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Episcopal News Service

July 23, 2003






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News Briefs

General Convention's World Mission Vision Roundtable set for August 2

(ENS) "Mission in Communion: A Roundtable on 'Companions in Transformation', the World Mission Vision Statement," is scheduled for 3-5 p.m. on Saturday, August 2, at St. Mark's Cathedral in Minneapolis. The event is hosted by the General Convention's Standing Commission on World Mission, St. Mark's Cathedral, and the Diocese of Minnesota.

This is an opportunity for General Convention attendees to hear and share observations about the world mission vision statement that the standing commission is presenting to the 2003 General Convention. Entitled, "Companions in Transformation: The Episcopal Church's World Mission in a New Century," the statement is available at the General Convention website and in published form in a booklet of that title from Morehouse Publishing. Two General Convention resolutions ask for action on the vision statement.

A panel of distinguished world mission activists will open the gathering with brief assessments of the statement, followed by general discussion. Among the panelists are Bishop Mano Rumalshah, general secretary of the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel and bishop of Peshawar, Pakistan; the Rev. Patrick Mauney, director of Anglican and Global Relations at the Episcopal Church Center; Edwina Thomas, executive director of Sharing of Ministries Abroad; the Rev. John Kanyikwa, general secretary of the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa; the Rev. Ian Douglas, professor of mission and world Christianity, Episcopal Divinity School and member of the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Mission and Evangelism; and the Rev. Tad de Bordenave, executive director of Anglican Frontier Missions; among others.

The vision of "Companions in Transformation" highlights both the opportunities for discovering the gospel through Christians in the Global South and the need to witness to Christ with people with little or no gospel exposure. Modes of mission are explored, and practical initiatives are proposed to renew the church's global engagement.

The 3-4:30 discussion will be followed by a reception on the lawn of the cathedral.

Somali church leader concerned about situation of Christians

(ENI) Leaders of Somalia's small Christian community attending talks in Nairobi have expressed concern about the plight of Christians in their troubled country.

"We live in constant fear. We have very little rights, since people believe that there are no Christians in Somalia," said Peter Ahmed Abdi, leader of the Mogadishu Pentecostal Church, who is also chairman of the tiny Somali Christian community.

Leaders and warlords of more than 20 fighting factions, as well as traditional and religious leaders such as Abdi, have gathered in the Kenyan capital for the Somali National Reconciliation Conference sponsored by the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, which comprises countries in East Africa and the Horn of Africa. They are trying to reach agreement on an interim government for Somalia.

Somalia slid into anarchy without a stable government after the overthrow of the Siad Barre regime in 1991. The breakaway, self-proclaimed independent Republic of Somaliland in the northern part of the country is not recognised by any government.

Somali Christians were demanding the right to worship and assemble, to move freely and to have political representation, said Abdi, who was accompanied in the talks by two Roman Catholics. He said he had been shouted down at the conference by Muslim delegates, who had insisted Somalia had no Christians.

Somalia's few Christians are being oppressed and living in fear of being killed, Abdi said. "We do not walk openly proclaiming our faith because we can be assassinated anytime. We pray on Fridays in Somalia just like [Muslims], since they will not allow us to attend church on Sunday." Church structures erected in colonial times and shortly after the country's independence have collapsed.

Somalia is virtually 100 per cent Muslim, according to the World Christian Encyclopedia, with only about 200 Somali Catholics and small groups of Protestants associated with Mennonite missionaries and the Sudan Interior Mission. "We are calling on Christians from all over the world to help [rebuild] our churches," said John Muktar, a Somali Roman Catholic.

Uniting Church in Australia accepts homosexual clergy

(ENI) Homosexual clergy have been formally recognized in the Uniting Church in Australia in a landmark vote that ends a long battle over the issue.

The vote by an overwhelming majority of the church's delegates on 17 July at the national church assembly in Melbourne formalizes the acceptance of gay and lesbian clergy living in committed same-sex relationships. The church has informally accepted them for some time.

The issue has been at the forefront of debate since 1997, when the Rev. Dorothy McRae McMahon resigned from her position as the church's national director for mission after informing the assembly that she was a lesbian.

Following her move, the 1997 assembly voted that it was possible for people within the church to hold opposing views on sexuality. The new president of the Uniting Church in Australia, the Rev. Dean Drayton, described last week's vote as "clarifying" the earlier decision.

Acceptance of homosexual clergy will not be forced on congregations across Australia. Rather, individual parishes will be able to make choices on a case-by-case basis.

After the vote, McMahon said it was inevitable that the church would eventually move to the blessing of same-sex relationships. "When the church appears to be less inclusive, less compassionate, than the community, then I believe that we must at least stop and reflect on that," she said. "We often discuss homosexuality as though it is primarily about sex. I want to say it is primarily about love. It is about a God whose imagination and variety may well extend far beyond our understanding," she said.

However, conservative evangelicals have threatened to split from the church and form their own church.

The assembly's decision may also threaten continuing discussions about a merger between the Uniting Church and the Anglican Church. The Sydney Anglican diocese, which has been particularly outspoken in opposing the ordination of Anglican gay priests, has issued a statement expressing "grave concern" about the Uniting Church move.

Mary Hawkes, a spokeswoman for the Uniting Church's conservative lobby group, said a full-blown church division was likely. She claimed she knew up to 3,000 people in one state alone who would split from the church over the issue.

The Uniting Church was formed in 1977 as a union of the Congregational, Methodist and Presbyterian churches and is the country's third-largest Christian denomination, with 300,000 members and a total of 1.3 million Australians professing an association.

Anglican and Presbyterian numbers leap in Ireland

(ENI) The Anglican and Presbyterian churches in the Republic of Ireland have recorded their first increases in support since at least 1881, according to a government census.

Over the past decade, the (Anglican) Church of Ireland grew by 30 per cent, to 115,611, and Presbyterians jumped by 56 per cent, to 20,582. Both figures, disclosed in the 2002 Irish national census published this year, easily outstripped population growth.

"Some of the growth we believe is from Roman Catholics converting to Anglicanism," Brian Parker, spokesman for the Church of Ireland, told ENI. "Paedophile scandals have had an effect among Catholics, and some, particularly young people, feel a general discontent at the conservative edge of the [Catholic] leadership."

Parker said the Anglican membership figures had benefited from a new census entry, "Church of Ireland/Protestant," which included Protestants without a denominational allegiance.

The Central Statistics Office in Dublin says immigration is an important factor in the growth of the main Protestant faiths. Throughout the 1990s Ireland enjoyed one of the European Union's most buoyant economies and was known as the "Celtic Tiger."

The London-based Church Times newspaper quoted a call by the Anglican Archbishop of Dublin, John Neill, for greater efforts by Irish Anglicans to welcome newcomers.

Stephen Lynas, spokesperson for the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, said the church's growth was mainly due to the arrival of asylum-seekers, particularly from West Africa and Asian countries. "Congregations say they have greatly enriched worship," he told ENI.

Ireland--excluding six counties in the north, which are part of the United Kingdom--remains an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country. But support for Catholicism has slipped from 91.6 per cent of the population in the 1991 census to 88.4 per cent in 2002. Ireland has a population of about 3.6 million.

Both the Church of Ireland and the Presbyterian Church in Ireland have most of their support in the six northern counties, which became Northern Ireland in 1922 when the rest of the country achieved independence from Britain. Census returns show that the previous decline of the two main Protestant denominations in the mainly Catholic south had begun decades before independence.

US churches join presidential drug prevention campaign

(ENI) The National Council of Churches (NCC) and other US religious groups are joining a campaign by the administration of President George W. Bush to prevent drug abuse among young people.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy and the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives worked with members of the US faith community to develop a Web site and a series of publications entitled "Pathways to Prevention: Guiding Youth to Wise Decisions."

"Faith plays an important role when it comes to teen marijuana prevention," said John Walters, director of National Drug Control Policy, at a 10 July news conference. He urged youth ministers, volunteers and religious leaders to integrate drug prevention messages into youth programs and sermons.

The campaign materials, adapted for many faiths, respond to a need not being met, officials from the office of the president and Christian, Islamic and Jewish leaders said at the news conference held at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. Administration officials said clergy were enormously influential in such matters, but that often they did not have the tools to discuss drug- and substance-abuse related issues with young people.

"The reality is a lot of people don't know how to talk about these issues," said Jim Towey, the director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

Brenda Girton-Mitchell, the NCC's associate general secretary for public policy, and a one-time Sunday School teacher, was often asked by her students about drugs. She did not know how to respond, in part because she didn't know what her students' parents were telling them. "I often prayed for the right words to say and looked to Scriptures," she said.

Despite some disagreements with the Bush administration on a number of issues, most recently in opposing the US-led war in Iraq, the NCC has supported elements of the administration's "faith-based initiative" program under which US religious groups are being asked to expand their role in providing social services and to work with the administration on a number of issues.

Victims of Zimbabwe's political violence to get counseling from churches

(ENI) Zimbabwe's main church bodies have launched a project to heal victims of the politically motivated violence that has plagued the southern African nation for the past three years.

The Rev. Patson Netha, a member of the project's organizing committee, said the venture seeks to promote "national healing and reconciliation" by counseling survivors and other people traumatized by the violence.

The project is sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and supported by the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe (EFZ), Zimbabwe Council of Churches and Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops' Conference.

"We have various cases of people who have been brutalized, maimed or killed with nothing being done," Netha, a former executive secretary of the EFZ, told the independent Daily News.

"Some of the victims know the people who killed their loved ones, and they are silently seeking revenge. As church bodies, we have to start building relationships from there, and the best way forward is the national healing process," he said.

Netha said leaders of various Christian denominations had already started attending training courses in counseling and would be deployed to their respective communities to assist those who had suffered directly or indirectly as a result of politically encouraged violence.

Bishop Trevor Manhanga, the president of the EFZ, confirmed to ENI at the end of June that he had been invited to participate in the project, which he said was "still in its infancy."

Zimbabwe has been sliding towards anarchy since February 2000, when bands of veterans of the country's 1970s liberation war launched a series of farm invasions. They targeted properties of white commercial farmers whom they accused of inciting Zimbabweans to reject a proposed constitution drafted by a commission hand-picked by President Robert Mugabe.

The draft had a clause allowing the government to seize selected commercial farms without compensating the owners. From the commercial farms, the militants--whose numbers were swelled by graduates drafted from national youth service training camps--turned their violence on opposition supporters and perceived enemies of the government.

The militants have been blamed in reports by human rights and other non-governmental organizations for the deaths of at least 160 people and displacement of thousands of others since mid-2000.

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