the same concept. In a commentary of the Yoga Sutras we read: God, the underlying Reality, is by definition omnipresent. Though the Reality is everywhere, we can only make contact with it within our own hearts.

Many people have heard of the term “thin places.” A thin place is a place where the boundary between heaven and earth is especially thin. It’s a place where we can sense the Divine more readily. The wind-swept isle of Iona is such a place. A friend who just returned from there spoke about the sense of transcendence that was all around her. There are many, many such places on earth which allow us to understand that heaven is not a place we travel to but a place we open our souls to.

And so our call, as I understand it, is to seek Divinity within us through whichever way speaks to our souls. There are many: in nature, through song, meditation, mindfulness, receiving and giving love, or artistic expression. To answer my own question, I don’t think of heaven as a place but as a state of being which is accessible to all, in whatever spiritual tradition they choose, and however they understand God.

Helen Rousseau is an interfaith minister. Her website is at www.helenrousseau.com.

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Religion Calendar http://www.pressherald.com/2016/01/16/religion-calendar-109/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/01/16/religion-calendar-109/#comments Sat, 16 Jan 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=784231 Saturday

Silent Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., listen to your inner voice away from the demands of life. Held at Unity of Greater Portland, 54 River Road, Windham. Lunch is provided and an offering is suggested. For more information or to register, call the church at 893-1233 or Jack Serry at 651-5990.

Eckankar, the Religion of the Light and Sound of God, 11 a.m. to noon, monthly service at McArthur Public Library, 270 Main St., Biddeford. For more information, go to eckinme.org.

Holy Grounds Coffee House, 6:30 p.m., with dinner, worship and concert with Chasing the Light. Doors open at 6 p.m. Held at the Church of the Holy Spirit, 1047 Congress St., Portland. No cover charge. Food will be available at a reasonable price.

Sunday

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. worship, 10 a.m., service with guest speaker, the Rev. Deborah Blood, conference minister for the Maine Conference of the United Church of Christ. Held at State Street Church, 159 State St., Portland.

“Hope and Healing: An Invitation,” 10:30 a.m., interfaith service at Portland New Church, 302 Stevens Ave., Portland. Visit chimeofmaine.org or call 347-6740 to learn more.

Old-fashioned service, 11 a.m., in conjunction with Thomaston Baptist Church’s 200th anniversary this year. Featured will be music from that period and the first of its “History Moments,” a collection of short items from the church’s history. Founded in 1816, and originally known as the Second Baptist Church in Thomaston, the congregation has been meeting at its current location at the corner of Main and Green streets since 1837. The public is invited. Call the Rev. Wayne Sawyer at 354-6706 for more information.

Thursday

Labyrinth Walk, available between 4 and 7:30 p.m., indoor Chartres-style labyrinth for meditative walks. The Rev. Todd Glacy will provide vibrational accompaniment on gongs and singing bowls starting at 6 p.m. Allow about 30 minutes to complete the walk. Trinity Episcopal, rear entrance, 580 Forest Ave., Portland. Call 772-7421 to learn more

Friday

“The Authority of the Believer,” 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., free interactive workshop with Pastor Frank Siciliano. Held at Royal Ridge Church of God, 6 Royal Ridge Road, Scarborough. Email pastorfranksic@gmail.com or call 883-4993 for details.

Coming up

“Cooking Matters for Adults,” 2 to 4 p.m. starting Jan. 25 and continuing through Feb. 29. The classes are designed to help low-income adults learn to shop for and prepare nutritious meals on a limited budget. The classes are free and will be held at St. Anthony of Padua Parish, 268 Brown St., Westbrook. Instructors are Nicole Anderson, a nutrition educator, and James Tranchemontagne, a chef from the Frog & Turtle in Westbrook. For more information or to participate, contact Mary Hopkins at 857-0490 or mary.hopkins@portlanddiocese.org.

Other

Monsignor Marc B. Caron has been named professor of theology and a member of the Priestly Formation Faculty at St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, Massachusetts. Born in Lewiston, Caron attended St. Dominic’s Regional High School and graduated summa cum laude from Bowdoin College in Brunswick. He completed his clerical studies at Theological College of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., earning a bachelor’s degree in sacred theology and later earned an advanced degree in sacred theology. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1989 by Bishop Amédée W. Proulx at Holy Cross Church in Lewiston. He will remain a priest for the Diocese of Portland, returning to the diocese after his five-year assignment at the seminary.

Allison O. Flaherty of Saco has been appointed settled pastor at the First Congregational Church of Buxton UCC. She most recently served as the interim pastor of the church, and in the same role at Buxton’s North Congregational Church. She earned a master’s of divinity from Andover Newton Theological School in Andover, Massachusetts, in 2014, and also attended Portland’s Bangor Theological Seminary.

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Anglicans sanction the Episcopal Church in America for supporting gay marriage http://www.pressherald.com/2016/01/16/anglicans-sanction-the-episcopal-church-in-america-for-supporting-gay-marriage/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/01/16/anglicans-sanction-the-episcopal-church-in-america-for-supporting-gay-marriage/#comments Sat, 16 Jan 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=784244 NEW YORK — Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said Friday the U.S. Episcopal Church will not roll back its acceptance of gay marriage despite sanctions imposed this week by Anglican leaders.

In a phone interview from England, where he attended the gathering of top Anglican archbishops, Curry said he told his fellow leaders they should expect no change. The top Episcopal legislative body, called General Convention, last year voted overwhelmingly to authorize same-sex marriage ceremonies in church. In response, Anglican leaders Thursday stripped the Episcopal Church of any role in deciding doctrine or determining how the Anglican Communion operates for three years, reducing the church to observer status in the global fellowship.

“They heard from me directly that that’s not something that we’re considering,” Curry said. “They basically understand we made our decision, and this is who we are, and we’re committed to being a house of prayer for all.”

Curry said the church was resolved to work toward building acceptance of same-sex relationships throughout the Anglican fellowship, which the Episcopal Church represents in the United States. A majority of Anglican leaders at the meeting affirmed the teaching that marriage is only the union of a man and a woman.

“We are loyal members of the Anglican Communion, but we need to say we must find a better way,” Curry said. “I really believe it’s part of our vocation.”

ONGOING RIFT

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the spiritual leader of the Anglican family, had organized the assembly in Canterbury to help avoid a split in the fellowship that had been building for decades over differences about homosexuality, women’s ordination and other issues.

Those rifts blew wide open in 2003 when the New York-based Episcopal Church consecrated the first openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson, in New Hampshire. Ever since, theological conservatives, led by Anglican leaders in Africa, have demanded some penalty for the U.S. church. Many have distanced themselves from the Episcopal Church and in 2009 helped form an alternative to the U.S. denomination, called the Anglican Church in North America.

Welby does not have the authority to force a resolution.

In their statement from this week’s meeting, Anglican leaders called the Episcopal Church approval of gay marriage “a fundamental departure from the faith and teaching” of the majority of Anglicans. As a result, Episcopalians “no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies,” and could not vote or fully participate in Anglican committees, the leaders said.

The statement also included a condemnation of “homophobic prejudice and violence” and rejected criminalization of homosexuality, common in African countries.

“For me, it is a constant source of deep sadness that people are persecuted for their sexuality,” Welby said at a news conference in Canterbury Cathedral, at the end of the meeting. He expressed “how sorry I am for the hurt and pain in the past and present that the church has caused and the love sometimes that we have completely failed to show.”

Outside, gay rights demonstrators, many from Africa, waved signs and sang. “We are here talking about human beings, real people who are having their lives torn apart,” said Jayne Ozanne, a leading gay rights activist in the church.

Anglicans, who trace their roots to the Church of England, are the third-largest grouping of Christians in the world, behind Roman Catholics and Orthodox.

CANADIANS TO VOTE

The Anglican Church of Canada is scheduled to vote in July on a proposal that would change church law to allow same-sex marriage. If the change is approved, it would have to be reaffirmed at the church’s next legislative meeting, or General Synod, in three years. Archbishop Fred Hiltz, who attended the Canterbury gathering, said the penalty for the Episcopal Church will be a major consideration.

“Obviously, this whole thing will weigh pretty heavily on the minds of people going into the General Synod,” Hiltz said in an interview. “If we vote for a change in the canon on marriage there will be some consequence.”

At the news conference, Welby underscored that the meeting had averted any break and that the Anglican leaders “unanimously indicated that they wanted the churches of the Anglican Communion to walk together.” He announced the next once-a-decade meeting of all Anglican bishops, called the Lambeth Conference, would take place in 2020, an announcement he had delayed as he worked to keep the communion together.

Both Welby and Curry said there had been no discussion of the specifics of this process or what would have to happen over the next three years for the Episcopalians to be restored to full participation in the global fellowship.

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