America 1

More staff and declining numbers

Facing declining membership, The Episcopal Church plans to look at emergent church models in efforts to reach ‘new generations,’ Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said.

Reflecting on the state of the church in a wide-ranging interview with ELM, Bishop Jefferts Schori said there are ‘many plans to address the trend’ of decreasing attendance.

‘Among the new staff at Church Center [in New York] are ones dedicated to church planting work, one dedicated to work in evangelism, and one for work with small congregations,’ Bishop Jefferts Schori said. ‘We’re going to bring aboard another person who will help to teach the rest of us and challenge the rest of us to think about emergent church models – how the church can as a whole be more effective in presenting the Gospel in language and images and idioms that can be more readily understood by new generations.’

She also acknowledged that ‘many parish clergy are exceedingly nervous about their annual fund drives’ during the nation’s ongoing economic crisis, but noted that ‘We’re not seeing a major impact yet at the church-wide level.

‘History tells us that churches are usually the last to suffer in terms of bad economic times,’ she said. ‘People’s generosity continues and particularly in their faith communities. Serving the needs of those with even less continues or grows in bad economic times. We are hopeful’ Episcopal Life Media


From The living Church,
15 January 2009
Society of St Pius X and claims of racism in Sweden

The Church of Sweden on Thursday cited lax internal oversight for why a conservative religious group that wants to convert Sweden to Catholicism and has leaders who deny the Holocaust was
given permission to hold meetings in Swedish churches.

The move comes on the heels of a Sver-iges Television (SVT) investigative news programme Uppdrag Granskning which revealed that the Society of St Pius X (SSPX), an ultra-conservative breakaway faction of the Catholic Church, had been holding meetings in Swedish churches.

In the programme, SSPX bishop Richard Williamson openly denied the Holocaust, adding that he did not believe Hitler purposefully gassed Jews to death or that any gas chambers existed.

‘It’s obvious that this is an extreme right-wing group. They deny the Holocaust, are extremely negative towards homosexuals, and express a number of racist attitudes,’ Martin Lind, a bishop with the Swedish Church diocese in Linkoping in central Sweden, told the TT news agency.

According to the report, SSPX held meetings in Swedish churches on fifteen separate occasions, something that Lind vowed wouldn’t happen again. ‘If a church has a bishop who speaks in way as degrading as appeared in the programme, that’s enough for me to suspend all organizational cooperation,’ he said.

Convert plans conversion

The programme also told the story of Sten Sandmark, a former Church of Sweden vicar who left his 30-year-career with the church, after church leadership decided that same-sex couples could receive blessings in churches. He now says his new mission is to work with SSPX supporters in Sweden in a bid to convert Sweden back to Catholicism. SSPX was founded in 1970 by French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, but lost its legitimacy in the eyes of the Vatican in 1975. It continues to operate, however, and claims to have 486 active priests in 63 countries and more than one million followers around the world. Sandmark is currently undergoing an accelerated training course in Germany to become an SSPX priest so he can begin working for the society in Sweden as soon as possible. When asked by the SVT what he and his followers are fighting for, Sandmark responded, ‘That Sweden shall once again become Catholic’ But an investigation of Swedish SSPX members by SVT revealed that several have ties to some of Sweden’s most well-known right-wing and nationalist extremist groups, including the National Democrats (Nationaldemokraterna), the 30-novemberrorelsen (‘November 30th movement’) and the Nysvenska Rorelsen (‘New Sweden movement’). In addition, the founder of SSPX in Sweden, Jonas de Geer, is also a well-known figure from Sweden’s extreme right who has served as a spokesperson for the National Democrats and who recently spoke at the Nordic Festival (Nordiska festivalen), one of Sweden’s largest neo-Nazi gatherings.

Sandmark freely admits that many SSPX members in Sweden could be considered right-wing extremists, but emphasizes the group isn’t about politics and there isn’t much he could do to prevent people from holding certain political views. ‘Everyone is welcome. But not to discuss politics,’ he told SVT; T can’t prohibit anyone. We can’t do that in Sweden.’ According to Sandmark, SSPX likely attracts more right-wing than left-wing extremists because the former ‘hold more traditional views’ and are more ‘conservative’. He’s also confident about what lies ahead for him and the SSPX in Sweden. ‘The future looks bright, that’s what I believe,’ he said. ‘But it won’t be free of difficulties.’

This piece first appeared
on the English language
Swedish news site

Global South

Challenge to divorce

Orthodox Anglican archbishops have spoken clearly and decisively on the subject of homosexuality. They have publicly repudiated and rejected the ordination of non-celibate homosexuals to the priesthood, turning their backs on New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson, an avowed homosexual, saying they will not recognize him due to his behaviour.

The 2003 consecration of Robinson has been a lightning rod issue that has brought the whole Anglican Communion to the brink of schism. As a result, the Anglican Communion of 55 million souls is deeply divided. This past summer, this division was highlighted by the realization of two global Anglican conferences, GAFCON (orthodox) and the Lambeth Conference (liberal). Deeper fractures are anticipated in the future.

But another issue, more pressing now that a new North American Anglican Province has been formed, is the issue of divorce. Liberal Episcopal bishops and a number of theologians have repeatedly made the point that Jesus had more to say about divorce than homosexuality and that he recognized only one single ground for divorce, adultery.

What did Jesus say?

There are divorced priests within the ranks of The Episcopal Church and there are many divorced priests who have left TEC and joined any one of the Continuing Anglican jurisdictions as well as a number that make up the new North American Anglican Province who are divorced.

The question Global South leaders are asking, as they contemplate the future of the new Anglican province within the Anglican Communion, is, what will they do with these priests, some with considerable seniority, who have been married, divorced and remarried, and if those divorces were on grounds of adultery or simply ‘irreconcilable differences!

Many Global South primates believe that remarriage after divorce is itself adulterous, if the grounds for that divorce was not adultery. If it is simply ‘irreconcilable differences’ or some reason other than adultery, then they will not recognize those remarriages of priests who have been divorced.
They will consider those priests to be living in sin and committing the sin of adultery. They will want to question at least two evangelical rectors of large churches, one in Ft Worth with CANA, and one in Dallas under AMiA.

African practice

Most African provinces do not allow divorced persons to be priests, whatever the grounds. A number of African archbishops have been deeply sensitized and rebuffed by charges that they allow men who have multiple wives into their churches. African Anglican archbishops have uniformly rejected polygamous persons for the ordination process. Many regard ‘serial monogamy’ in the same light.
They will be taking a hard look at those priests in the new province who have been divorced and remarried. They will want to know the grounds for those divorces. If they do not measure up to the biblical standard of Jesus who recognized adultery as the sole grounds for divorce and remarriage, then Bishop Robert Duncan, Common Cause Moderator and Archbishop plenipotentiary, and his council of bishops will need to re-evaluate their status in the new Anglican province.

If women’s ordination is a hot button issue for Anglo-Catholics and some evangelicals, then divorce promises to be an equal if not greater hot button issue for western evangelicals. They will have a lot of explaining to do to Global South Primates who do not accept divorced and remarried priests.
They will demand standards as thoroughly biblical on marriage and divorce (as they have done on homosexuality) from North American and European evangelicals as they do from their own priests.
Pollster George Barna noted that when evangelicals and non-evangelical born-again Christians are combined into an aggregate class of born-again adults, their divorce figure is statistically identical to that of non-born-again adults: 32% versus 33%, respectively. He noted that Americans have grown comfortable with divorce as a natural part of life.

‘There no longer seems to be much of a stigma attached to divorce; it is now seen as an unavoidable rite of passage,’ the researcher indicated. Maybe so, but that is not how African Anglican archbishops see it. They will demand, and get, the highest biblical standards or heads could roll.

This piece first appeared