BACK when I was 8 or 9 and wanted to be a nun, I would often stop at church on
my way home from school. The school sat across the street from two churches: St.
Joseph’s, which we called the French church, and Sacred Heart, which is where my
family went. Sacred Heart was built by and for Italian immigrants, an odd pale
stucco building in the midst of rundown mill houses. I would enter and let my
eyes adjust from the bright afternoon light to the dim interior. The smell of
incense and candles burning permeated everything, and I liked to stand still for
a moment and breathe it in before I dipped my hand into the holy water in the
marble aspersorium. My wet fingers made the sign of the cross as I made my slow,
reverential way down the worn maroon carpet to the altar.
I prayed a lot in those days. For straight A’s, which I got without God’s help.
For a friend, since I was a lonely, peculiar child who had trouble making
friends. For my father to come home from Cuba, where he was based with the
Seabees. For a real Christmas tree, instead of the fake silver one with pompom
tips my mother put up in my father’s absence.
These prayers were fervent, desperate. But when I went to church alone on those
long-ago afternoons, I prayed just for the sake of comfort, for the peace it
brought me. Sometimes a nun might appear in her habit and allow me to scrape the
melted candle wax from the marble. I imagined, briefly, a life of devotion like
that. A swishing black dress and a giant wooden crucifix swinging from my rosary
That fantasy disappeared eventually, along with the ritual of churchgoing. I
didn’t get the same sense of peace at Sunday Mass. For reasons I can’t remember,
my family eventually stopped attending church, and I started questioning the
Catholic Church’s beliefs. I dabbled a little, but nothing stuck.
So I was surprised when I was struck with a desire to go to church earlier this
month. Not a Mass, but inside a church, where I might pray quietly and alone. In
my adult life, I had spent a lot of time angry at God, mostly over the sudden
deaths in my family — my brother at 30, my daughter at 5. This year we’d
suffered another sudden loss, a favorite aunt killed in a car accident. Why on
this December afternoon I felt the need to check in with God, I cannot say.
Maybe a conversation with a friend who spoke about going to church when her
daughter was ill, or maybe the appearance of Christmas lights and decorations
Whatever the reason, I walked to a Catholic church a few blocks from my home in
Providence. The afternoon was chilly. Boughs of evergreen draped across the
wrought-iron gate. I climbed the steps to the front door and pulled. Locked. I
walked around to the side. Then the other side. Then the back. All locked. There
were other churches, I thought. Plenty of them.
I went home and got in my car and drove from church to church to church. All of
them were locked. With each locked door, my need to get inside and pray grew. I
felt it was imperative, that if a person needed to go to church and pray, she
should be able to do that. All the things I wanted to pray about washed over me.
I wanted to explain to God why I’d been so angry. I wanted to apologize for
things I’d done wrong. I wanted to put in a good word for my son, and for my
daughter, and for my mother’s health, and for a dozen other things. But six,
then seven churches were locked.
When I told my husband, he looked confused. I was not a religious person, after
all. “It’s expensive to keep them open,” he, the churchgoer in our family,
explained. “But what about truly desperate people?” I insisted. “It’s probably
not safe to keep them open like that,” he said. Then he added, “Maybe in bigger
The next day, I was in New York City. The weather had turned as warm as spring,
and after a lunch in Midtown I decided to take a walk. The mild temperature made
me forget that it was Christmastime, and I was surprised to see a line of people
in front of Saks Fifth Avenue waiting to see its window displays. I joined them.
Then I crossed the street to stare up at the Christmas tree in Rockefeller
Center and smile at the white angels blowing their trumpets in front of it.
As I turned to walk to the subway, a sign caught my eye: ST. PATRICK’S IS OPEN.
I read it again. ST. PATRICK’S IS OPEN. Although I quickly realized the sign was
there because of all the scaffolding around the church, I still couldn’t help
but feel that it was also there just for me.
A church that was open! I crossed the street and went inside. The grandeur of
St. Patrick’s is nothing like the little stucco church of my childhood in West
Warwick, R.I. And even on a Tuesday afternoon, it was crowded with tourists. But
the candles flickered, and the smell of wax and incense filled me. I dipped my
fingers in the holy water, and walked slowly up the long center aisle to the
altar. Around me, people snapped pictures of the manger with their phones. A
woman holding a baby in a Santa suit rushed past me. When I got to the front
pew, I lowered the kneeler, and I knelt. I bowed my head and I prayed.
In the years since I’d done this simple act in church, I have prayed at home and
in hospital waiting rooms. I have prayed for my daughter to live, for the bad
news to not be true, for strength in the face of adversity. I have prayed with
more desperation than a person should feel. I have prayed in vain.
This prayer, though, was different. It was a prayer from my girlhood, a prayer
for peace and comfort and guidance. It was a prayer of gratitude. It was a
prayer that needed to be done in church, in a place where candles flicker and
statues of saints look down from on high; where sometimes, out of nowhere, the
spiritually confused can still come inside and kneel and feel their words might
rise up and be heard.
Ann Hood is the author, most recently, of “The Red Thread”
CATHOLIC nuns are not the prissy traditionalists of
caricature. No, nuns rock!
They were the first feminists, earning Ph.D.’s or working as surgeons long
before it was fashionable for women to hold jobs. As managers of hospitals,
schools and complex bureaucracies, they were the first female C.E.O.’s.
They are also among the bravest, toughest and most admirable people in the
world. In my travels, I’ve seen heroic nuns defy warlords, pimps and bandits.
Even as bishops have disgraced the church by covering up the rape of children,
nuns have redeemed it with their humble work on behalf of the neediest.
So, Pope Benedict, all I can say is: You are crazy to mess with nuns.
The Vatican issued a stinging reprimand of American nuns this month and ordered
a bishop to oversee a makeover of the organization that represents 80 percent of
them. In effect, the Vatican accused the nuns of worrying too much about the
poor and not enough about abortion and gay marriage.
What Bible did that come from? Jesus in the Gospels repeatedly talks about
poverty and social justice, yet never explicitly mentions either abortion or
homosexuality. If you look at who has more closely emulated Jesus’s life, Pope
Benedict or your average nun, it’s the nun hands down.
Since the papal crackdown on nuns, they have received an outpouring of support.
“Nuns were approached by Catholics at Sunday liturgies across the country with a
simple question: ‘What can we do to help?’ ” The National Catholic Reporter
recounted. It cited one parish where a declaration of support for nuns from the
pulpit drew loud applause, and another that was filled with shouts like, “You
At least four petition drives are under way to support the nuns. One on
Change.org has gathered 15,000 signatures. The headline for this column comes
from an essay by Mary E. Hunt, a Catholic theologian who is developing a
proposal for Catholics to redirect some contributions from local parishes to
“How dare they go after 57,000 dedicated women whose median age is well over 70
and who work tirelessly for a more just world?” Hunt wrote. “How dare the very
men who preside over a church in utter disgrace due to sexual misconduct and
cover-ups by bishops try to distract from their own problems by creating new
ones for women religious?”
Sister Joan Chittister, a prominent Benedictine nun, said she had worried at
first that nuns spend so much time with the poor that they would have no allies.
She added that the flood of support had left her breathless.
“It’s stunningly wonderful,” she said. “You see generations of laypeople who
know where the sisters are — in the streets, in the soup kitchens, anywhere
where there’s pain. They’re with the dying, with the sick, and people know it.”
Sister Joan spoke to me from a ghetto in Erie, Pa., where her order of 120 nuns
runs a soup kitchen, a huge food pantry, an afterschool program, and one of the
largest education programs for the unemployed in the state.
I have a soft spot for nuns because I’ve seen firsthand that they sacrifice ego,
safety and comfort to serve some of the neediest people on earth. Remember the
“Kony 2012” video that was an Internet hit earlier this year, about an African
warlord named Joseph Kony? One of the few heroes in the long Kony debacle was a
Comboni nun, Sister Rachele Fassera.
In 1996, Kony’s army attacked a Ugandan girls’ school and kidnapped 139
students. Sister Rachele hiked through the jungle in pursuit of the kidnappers —
some of the most menacing men imaginable, notorious for raping and torturing
their victims to death. Eventually, she caught up with the 200 gunmen and
demanded that they release the girls. Somehow, she browbeat the warlord in
charge into releasing the great majority of the girls.
I’m betting on the nuns to win this one as well. After all, the sisters may be
saintly, but they’re also crafty. Elias Chacour, a prominent Palestinian
archbishop in the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, recounts in a memoir that he
once asked a convent if it could supply two nuns for a community literacy
project. The mother superior said she would have to check with her bishop.
“The bishop was very clear in his refusal to allow two nuns,” the mother
superior told him later. “I cannot disobey him in that.” She added: “I will send
you three nuns!”
Nuns have triumphed over an errant hierarchy before. In the 19th century, the
Catholic Church excommunicated an Australian nun named Mary MacKillop after her
order exposed a pedophile priest. Sister Mary was eventually invited back to the
church and became renowned for her work with the poor. In 2010, Pope Benedict
canonized her as Australia’s first saint.
“Let us be guided” by Sister Mary’s teachings, the pope declared then.
The New York Times
By SHARON OTTERMAN
Catholics throughout the English-speaking world on Sunday left behind words they
have prayed for nearly four decades, flipping through unfamiliar pew cards and
pronouncing new phrases as the church urged tens of millions of worshipers to
embrace a new translation of the Mass that more faithfully tracks the original
The introduction of the new English translation of the Roman Missal, the book of
texts and prayers used in the Mass, appeared to pass smoothly in churches,
despite some confusion and hesitancy over the new words.
But behind the scenes, the debate over the new translation has been angry and
bitter, exposing rifts between a Vatican-led church hierarchy that has promoted
the new translation as more reverential and accurate, and critics, among them
hundreds of priests, who fear it is a retreat from the commitment of the Second
Vatican Council in the 1960s to allowing people to pray in a simple, clear
vernacular as they participate in the church’s sacred rites.
There was no reference to that history Sunday morning in the cavernous nave of
St. Patrick’s Cathedral, on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, where Msgr. Robert T.
Ritchie, in purple robes to mark the start of Advent, told thousands of
worshipers, “Today is a special day — today is the start of a new translation of
the Mass,” and directed them to follow the new words listed on laminated pew
But when Monsignor Ritchie said to the assembly, “The Lord be with you,” many
reflexively responded with the words that have been used for decades, declaring,
“And also with you,” rather than with the new response, “And with your spirit.”
And though he had carefully studied the new service, even Monsignor Ritchie lost
his place at one point, raising his eyebrows as he flipped through the missal,
looking for the right words before the start of communion.
Across the Atlantic, the scene was similar at Westminster Cathedral in London,
where the pews were filled with worshipers clutching freshly printed pamphlets
under soaring, dark stone ceilings.
The Rev. Alexander Master, celebrating the Mass, made no direct mention of the
change, but his sermon centered on the concept of upheaval, which, he said, had
been “especially marked” this year. What the future holds, he said, “is known
only to God.”
The new translation, phased in throughout the English-speaking world over the
past year, was officially introduced over the weekend in every English-language
Mass in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and India.
Because the form of the Mass was not changed — just the details of the
translation — many Catholics reacted mildly.
Rebecca Brown, a parishioner at St. James Cathedral in Seattle, said she felt
well prepared for the new translation. “I’m not fond of the linguistic choices,
how it rolls off the tongue,” Ms. Brown said. “But on the other hand, the
Catholic Church is always about renewal and reforming itself. This is just one
of those changes.”
“It was interesting,” said Danielle McGinley, 31, a parishioner at the Cathedral
of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles. “It feels more like a Spanish
Mass to me. The Spanish Mass is a more literal translation. I like it.”
But George Lind, 73, in New York, had a more visceral reaction. He tried to say
the new language at the Church of the Holy Cross in Times Square during the
Saturday night Mass, he said, but he became so angry that he had to stop
“I am so tired of being told exactly what I have to say, exactly what I have to
pray,” he said. “I believe in God, and to me that is the important thing. This
is some attempt on the part of the church hierarchy to look important.”
Most of the changes are within the prayers the priests say, but there are some
notable differences in the responses by worshipers. The Nicene Creed, the
central profession of faith, now starts with “I believe in one God” instead of
“We believe in one God.” Jesus is now “consubstantial with the Father” rather
than “one in Being with the Father.” Communion begins with the words, “Lord, I
am not worthy that you should enter under my roof,” instead of “Lord, I am not
worthy to receive you.”
The mixed emotions in the pews broadly mirrored the reception that the new
translation has received from clergy and liturgical scholars. More than 22,000
people, including many priests, endorsed a petition, on the Web site
whatifwejustsaidwait.org, to postpone the introduction of the new Mass. An
association of hundreds of Irish priests called for the translation to be
The Rev. Anthony Ruff, a scholar of Latin and Gregorian chant at St. John’s
University and seminary in Collegeville, Minn., worked on parts of the latest
translation with the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, but he
left after he became “increasingly critical of the clunky text and the top-down
secretive process” with which it was being created, he said.
“The syntax is too Latinate — it’s not good English that will help people pray,”
he said in an interview. “Rome got its way in forcing this on us, but it is a
Pyrrhic victory because it is not bringing the whole church together around a
high quality product.”
Catholics throughout the world worshiped in Latin until Vatican II, when the
church granted permission for priests to celebrate Mass in other languages. The
English translation used until this weekend was published in the early 1970s and
modified in 1985. Scholars then began work on a new translation, and by 1998 a
full draft of the new missal was completed and approved by bishops’ conferences
around the English-speaking world.
But Rome never approved that translation, and instead, in 2001, issued new
guidelines requiring that the language of the Mass carefully follow every word
of the Latin text, as well as the Latin syntax, where possible. That marked a
dramatic philosophical shift from the more flexible principle of “dynamic
equivalence” that had guided the earlier translations.
The Rev. Michael Ryan, pastor of St. James Cathedral in Seattle, who started the
Web petition to postpone the new text, said he believed that nearly all critics
among clergy would nonetheless use the new translation.
“I am not going to change a word, because the only way it will get evaluated is
if people hear it as it is,” he said. “I trust the people will indeed speak up.”
The Rev. Daniel Merz, associate director of the secretariat of divine worship
for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which is in charge of
promulgating the changes in America, said the text had been widely discussed
before it was put into use. He said the new translation was more poetic and
filled with imagery.
“I don’t think there’s ever been a document that’s been so consulted in the
history of the world,” he said.
“Over time, we have realized that there is a better way to pray,” he added. “Not
that the old way was bad, but we hope and believe that this new way is better.”
contributed reporting from Los Angeles,
September 30, 2011
The New York Times
By STEPHANIE STROM
This weekend, hundreds of pastors, including some of the nation’s evangelical
leaders, will climb into their pulpits to preach about American politics,
flouting a decades-old law that prohibits tax-exempt churches and other
charities from campaigning on election issues.
The sermons, on what is called Pulpit Freedom Sunday, essentially represent a
form of biblical bait, an effort by some churches to goad the Internal Revenue
Service into court battles over the divide between religion and politics.
The Alliance Defense Fund, a nonprofit legal defense group whose founders
include James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, sponsors the annual
event, which started with 33 pastors in 2008. This year, Glenn Beck has been
promoting it, calling for 1,000 religious leaders to sign on and generating
additional interest at the beginning of a presidential election cycle.
“There should be no government intrusion in the pulpit,” said the Rev. James
Garlow, senior pastor at Skyline Church in La Mesa, Calif., who led preachers in
the battle to pass California’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage.
“The freedom of speech and the freedom of religion promised under the First
Amendment means pastors have full authority to say what they want to say.”
Mr. Garlow said he planned to inveigh against same-sex marriage, abortion and
other touchstone issues that social conservatives oppose, and some ministers may
be ready to encourage parishioners to vote only for those candidates who adhere
to the same views or values.
“I tell them that as followers of Christ, you wouldn’t vote for someone who was
against what God said in his word,” Mr. Garlow said. “I will, in effect, oppose
several candidates and — de facto — endorse others.”
Two Republican candidates in particular, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas and
Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, would presumably benefit from some
pulpit politics on Sunday, since they have been courting Christian conservatives
Participating ministers plan to send tapes of their sermons to the I.R.S.,
effectively providing the agency with evidence it could use to take them to
But if history is any indication, the I.R.S. may continue to steer clear of the
“It’s frustrating,” said Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel at Alliance Defense.
“The law is on the books but they don’t enforce it, leaving churches in limbo.”
Supporters of the law are equally vexed by the tax agency’s perceived inaction.
“We have grave concerns over the current inability of the I.R.S. to enforce the
federal tax laws applicable to churches,” a group of 13 ministers in Ohio wrote
in a letter to the Treasury secretary, Timothy F. Geithner, in July.
Marcus Owens, the lawyer representing the Ohio ministers, warned that the
I.R.S.’s failure to pursue churches for politicking violations would encourage
more donations to support their efforts, taking further advantage of the new
leeway given to advocacy groups under the Supreme Court’s decision last year in
the Citizens United case.
Lois G. Lerner, director of the agency’s Exempt Organizations Division, said in
an e-mail that “education has been and remains the first goal of the I.R.S.’s
program on political activity by tax-exempt organizations.” The agency has
posted “guidance” on what churches can and cannot do on its Web site.
The agency says it has continued to do audits of some churches, but those are
not disclosed. Mr. Stanley, Mr. Owens and other lawyers say they are virtually
certain it has no continuing audits of church political activity, an issue that
has been a source of contention in recent elections.
The alliance and many other advocates regard a 1954 law prohibiting churches and
their leaders from engaging in political campaigning as a violation of the First
Amendment and wish to see the issue played out in court. The organization points
to the rich tradition of political activism by churches in some of the nation’s
most controversial battles, including the pre-Revolutionary war opposition to
taxation by the British, slavery and child labor.
The legislation, sponsored by Lyndon Baines Johnson, then a senator, muzzled all
charities in regards to partisan politics, and its impact on churches may have
been an unintended consequence. At the time, he was locked in a battle with two
nonprofit groups that were loudly calling him a closet communist.
Thirty years later, a group of senators led by Charles E. Grassley, Republican
of Iowa, passed legislation to try to rein in the agency a bit in doing some
audits. While audits of churches continued over the years, they appeared to have
slowed down considerably after a judge rebuffed the agency’s actions in a case
involving the Living Word Christian Center and a supposed endorsement of Ms.
Bachmann in 2007. The I.R.S. had eliminated positions through a reorganization,
and therefore, according to the judge, had not followed the law when determining
who could authorize such audits.
Sarah Hall Ingram, the I.R.S. commissioner responsible for the division that
oversees nonprofit groups, said the agency was still investigating such cases.
“We have churches under audit,” Ms. Hall Ingram said. “Maybe they just aren’t
the clients of the people you’re talking to.”
None of the churches involved in previous pulpit Sunday events have received
anything beyond a form letter from the I.R.S. thanking them for the tapes, Mr.
Stanley said. “They haven’t done anything to clarify what the law is and what
pastors can and can’t say,“ he said.
Mr. Owens, the lawyer representing the Ohio churches, said that Ms. Lerner had
told a meeting of state charity regulators in late 2009 that the agency was no
longer doing such audits. “I have not heard of a single church audit since
then,” Mr. Owens said.
He said the agency could have churches under audit for civil fraud or criminal
investigation. “I know of at least one of those,” he said.
Ms. Lerner said she could not recall what she had said at the meeting. Grant
Williams, an I.R.S. spokesman, declined to describe the type of church audits
the agency was doing or their number.
Last year, the I.R.S. also quietly ceased its Political Activities Compliance
Initiative, under which it issued reports in 2004 and 2006 detailing its
findings of illegal political campaigning by charities, including churches.
Paul Streckfus, a former I.R.S. official who publishes a newsletter about legal
and tax developments in the tax-exempt world, said the reports had served as an
alert. “They also gave us some idea of how big the problem of noncompliance
actually was, and that the I.R.S. was actually doing something about it,” Mr.
Mr. Garlow said he planned to outline where the candidates stood on various
issues and then discuss what the Bible said about those issues, calling on
church members to stand by their religious principles.
“The Bible says render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s,”
he said. “But Caesar is demanding more and more of what was once considered
God’s matter, and pastors have been bullied and intimidated enough.”
The New York Times
By DAN BARRY
In the hours after the 2008 election of the country’s first African-American
president, three white men crept up to a predominantly African-American church
being built here in Springfield, blessed it corruptly with gasoline — and faded
into the fresh November night.
Soon the church’s pastor, Bishop Bryant Robinson Jr., was at the crime scene’s
flickering edge, weary, saddened. Moments before, he had been anticipating a new
chapter in American history, and now here was one page, stuck. He didn’t need an
investigation to tell him this was a racist act of arson. He is a black man with
snow in his hair; he knew.
As he watched the new home for the Macedonia Church of God in Christ burn to the
ground, Bishop Robinson imagined only one response: Rebuild.
Now, nearly three years later, that election night’s crisp air of possibility
has all but faded in Washington, where the first African-American president,
Barack Obama, struggles with grinding wars, a broken economy and spirit-killing
partisanship. But here in Springfield, the smoke has lifted to reveal a new,
20,000-square-foot church standing on top of an old crime scene, its sanctuary
walls painted the color of a clear blue sky.
Resting in one of its pews the other day, a silver cane by his side, Bishop
Robinson, 74, said that this building on Tinkham Road reflects the
ever-unfolding American story of race, in Washington, Springfield, everywhere.
“The hatred in our country,” he said. “And the goodness in our country.”
The election night burning of a New England church became national news. A “This
Land” column shared how the pastor’s father had left segregated Alabama,
gathered together a congregation in Springfield, and bought an old downtown
church to use as a house of worship; how his eldest son and successor, Bryant,
worked for years to raise the money to build a new church on the city’s
outskirts; and how, when it burned down, he just knew that racism had fueled the
Now, sitting in a pew, Bishop Robinson referred to another part of family
history. How, in Emelle, Ala., on July 4, 1930, his grandfather and uncles found
themselves in an argument with a white store owner over a car battery. How that
dispute escalated into a violent, hate-filled mob scene that left several dead,
white and black, including a pregnant black woman and the bishop’s Uncle Esau —
who was lynched.
So, you see, Bishop Robinson just knew.
Two months after the fire, three white men in their 20s were charged with
burning down the church to express their rage at the thought of a black
president. Two pleaded guilty, and the third was convicted after trial, in a
case that The Republican newspaper of Springfield described as a “blot on the
“Unfortunately, it was a confirmation of my experiences as an African-American,”
Bishop Robinson said, adding: “My faith teaches me to forgive, and I forgive
them. But I cannot be accepting of their behavior. I cannot be victimized by
hatred. So I have to move forward.”
In moving forward, he and his congregation of a few hundred found outstretched
hands. Donations arrived from around the country, while volunteers cleared the
debris and carted away the ruined foundation. But the journey had its peaks and
For example, its leaders applied for federal assistance under the Church Arson
Prevention Act of 1996, which was enacted after a spate of house-of-worship
burnings. They filled out a checklist that asked, with bureaucratic bluntness,
what the arson had destroyed:
The Macedonia church eventually won the very last government loan guarantee
available under the law, which was good. But it had trouble securing a loan for
the government to back, which was bad.
That is, until Gov. Deval Patrick addressed the Urban League of Springfield in
February 2010. He explained that the church had just learned that day that its
bank was not inclined to provide a vital construction loan, even though the
church had already paid off the loan related to its first attempt at a new home.
“I know that in this audience tonight are people who care about Macedonia,” Mr.
Patrick had said. “Are people who understand we need this church to rise as a
symbol that hate doesn’t win. And I know that there are people here who are in
the finance field or know people who are, who can rally to help this very, very
Soon the church had the $1.8 million bank loan it needed. And construction began
Along the way, a group called the National Coalition for Burned Churches offered
rotating teams of volunteers. Here came some Catholics from suburban Chicago.
Here came some Methodists and Jews from Northern California. Here came some
students from Harvard, and some Congregationalists from the town of Millbury.
A few of these volunteers left behind handwritten messages on the walls
concealed by the church hallway’s dropped ceiling — a form of spiritual
graffiti, you might say. “His love endures forever.” “May God dwell in this
There is still work to do; the landscaping, for example, will have to wait until
spring. And the need to pay for everything remains; the church, Bishop Robinson
admits, is in perpetual fund-raising mode. No matter: what has risen is a large,
simple structure of wonder.
A sanctuary — yes — with 60 wooden pews purchased from a North Carolina business
called Affordable Church Furniture. Choir seating — yes — with many of the
chairs donated by a Lutheran church. A fellowship hall — yes — with more than
enough room for wedding receptions and funeral repasts.
And — yes— a pastor’s office, on the very spot where gasoline was poured on that
hopeful, horrible November night. “The guys came from those woods,” Bradford
Martin Jr., the church’s indefatigable lawyer, said as he led a tour through the
building. “They busted in here. They splashed it on the outside and they
splashed it on the inside.”
On Saturday’s misty morning, members of the Macedonia congregation gathered in
their new home for a rousing dedication. Dressed in their finest, they prayed
and sang and swayed.
Here was the governor of Massachusetts, and the mayor of Springfield, and a
police officer who worked on the arson investigation, and, all the way from
California, Charles E. Blake Sr., the presiding bishop and chief apostle of the
Church of God in Christ.
And here, of course, was Bishop Robinson, steadied by his cane and giving thanks
for this celebration that would not, could not, be denied.
November 6, 2010
The New York Times
By LAURIE GOODSTEIN
Bishop V. Gene Robinson, whose consecration as the first openly gay bishop in
the Episcopal Church set off a historic rift in the global Anglican Communion,
announced to his New Hampshire diocese on Saturday that he intended to step
He plans to retire in January 2013 after nine years as bishop, to give the
diocese enough time to elect a new bishop and get the approval of the national
church, a process that can take two years.
The news took some by surprise because Bishop Robinson is an energetic
63-year-old, and mandatory retirement age for Episcopal bishops is 72. He has
led a relatively stable and healthy diocese, despite predictions by some that
his election would undermine the Episcopal Church in New Hampshire.
The reason to depart, he said in a speech delivered at the close of the annual
convention of his diocese, is that being at the center of an international
uproar has taken a toll on him and on the diocese.
“Death threats, and the now worldwide controversy surrounding your election of
me as bishop, have been a constant strain, not just on me, but on my beloved
husband, Mark” and on Episcopalians in the state, he said.
But those who know Bishop Robinson say he has no intention of retiring from
public life. His status as a symbol in the international gay rights movement
means that after he steps down, he will have no shortage of platforms from which
to preach his message that God blesses gay relationships too. (Through a
spokesman, he declined interview requests.)
Bishop Robinson has become a national figure. In 2009, he gave the invocation
for the opening event of the inauguration of President Obama. He also sees
himself as an evangelist to people alienated from Christianity.
The election of Bishop Robinson in a church in Concord, N. H., in 2003 was the
shot heard round the Christian world. It cracked open a longstanding divide
between theological liberals and conservatives in both the Episcopal Church and
its parent body, the Anglican Communion — those churches affiliated with the
Church of England in more than 160 countries.
Since 2003, the Communion’s leaders have labored to save it from outright
schism, not just over homosexuality, but also over female bishops and priests.
The current strategy, pushed by the archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev.
Rowan Williams, is for each regional province to sign a “covenant” of common
The covenant has been slowly making its way through laborious writing and
approval processes, which could take years.
Late last month, an international coalition of liberal Anglicans started a
campaign to reject the covenant, saying, “The covenant seeks to narrow the range
of acceptable belief within Anglicanism.”
The group, Anglicans for Comprehensive Unity, said, “Rather than bringing peace
to the Communion, we predict that the covenant text itself could become the
cause of future bickering and that its centralized dispute-resolution mechanisms
could beget interminable quarrels and resentments.”
The church in New Hampshire suffered less fallout under Bishop Robinson than the
Episcopal Church or the Anglican Communion. Only one New Hampshire congregation
departed during his tenure, a congregation long unhappy with the direction of
the Episcopal Church, according to diocesan leaders.
The number of active members in New Hampshire fell 3 percent, from 15,259 in
2003 to 14,787 in 2009. In that period, the Episcopal Church, like most mainline
Protestant denominations, lost about 10 percent of its members. (It had about
two million in 2008, the last year for which statistics are available.)
Bishop Robinson won critics over with a leadership style that was decisive but
collaborative, said Margaret Porter, moderator of the diocesan council.
“The people who were skeptics, that did not last,” she said. “He was willing to
meet them where they were. There were churches that were reluctant to have him
visit as bishop for a time, and I think he now visits every congregation and is
But the pressure on Bishop Robinson became apparent in 2006. He took a monthlong
leave to be treated for alcoholism. He said Saturday that he was in his fifth
year of sobriety.
He and his partner of more than 20 years had a civil union ceremony in New
Hampshire in 2008.
Bishop Robinson is no longer the only openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church.
Bishop Mary D. Glasspool was consecrated in Los Angeles earlier this year.
In his resignation speech in New Hampshire, Bishop Robinson said: “This is the
one place on earth where I am not ‘the gay bishop.’ I believe that you elected
me because you believed me to be the right person to lead you at this time. The
world has sometimes questioned that, but I hope you never did.”
September 28, 2010
The New York Times
By JOSEPH BERGER
The shopping carts are lined up hours early in Tompkins Square Park, not far
from the dog run, where the East Village’s more genteel residents are unleashing
retrievers and beagles and chatting animatedly. The poor or elderly waiting on
benches to get the free food that comes with a dose of the Gospel seem more lost
in their own thoughts, even though many meet every Tuesday.
A guard, Mike Luke, a powerhouse known as Big Mike who himself was a consumer at
church pantries until he found religion and decided to work for “the man
upstairs,” manages the crowd with crisp authority until the 11 a.m. service
starts across the street at the Tompkins Square Gospel Fellowship. There is
nervous tension because only the first 50 will get in, and suddenly two women
are squabbling over a black cart.
“How do you know that’s your cart?” Big Mike firmly asks one, a fair question
since the carts look alike. But the mystery is cleared up with the discovery of
an orphaned gray cart.
Inside the worship hall, the 50 men and women sit in neat rows in front of a
pulpit and a painting of a generic waterfall while a pianist softly plays hymns.
Their carts are reassembled in neat rows as well.
The room has the shopworn air of Sergeant Sarah Brown’s Save-a-Soul Mission in
“Guys and Dolls.” One almost expects Stubby Kaye to get up and sing “Sit Down,
You’re Rockin’ the Boat.” But people don’t mind having to sit through a sermon
as the price of admission, and few have jobs they need to run to. While they
wait, volunteers fill each cart with a couple of bread loaves — redolent of a
Gospel miracle, except these are ciabatta and 10-grain — a couple of bananas, a
couple of less-than-freshly-picked ears of corn, a box of eggs, a box of
blueberries, even an Asian pear.
The food is donated by Trader Joe’s, the gourmet and organic food purveyor,
which has a store nearby. It usually feeds the kinds of professionals who use
the dog run, but it provides the fellowship with a wealth of unsold baked goods,
fruit and vegetables.
The fellowship was started 115 years ago as a mission to the immigrant Jews of
the Lower East Side but now mostly serves the black, Latino and Asian poor. The
East Village has several other pantries that dispense food without sermons;
their food is government-financed and so must be religion-free. The fellowship
started its giveaways in January and now feeds 250 people during three services
on Tuesdays — one in Chinese — and a single evening service on Sundays and
The mission is run by the Rev. Bill Jones, a lively ordained Baptist minister
from the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.
“People are not only hungry for food, but hungry for the word of God,” Mr. Jones
said. “There’s not just a physical need but a spiritual need.”
Nevertheless, he is aware of the actual hunger. “If you wait for three hours to
get $25 worth of groceries,” he said, “you have a need.”
He affirms that thought to the waiting crowd in a stentorian drawl.
“You all get blueberries today,” he announces. “Some of you get eggs. If you
don’t get eggs, don’t be upset. You neighbor is getting eggs, so be grateful.”
The people who come include Rafael Mercado, 52, who lost his job as a mailroom
clerk four years ago.
“I don’t have the kind of money now to go shopping,” he said, “so I go to many
pantries.” Another is Asia Feliciano, 37, a single mother with a lush head of
cornrow braids. She and her sons, Trevor, 5, and Jordan, 3, live in a nearby
shelter, and they stumbled upon the mission in August while panhandling.
“It puts food on our plates every night,” she said.
Mr. Jones begins the service with a prayer — “Heavenly father, we are so
grateful for the provisions you have brought us for another day.” He then offers
a lesson from the Gospel of John, in which Jesus tells the disciples to love one
another. With ardor that is not quite brimstone, Mr. Jones urges listeners to
love one another as well, not give in to temptations and pray to remain faithful
Many among the 50 sit stone-faced. But some clearly listen. Though she comes
mostly for the food, Ms. Feliciano indicates that the worship has subversively
“When I have to sit through the service, it opens my eyes,” she said. “So I
started reading the Bible and I asked them for a Bible, and they gave me one.”
Rev. James A. Kowalski has been dean of the Cathedral Church of St. John the
Divine for nearly seven years. In all that time, he has never heard its great
organ played during a worship service.
On Sunday, he will finally have his chance.
So will countless congregants and visitors as the Episcopal cathedral is
formally rededicated. Everyone is invited to the 11 a.m. service, though the
cathedral advises the public to arrive at least an hour early to claim passes
for unreserved seats. At least 3,000 people are expected to attend.
The rededication signifies the return of the whole cathedral — all 601 feet of
it — to useful life.
Since a fire on Dec. 18, 2001, one part of the cathedral after another has been
closed for cleaning, refurbishing and restoration. Now, from the bronze doors on
the west front to the stained-glass windows in the easternmost chapel, the
cathedral seems to have shed not only the mantle of destructive smoke, soot and
water stains (for the most part), but also the general dulling brought on by
more than a century of hard use.
The rehabilitation was financed by a $41.5 million settlement of the cathedral’s
insurance claim with the Church Insurance Companies, an Episcopal organization.
Stephen Facey, the executive vice president of the cathedral, said scaffolding
and cleaning accounted for about 50 percent of the cost.
The fire broke out in the unfinished north transept, which housed a gift shop.
Some of the damage elsewhere in the cathedral occurred in the interest of
protecting artistic treasures. For instance, to avoid the need to ventilate the
fire by breaking stained-glass windows, firefighters drew smoke through the
baptistry, which adjoins the north transept.
“This was black — it acted like a chimney,” Mr. Facey said as he walked through
the octagonal baptistry this month. One must take him at his word, because the
room is now a near riot of color, with a frieze of shields splashed in vibrant
greens, oranges, reds and blues.
It does not seem unreasonable to think that the cathedral has not looked this
good since it was first dedicated, on Nov. 30, 1941, after the nave was
completed. As 10,000 people watched, immense gray curtains parted at the east
end of the nave, permitting a view all the way to the apse.
“The entire length of this building, America’s greatest cathedral, the largest
Gothic cathedral in the world, now stands open for the worship of God and for
the blessing and inspiration of men,” Bishop William T. Manning declared in his
sermon that day. He added that he hoped the towers, the crossing and the north
transept might be finished while he was still bishop.
But that aspiration ended with World War II, which Bishop Manning foreshadowed
in his sermon as he acknowledged that the cathedral was rising at a time “when
we see in this world an outbreak of almost incredible evil, a return to sheer
barbarism and to unbelievable cruelties.”