News Briefs


*WITH THE PROMINENCE OF CONTEMPORARY LITURGY in the Church of England these days, it may seem unlikely. But the Prayer Book Society, devoted to the preservation of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer - still the C of E’s official liturgy - remains quite active, attracting around 300 new members each year to its over 5,000-member constituency. Speaking to the Society’s annual general meeting in London in July, Chairwoman Prudence Dailey said the organization held its biggest-ever public event in 2006, the Commemoration of the 450th Anniversary of the Martyrdom of Thomas Cranmer, which occurred on March 21, 1556, in Oxford. The Society also has strong regional branches which help organize the Cranmer Awards, an initiative set up to challenge the view that the historic Prayer Book is irrelevant to young people. As well, the Society provides a copy of the BCP to every ordinand, holds training days and retreats on the Prayer Book for ordinands and clergy, and partners with the C of E’s Liturgical Commission. - The Church of England Newspaper

*FOR THE SECOND TIME in 18 months, armed bandits attacked the household of Nigeria’s Bishop of Jos, Benjamin Kwashi, and again the family miraculously survived. The latest attack occurred at 2:15 a.m. July 24, when a gang armed with knives and guns invaded the bishop’s house, overcame two guards, and locked four servants in a room. They seized Bishop Kwashi and his son, Rinji, and frog-marched them into the courtyard. The robbers debated killing the two, but settled for beating the bishop’s son and ransacking the house. In February 2006, an armed gang invaded the bishop’s house at night while he was out of town. The bishop’s wife, Gloria, was badly beaten in the incident, but told of feeling strength from God that enabled her to walk three miles to get help. At a conference earlier this summer, Bishop Kwashi said: “People will laugh at us, call us names, abuse us, but that is nothing new. The gospel is worth living for; it is also worth dying for. Persecution has never, and will never, kill the church. Conditions may be difficult or dangerous for a time; but the seed is in the ground and at the right time it will burst out.” - The Church of England Newspaper/Church Times

*ONE OF THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND’S most distinguished theological training colleges has been placed on notice that it must improve its academic standards and not succumb to narrow conservative Evangelicalism if it is to remain part of Oxford University. Wycliffe Hall, which has been at the center of a dispute between some staff and its “hardline” Evangelical principal, Dr. Richard Turnbull, has been told by the university that it must maintain the values of a liberal education and will be monitored to ensure it does. Complaints of homophobia and misogyny have been leveled at Wycliffe’s leadership. An internal report, drawn up by senior Oxford academics and accepted by the university’s governing council, reportedly warns the 130-year-old college of concern about the narrowness of its theological teaching and doubts about whether it is offering students full intellectual development. The findings came as part of a report of standards at the seven religious permanent private halls - also including St. Stephen’s House, St. Benet’s Hall, Greyfriars, Blackfriars and Campion Hall, and Regent’s Park College - which have become part of the university. Although its 34 recommendations apply to all of them, there are particular concerns about Wycliffe. - The Guardian/Church Times


*FR. STEPHEN STRAWN, rector of St. John’s Anglican Church, Quincy, Illinois, was elected in June as bishop coadjutor of the Diocese of the Missouri Valley within the Anglican Church in America (ACA), a leading Continuing Church body. Strawn will succeed the Most Rev. Louis Falk, who also formerly served as primate of the ACA and of the international Traditional Anglican Communion. Strawn was elected by diocesan delegates at a meeting in Dallas. As leader of the Missouri Valley, he will oversee 20 parishes in a middle American region stretching from Minnesota to Texas.

*THE CONSERVATIVE FORMER Episcopal Bishop of Florida, Stephen Hays Jecko, 67, died on June 7 after suffering a relapse of cancer. At his death he was serving the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas as an assisting bishop. Jecko was consecrated the seventh Bishop of Florida in 1994. Born in Washington, D.C., he received a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering at Syracuse University in 1964, a Master of Divinity at the General Theological Seminary (GTS) in 1967, and a Doctor of Ministry at Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS) in 1982. GTS and VTS awarded the Doctor of Divinity degree to him in the fall of 1994. The University of the South honored him with a D.D. in May 1995. During the course of his ministry, Jecko served parishes in New York, Virginia and Florida. He became assistant to the Bishop of Florida in 1990. In this capacity and in the years to come he maintained a key focus on ministry; among several other initiatives, he designed a vocational deacon formation program, and helped develop a priestly formation program that focused on the first three to seven years of ordained ministry. He also remained active in retirement with the American Anglican Council, serving as the primary liaison between congregations seeking to leave The Episcopal Church and Global South Anglican bishops willing to provide alternative episcopal oversight. Bishop Jecko is survived by his wife, Joan, two sons and a granddaughter. - Episcopal News Service/The Living Church

*BISHOP JON MARK LINDENAUER of Federal Way, Washington, passed away July 29. At his death he was a prelate of the Christian Episcopal Church, a small Continuing Church body. Born in 1928 in New York City, Lindenauer served as part of the U.S. Army in the Korean Conflict. After ordination as an Episcopal priest in 1958, he returned to the Army as a chaplain, serving several tours of duty, including a year in Vietnam; he was awarded several military honors. He went on to serve some Episcopal parishes, but remained in the U.S. Army Reserve 124th Battalion as Command Chaplain of the West Coast until 1988, when he retired as Colonel. He is survived by his wife, Constance, a son and three daughters, and four grandsons. - newstribune.com

*HE THOUGHT ABOUT ENTERING SEMINARY when he was in college, but James Murray’s ordination as a priest finally came years later, after his children had grown and he had spent 33 years as a special agent with the FBI. Deacon Murray, 69, of Surfside Beach, South Carolina, was ordained a priest in August to serve the Anglican Church of the Good Shepherd in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where he celebrated his first Mass. In attendance at his ordination, performed by the Most Rev. Dr. Scott McLaughlin, were church members, friends and family, including Murray’s wife of 48 years. Good Shepherd is part of the Orthodox Anglican Church, a longtime Continuing Church body which has a small number of parishes in the U.S., but says it is part of a more extensive international fellowship. - The Sun News

*SHORTLY AFTER THE ELECTION of a female bishop in the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut, another was tapped on the opposite coast. The Diocese of El Camino Real, California, chose the Ven. Mary Gray-Reeves, 44, who had been serving as archdeacon for deployment in the Diocese of Southeast Florida. Gray-Reeves, who will be the Episcopal Church’s 15th female prelate and one of its youngest, reportedly told members of El Camino Real before her election that she had backed the election of gay cleric Gene Robinson as Bishop Coadjutor of New Hampshire. She will succeed Bishop Richard Shimpfky, who resigned for health reasons in 2004. In the interim, an assisting bishop in the diocese, Sylvestre Romero, has led El Camino Real. - Episcopal Life/VirtueOnline


*MANY WERE STARTLED to learn recently in news of a forthcoming book that the late Nobel peace prize laureate, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, wrestled with doubt about the existence of God. But Roman Catholic bishops in the Philippines said that this demonstrated her saintliness and faith. “The darker the situation, the brighter the victory of living through it,” said Bishop Carlito Cenzon of Baguio. “Mother Teresa may have doubted God’s existence, but she showed in her life that she trusted and depended on this very God. This makes her sanctity all the more extraordinary.” - Ecumenical News International

*THE NATIONAL COUNCIL OF CHURCHES IN KOREA has welcomed the release of 19 Korean Christians who were kidnapped in Afghanistan - where Christians are barred from proselytizing - and held by the Taliban for more than 40 days. A total of 23 Koreans were abducted in July. The Taliban militia murdered two of the aid workers and released two others; it agreed to release the rest when the South Korean government said it would withdraw its 200 troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year, as scheduled, and would stop missionary work by Koreans there. - USA Today/Ecumenical News International

*A DUTCH ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP recently argued on a TV program that Catholic churches in his nation should call God Allah to ease tensions between Muslims and Christians. The Bishop of Breda, Tiny Muskens, said Christians in the Middle East and Indonesia call God Allah; if Christians elsewhere could do the same it would promote rapprochement between the two religions, he argued. He opined that God doesn’t mind what he is called. In mid-August, however, a survey by the Netherlands’ largest newspaper, De Telegraaf, showed that 92 percent of more than 4,000 persons polled opposed the bishop’s view. - World Net Daily/The Associated Press, Radio Netherlands Worldwide

*ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS in Latin America ended a two-and-a-half week meeting in early summer by calling for a “great continental mission” to win back millions of faithful who have left the church to join the region’s burgeoning neo-Pentecostal movements. “Our initiative is not proselytizing, because we are looking for believers who have been baptized in our own church,” said a Vatican official. - Ecumenical News International

*CHRISTIAN WOMEN ACTIVISTS in India have expressed anger at what they say is an alarming crisis due to female feticide in India, after two dumps of illegally aborted female fetuses were found in the world’s second most populous nation. “This is a dangerous situation and, if it continues, there will be the extinction of female children,” lamented T. Sabitha Swaraj, president of the All India Council of Christian Women. In India as in some other Asian nations wherein male children are preferred, some couples have used technology to abort unborn females, to the point of creating serious gender imbalances in their societies. - Ecumenical News International

*FOLLOWING WHAT APPEARS to be a government-backed smear campaign against one of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s fiercest critics, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, Pius Ncube, resigned. His action came two months after he was sued for adultery with a woman who worked in his parish office. Ncube, whose resignation in July has now been accepted by the Vatican, said: “I wrote to the Pope within days of what was obviously a state-driven, vicious attack not just on myself, but by proxy on the Catholic Church in Zimbabwe. In order to spare my fellow bishops and the body of the Church any further attacks, I decided this was the best course of action.” Ncube said, however, that he would not be silenced by the government. He noted in his statement, “I remain a Catholic bishop in Zimbabwe, and will continue to speak out on the issues that sadly become more acute by the day.” He spoke of the “poor and suffering of Zimbabwe, who sadly become more numerous and more impoverished every day.” The resignation of the 60-year-old Ncube follows allegations publicized by Zimbabwe’s state-controlled media that the archbishop had an adulterous affair with the estranged wife of a junior state employee. The case is currently with Bulawayo’s high court. Evidence to support the case was gathered by hidden cameras said to have been placed in the archbishop’s quarters. Ncube denies the allegations, and has been defended by Catholic bishops of Zimbabwe, though the church there is investigating the claims. - Ecumenical News International

*ZIMBABWE PRESIDENT ROBERT MUGABE’S LAND REFORM PROGRAM has led to the deaths of at least 10,000 farm workers since 2000, the African nation’s Human Rights NGO Forum reported in a study published in June. The report, Adding Insult to Injury: A Preliminary Report on Human Rights Violations on Commercial Farms, 2000 to 2005, concluded that “widespread” human rights violations were inflicted upon white farmers and black farm workers by the Mugabe regime. The economic and social consequences of the government-backed “farm invasions” have been devastating, the study found. In 2000, some 4,300 white farmers operated 5,500 commercial farms in Zimbabwe. By the end of 2006 less than 200 white farmers remained on their land engaging in some form of commercial activity. The financial losses sustained by the farmers attributable to government actions were estimated at $8.4 billion (U.S.). The paper also discounted government claims that the farm seizures were acts of revolutionary retribution by “landless blacks,” finding instead that the over 80 percent of the country’s commercial farms that had changed hands since independence had been sold with the approval of the Zimbabwe government. Agricultural production in the nation has fallen dramatically, with citizens now barely surviving on subsistence farming and food imports. One newspaper that decided to check out the once-thriving farm given to infamous Harare Anglican Bishop Nolbert Kunonga - a strong ally of Mugabe - found it in derelict condition. In a related report, the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, has called on Britain to lead a campaign of targeted sanctions against the government of Zimbabwe. “Mugabe is the worst kind of racist dictator,” said the Ugandan-born Sentamu. - The Church of England Newspaper/The Observer

*THE KIDNAPPING, RAPE, “MARRIAGE” AND “CONVERSION” of Christian girls and women is a common occurrence in some predominantly Muslim countries, reports Baptist Press. In June, for example, a Christian university professor in Gaza was kidnapped, and forced to marry a Muslim professor at the same university. Sana al-Sayegh, head of the science and technology department at Gaza City’s Palestine International University, managed to contact her family at one point to say she was being held against her will so she could marry the Muslim man, but officials of Gaza’s Hamas government denied the claim. A few days after the phone call, the family received conversion documents signed by two witnesses, one of whom was the university president. Requests from Sayegh’s family and Christian leaders for a meeting with Hamas leaders were refused. Returning to Christianity is a crime deemed worthy of death in many Muslim societies. - Baptist Press/Mission Network News

*THESE DAYS, THE CATHEDRAL OF HOPE, a 4,300-member Dallas congregation that describes itself as the world’s largest gay-friendly church, is part of the United Church of Christ (UCC), a liberal Protestant denomination with 1.2 million members and 5,700 congregations. The Cathedral of Hope - which until 2002 was aligned with the predominantly homosexual Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches - is now the fourth largest congregation in the UCC. The denomination counts among its members presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), who attends the 10,000-member Trinity Church in Chicago. The UCC was the first American denomination to ordain a black pastor (1785), first to ordain a woman (1853), first to ordain an openly gay man (1972), and first to support same-sex marriage (2005). While the UCC is strongest in New England, the Midwest, and the West Coast, it has also made inroads into the South. For example, the 5,500-member Victory Church of Atlanta, the denomination’s second-largest congregation, joined the UCC in 2002. - Christian News/Spero News

*CONFOUNDING THOSE WHO PREDICTED a growth of secularization, the fact that more people in the world are living in cities than ever before is leading to a renewed interest in religion, according to a new UN report. “Rapid urbanization was expected to mean the triumph of rationality, secular values and the demystification of the world, as well as the relegation of religion to a secondary role. Instead, there has been a renewal in religious interest in many countries,” the United Nations Population Fund says in its report, The State of World Population 2007. The growth of new religious movements is primarily an urban phenomenon, the report notes. It points to “radical Islam in the Arab region, Pentecostal Christianity in Latin America and parts of Africa, and the cult of Shivaji in parts of India.” In China, where cities are growing at a breakneck pace, religious movements are fast gaining adherents, the report adds. - Ecumenical News International n

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