Quick Note on Lambeth

Karen and I have returned from Canterbury and the Lambeth Conference that ended there last week. I’m mostly recovered from the experience and have had some time to reflect on what I saw and learned. I’ll be writing and speaking more about the events of the conference later this fall, but I did want to share some quick impressions while they’re still fresh in my mind.

We belong to a global church that contains many cultures. I’m reminded of that, to a smaller degree, every time the Episcopal Church House of Bishops or General Convention gathers, since the Episcopal Church is found across this nation and across the Gulf of Mexico, the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans. But gathering with bishops from the 42 provinces (we’re just one of them) really drives that home. We met and prayed together in multiple languages, out of multiple ministry contexts and facing very different challenges. Our experience of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion here in Southern New England is just a small part of a very large and rich quilt.

There is much more that unites us than divides us. The news reports about the conference were full of conflict narratives and quotes from outsiders claiming that the Anglican Communion was “over”. That was not at all what it was like at the Conference. Yes, there are deep divisions between us, but that is only a part of the truth. We have so much more in common. Not just the Gospel and the mission to proclaim it to all the World, but our common heritage, the shape of our liturgy and prayer books, the way we think about prayer and action and the affection we hold toward one another.

This was a very important meeting. I’m hesitant to share “hot takes” about events because I generally find that I don’t fully understand what has happened until time and distance give me more perspective. But I’m already just about certain that way the Archbishop of Canterbury and the other leaders of the Communion handled the last minute controversy regarding equal marriage for all in the Lambeth Call entitled “On Human Dignity” will give us space to grow into deeper relationships with other Anglicans around the World. (More on this later.) I teared up as the Archbishop spoke to the assembled bishops that Tuesday afternoon and insisted that voices of inclusion had “not ignored scripture or denied Jesus” – a common charge made by those opposed to the full inclusion of LGBTQI+ people in the Church. As he said those words, a great weight lifted off all of us, those in favor and those opposed, and the character of the conference changed. Perhaps so too has the Communion.

There are many people around the World who need our help. Given the sometimes overwhelming challenges that we face here in Rhode Island, in the United States, it’s hard to imagine that the Church is facing even greater ones elsewhere. But it is. In parts of the World, Anglicans are actively persecuted, their buildings attacked and their lives threatened. Churches in South Sudan are trying to rebuild their communities after years of war and asking us to help provide farming implements, seeds and sewing equipment. I had a chance to meet the new bishop of Ezo – who is keen on rejuvenating our diocesan relationship, I met a young bishop from Sudan who is living in a refugee camp because his region has no basic services, and a bishop from a brand-new diocese in Kenya who is working to build up the basic structures he will need to start sharing the Good News with his region. Listening to their stories reminds me of how blessed we are both materially and spiritually, and what a blessing it is that we can share with others.

There’s so much more to tell. I want to tell you about the Anglican Communion Science Commission and my role with it, about the Communion Forest Initiative, about the work that I saw Della Wager Wells doing, about seeing Ivy Swinski and Kinte Howie on screen in front of all the other bishops and dignitaries, about the impact of the worship, the chance meetings, the stories of faithful ministry from around the Communion and … Well, you get the idea. I’ll be sharing more over the coming months, both online and during my visitations. For the moment, I’m glad to be home and working alongside people who I’ve so grateful to share ministry with. Stay tuned as they say…

+Nicholas

Read more about us

May we make a suggestion for your summer reading? RISEN will tell you about the good things happening in the congregations of our diocese. A new issue is on the way, but until then you can catch up on past issues here. Enjoy!

A Statement on the Supreme Court Decision Dobbs v Jackson

The news today from the Supreme Court is not unexpected, but it is very hard for many. While the issue of abortion has been understood by Episcopalians as a moral decision, often left to the individual, the Episcopal Church is “unequivocally” pro-access to abortion and health care services. This decision will make that access impossible for some Americans.

As for our state, the Rhode Island Attorney General has released a statement that he intends to defend the state’s present Reproductive Privacy Act:

“I want to reassure Rhode Islanders that the right to an abortion remains protected here in Rhode Island. In 2019, Rhode Island codified Roe v. Wade and its progeny under our state’s Reproductive Privacy Act, ensuring that Rhode Island will not return to the days of illegal and unsafe abortions that endanger lives and create criminal liability for physicians.

“My Office has successfully defended our Reproductive Privacy Act from a legal challenge before and we stand ready to defend it in the future.”

I commend all of the Presiding Bishop’s statement on the decision to you, particularly these two paragraphs:

The Episcopal Church maintains that access to equitable health care, including reproductive health care and reproductive procedures, is “an integral part of a woman’s struggle to assert her dignity and worth as a human being” (2018-D032). The church holds that “reproductive health procedures should be treated as all other medical procedures, and not singled out or omitted by or because of gender.” (2018-D032). The Episcopal Church sustains its “unequivocal opposition to any legislation on the part of the national or state governments which would abridge or deny the right of individuals to reach informed decisions [about the termination of pregnancy] and to act upon them.” (2018-D032). As stated in the 1994 Act of Convention, the church also opposes any “executive or judicial action to abridge the right of a woman to reach an informed decision…or that would limit the access of a woman to safe means of acting on her decision.” (1994-A054).

The court’s decision eliminates federal protections for abortion and leaves the regulation of abortion to the states. The impact will be particularly acute for those who are impoverished or lack consistent access to health care services. As Episcopalians, we pray for those who may be harmed by this decision, especially for women and other people who need these reproductive services. We pray for the poor and vulnerable who may not have other options for access. We urge you to make your voice heard in the way you feel called but always to do so peacefully and with respect and love of neighbor.

In all things, I am mindful of St. Paul’s admonition that we will read this weekend that the Christians are to love one another and so witness to the truth of the Gospel to the World.

Finally, the Presiding Bishop’s office has sent a notice to the bishops that they have received an alert that there is credible evidence of violence planned against churches and clergy who are outspoken advocates of abortion access. Please be especially alert in the coming days to anything that causes you concern and do not hesitate to contact local law enforcement if you need to do so. Please also let me or my staff know of any such concerns that you might have.

We pray for one another in this moment. We pray for those for whom this is hard news, and for those for whom it is welcome news. We pray in particular for those who will be most directly impacted by this decision across this country.

In the service of the Gospel;

+Nicholas

St Stephen’s Church, Vestavia Hills AL

Overnight, we learned of a mass shooting event at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Alabama. As I write this, two people were killed, an 84 year old man and a 75 year old woman, by a 71 year man who occasionally attended the church.
This is horrible news, and it feels so much closer to home, as the images and story seem so familiar to us as Episcopalians. It was a typical weeknight event at a typical congregation, and it went so terribly wrong. And yet, these sorts of shootings have become a typical experience for us in America. By the time I sat down to write this to you, I had trouble finding the news report online. It wasn’t featured anywhere.
We have been asked by the congregation, and their clergy, by their bishop and our Presiding Bishop to pray for them. I ask you to join me in this, particularly this weekend. Prayers alone are not enough, but we should feel some comfort in knowing that there is work being done at the Federal and State level to try to make these events less likely. Next week, Governor McKee will be signing three bills that represent common-sense reforms here in Rhode Island, and a bipartisan group of Senators in Washington DC have indicated they have an agreement in principle to take action in Congress. Pray for those who have been hurt and give thanks for those who are working to protect us all; first responders, activists and legislators.
Working with the RI Sheriff’s department, we have run two recent training sessions on active shooter response in churches. There are some specific things that we can do. If your congregation wasn’t represented at either of the last two trainings, and would like to participate, please let Joannie Collins, a member of my staff, know. (Joan.Collins@episcopalri.org). A quick summary of basic principles taught in the training are found here.
Let us pray:
Almighty and merciful God, whose only Son came to preach peace to the nations: Hear us, we beseech You, and comfort us with Your steady Hand, as we come before You this [day/night] in the wake of unspeakable violence. In a world that seems hopeless, help us to remember that our hope rests always in You, and in the resurrection of Your Son our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
+Nicholas

First Creation Care Grant Awarded

Creation Care Grant Awarded to All Saints, Providence

The Creation Care Ministry of the Diocese is pleased to announce the first award given from the Creation Care Mini-grant Program.

All Saints, Providence, has received a $1500 grant to create an inviting urban oasis for reflection and the healing of God’s creation. The deadline for applications has been extended to July 15. 2022.

This is an example of a project valuable in itself and a model for others to employ.

Other applications eligible for $500 to $1500 mini-grants include projects around:

  • Food security and access to locally produced food (i.e. the creation of community gardens and or farm shares on church owned lands, obtaining permits/equipment needed to host farmers markets on church owned lands, obtaining permits/equipment needed to prepare community meals in church facilities).
  • Energy efficiency (i.e. efficiency audits of church owned facilities, insulation/weather-proofing of church owned facilities, replacement of church owned energy intensive equipment).
  • Climate resiliency (i.e. rain gardens for stormwater management on church owned property, flood risk reduction strategies/retrofits for church owned property and facilities, generators and/or heating equipment to support community charging stations, warming stations, etc. on church owned property).
  • Environmental Stewardship (i.e. community/green space clean ups including Christian fellowship components, organic waste recycling at churches, invasive/exotic removal on church owned property, planting native plants and grasses on church owned property).
  • Environmental Outreach and Education (i.e. curriculum development focused on environmental education and stewardship for faith-based communities, development and/or hosting environmental focused programming for faith-based communities).
  • Theological reflection on Creation Care (i.e. development of creation care focused lessons for adult and youth formation classes).

The Creation Care grant period has ended as of July 15, 2022.  Questions about the Mini-Grants can be answered by emailing creationcareedri@gmail.com.

Prayer Vigil in reaction to gun violence

Join us on May 31, 2022 at 7pm in front of the Cathedral of St John as we pray for the victims of gun violence and the strength to create solutions.

Notice of a prayer vigil scheduled for May 31 at the Cathedral.
Prayer Vigil in reaction to mass shootings. May 31 2022.

A Message from the Bishop

There’s an old dictum in Anglican Moral Theology; “Circumstances alter cases.” When we’re trying to work out the right thing to do in a moment of moral quandary, we can’t just use a single principle to come to a decision. It’s one thing if a multi-billionaire steals a loaf of bread from a neighborhood bakery. It’s another thing, in our thinking, if it’s a starving child who steals the bread.

This week there has been a leak regarding a potential decision and the associated reasoning behind it concerning the legality of Abortion services in the United States. We don’t know yet the final opinion or the decision, but what has been published has created deep concern for many and hope for others. We in the Episcopal Church are not of one mind about this question. We do though have a published and nuanced position, one initially issued by General Convention in 1967, prior to the Roe v Wade decision, and which was reaffirmed in 1976, and returned to subsequently. You can find more information here: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/ogr/summary-of-general-convention-resolutions-on-abortion-and-womens-reproductive-health/

Our position lays out the instances in which the broader Episcopal Church believes that abortion is not a moral choice and lays out instances when it is the less bad choice of two difficult options. To be clear, it is guidance for decision making. It is not binding on our individual consciences. We rarely do that as a denomination; it’s something that sets us apart from others.

The 1976 statement ends with strong language: “the Episcopal Church expresses its unequivocal opposition to any legislation on the part of the national or state governments which would abridge or deny the right of individuals to reach informed decisions in this matter and to act upon them.” What we expect of members of the Church is one thing and how we live in a larger pluralistic society is another. That needs to be a part of our consideration should the Supreme Court rule that Roe v Wade was a mistake.

The news comes unexpectedly, and this isn’t something many of us were prepared to hear. It is already raising emotions and opening old wounds. I ask you to be ready to hear people who disagree with you, and to be ready to love those who reject what you believe. The conflict is real and deep. That’s given and there’s not much we can do about that. What we can do is manage how we respond to the conflict which has unexpectedly added to the torn fabric of our social life.