Saving a shaky church

Another mainline Protestant church is crumbling. Literally.

But the membership of the First Reformed Church of Nyack is trying to save their 106-year-old church, my colleague Hannan Adely “reports”:http://lohud.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071211/NEWS03/712110361/1028/NEWS12 today.

tjndc5-5b3j1xhc93oa0p45h5a_layout.jpgMembers have contributed nearly half the $430,000 needed to patch up the church, which has loose bricks and windows because of water damage.

They are trying to raise the rest by appealing to the community.

First Reformed’s membership has fallen from about 350 members during the 1960s to some 60 active members today — mirroring the situation at so many mainline churches up and down the Lower Hudson Valley.

“A number of churches in the area have been forced to close down,” congregant Matt Taibi said. “We decided to do everything in our power not to do that.”

Here’s hoping that First Reformed pulls through. But one has to ask: What will the mainline Protestant future look like?

Upstate, a classmate of the cardinal also nears his jubilee

Speaking of Cardinal Egan’s “golden jubilee (see post below),” I came across a very nice letter to an upstate newspaper about another priest who graduated with Egan from the Gregorian University in Rome in 1958.

Msgr. Joaquim Jose Antunes Olendzki has served as pastor for 18 years at St. Stanislaus (Polish) Parish in Pine Island, N.Y., way up in Orange County.

In a “letter”:http://www.strausnews.com/articles/2007/12/09/the_chronicle/opinion/2.txt to the Chronicle (which covers the Chester/Goshen) area, Father Thomas J. Curley of Chester writes of Olendzki:

He has served humbly in this Archdiocese for almost 50 years. Like our Cardinal, he is a scholar, a musician, a Latinist, is multilingual and multitalented. He earned two graduate degrees. He is now preparing to celebrate his golden anniversary of holy priesthood.

He also writes:

There are the princes and there are the grunts. We need both. Cardinal Egan daily confronts enormous and complex responsibilities, and shoulders impossible burdens for the Church. Msgr. Olendzki, likewise devoted, is, in the words of our great Pope about himself, “a simple worker in the vineyard of the Lord.�

Very touching, I thought.

Early this year, the “Times Herald-Record”:http://recordonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070122/NEWS/701220331 of Middletown reported that Olendzki was about to turn 75 (as has his cardinal classmate) and would soon retire.

At the time, Olendzki said that attendance at his church was way down:

“This church can sit about 300 people,” he says. “Today we have not even half the church full.”

The number of new priests is also dwindling. “Priests are dying,” he says. “Pray for vocations.”

“Sadly,” he says, to those in attendance and those not, “many have abolished Sunday. We need to make Sunday the Lord’s day. There can be no compromise.”

An Episcopal diocese says ‘See you around’

An entire diocese has up and left the Episcopal Church.

Leadership of the conservative “Diocese of San Joaquin,”:http://sanjoaquin.anglican.org/ which includes 8,500 parishioners in 47 congregations in central California, voted Friday to bolt. The diocese can’t abide by the Episcopal Church’s openness to gays and lesbians in general and its consecration of an openly gay bishop specifically.

The Rev. Van McCalister, a diocesan spokesman, told the AP:

We have leadership in the Episcopal Church that has drastically and radically changed directions. They have pulled the rug out from under us. They’ve started teaching something very different, something very new and novel, and it’s impossible for us to follow a leadership that has so drastically reinvented itself.

The diocese plans to align with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, based in South America.

About five churches in the diocese, though, want to remain part of the Episcopal Church. Episcopal Presiding Bishop “Katharine Jefferts Schori”:http://www.episcopalchurch.org/79901_92469_ENG_HTM.htm said in a statement that the church will not leave central California.

“The Episcopal Church will continue in the Diocese of San Joaquin, albeit with new leadership,� she said.

Is this the beginning of an Episcopal break up, as many have predicted?

Egan hits 50 years as a priest

Cardinal Egan will celebrate the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood this Saturday, Dec. 15.

The new “Catholic New York”:http://www.cny.org/ has a 64 page special section dedicated to Egan’s “golden jubilee,” filled with tribute ads taken out by Catholic institutions across New York.

In his column, the cardinal writes:

tjndc5-5diagzx59b5u9l23a0c_layout.jpgMoreover, the priestly preacher must always be honest with the people. His calling is to announce what has been made known for our salvation. He is to add nothing. He is to subtract nothing. He is to repeat revelation whole and entire with love for what he is repeating and with all the skill he can muster. If sacrifice is a focus of his life and authentic proclamation of what God has revealed is an enthusiastically embraced duty of his life, his priesthood will be a blessing for him and for all whose lives he touches.

Egan’s anniversary will be celebrated at Sunday’s 10:15 a.m. Mass at St. Patrick’s.

On Saturday, I had an article in the “Journal News/LoHud.com”:http://lohud.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071208/NEWS01/712080333/1028/NEWS12 about the likelihood that Egan will soon become the first archbishop of New York to retire in office. Whenever the time comes, the first round of summations of his legacy — in the media and in parishes — will be mighty interesting.

It’s been a busy and often tumultuous seven years for Cardinal Egan. How will the average lay Catholic in the Archdiocese of NY remember him?

Religious ‘reality TV’ coming to CBS

It’s religion on Prime Time.

On Sunday, Dec. 23, at 9 p.m., CBS will air a two-hour show called “In God’s Name.” It will feature conversation with 12 major religious leaders on “myriad issues in our post-9/11 world, including the rise of terrorism, fanaticism, intolerance and war.”

Two well-known French filmmakers, Jules and Gedeon Naudet, produced the project. They visited many of the subjects in their homes and private places of worship (that’s the Dalai Lama meditating at home).

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The religious leaders featured are: Pope Benedict XVI; the Dalai Lama; Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams; Bishop Mark Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention; Alexei II, head of the Russian Orthodox Church; Rabbi Yona Metzger, Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel; Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi, sheikh of Al-Azhar and a prominent Sunni Muslim leader; Ayatollah Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, a prominent Shi’ite Muslim leader; Amma (Mata Amritanandamayi), a Hindu spiritual leader; Michihisa Kitashirakawa, Jingu Daiguji (High Priest) of the Shinto Grand Shrine of Ise; and Joginder Singh Vedanti, Jathedar of the Akal Takht, the Sikhs’ highest authority.

A pretty impressive line-up, no?

CBS’ “website”:http://alpha.cbs.com/specials/in_gods_name/ for the show features some great pictures of its subjects.

German officials: Ban Scientology

Tom Cruise probably won’t be filming again in Germany any time soon. That goes for John Travolta, too.

Germany’s top security officials said today that they want to ban the Church of Scientology because they believe the group to be a business that takes advantage of vulnerable people.

images2.jpegOfficials “consider Scientology to be an organization that is not compatible with the constitution,� Berlin Interior Minister Erhart Koerting told reporters today, according to the AP.

Scientology, which considers itself a religion and was founded by the science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, has been growing in major cities around the world. Most people, it’s safe to say, are still mystified by the whole thing. Scientology revolves around “dianetics,” Hubbard’s methods for leaving behind stressful memories and moving toward spirituality and happiness.

Today, Scientology is probably best known for its celebrity members — Cruise, Travolta, Kirstie Alley, Isaac Hayes, Leah Remini (from the King of Queens) and others.

The German government has been monitoring Scientology in the country for a decade. The U.S. State Department has long been critical of this action.

During the summer, the German government objected to the filming of a movie there starring Cruise, who plays an anti-Hitler activist. Cruise is a well-known defnder of Scientology.

The speech itself

In  case you’re not yet sick of hearing about Mitt Romney and his faith, here is the text of his speech:

ROMNEY: Thank you, Mr. President for your kind introduction.
It is an honor to be here today. This is an inspiring place because of you and the first lady and because of the film that’s exhibited across the way in the presidential library. For those who have not seen it, it shows the president as a young pilot, shot down during the Second World War, being rescued from his life raft by the crew of an American submarine. It’s a moving reminder that when America has faced challenge and peril, Americans rise to the occasion, willing to risk their very lives to defend freedom and preserve our nation. We’re in your debt, Mr. President. Thank you very, very much.
Mr. President, your generation rose to the occasion, first to defeat fascism and then to vanquish the Soviet Union. You left us, your children, a free and strong America. It is why we call yours the greatest generation. It’s now my generation’s turn. How we respond to today’s challenges will define our generation. And it will determine what kind of America we will leave our children, and theirs.
America faces a new generation of challenges. Radical violent Islam seeks to destroy us. An emerging China endeavors to surpass our economic leadership. And we’re troubled at home by government overspending, overuse of foreign oil, and the breakdown of the family.
Over the last year, we’ve embarked on a national debate on how best to preserve American leadership. Today, I wish to address a topic which I believe is fundamental to America’s greatness: our religious liberty. I’ll also offer perspectives on how my own faith would inform my presidency, if I were elected.
There are some who may feel that religion is not a matter to be seriously considered in the context of the weighty threats that face us. If so, they are at odds with the nation’s founders, for they, when our nation faced its greatest peril, sought the blessings of the Creator. And further, they discovered the essential connection between the survival of a free land and the protection of religious freedom. In John Adams’ words: “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. … Our Constitution,â€? he said, “was made for a moral and religious people.â€? Continue reading

Can health care reform include prayer?

The Christian Science Church in NY sent out an interesting “press release”:http://www.prnewswire.com/ today, asking that any health care reform in New York state include “prayer-based care.”

The church notes that Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, chair of the Health Committee, released a proposal this week to make health care accessible to all New Yorkers.

Paul Hannesson, state spokesman for the church, says:

We appreciate the desire to make humanity safer and healthier. And we hope that any plan to implement universal health care in the state of New York includes one element that will benefit anyone — spiritual, prayer-based care.

“Christian Scientists”:http://www.tfccs.com/index.jhtml;jsessionid=GGV4C0LXM44WDKGL4L2SFEQ generally don’t go to doctors or use medical treatments, believing instead in the power of prayer for healing.

Hannesson urges lawmakers to “Make the most of this opportunity. New York is creating a system that could meet the needs of all its citizens. To truly do this, any universal health care system must include a spiritual basis for wellbeing. Otherwise, we are excluding what most people believe can make them not only healthier but better.”

Mormon church not a political group

With all the attention on Mitt Romney, the Church of  Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is emphasizing its political neutrality.

An LDS statement on the matter spells things out pretty clearly (and might serve as a model for other religious traditions). The “statement”:http://www.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=2ced329706ca6110VgnVCM100000176f620aRCRD&vgnextchannel=9ae411154963d010VgnVCM1000004e94610aRCRD says:

The Church’s mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, not to elect politicians. The Church’s neutrality in matters of party politics applies in all of the many nations in which it is established.

The Church does not:

  • Endorse, promote or oppose political parties, candidates or platforms.
  • Allow its church buildings, membership lists or other resources to be used for partisan political purposes.
  • Attempt to direct its members as to which candidate or party they should give their votes to. This policy applies whether or not a candidate for office is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
  • Attempt to direct or dictate to a government leader.

The Church does:

  • Encourage its members to play a role as responsible citizens in their communities, including becoming informed about issues and voting in elections.
  • Expect its members to engage in the political process in an informed and civil manner, respecting the fact that members of the Church come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences and may have differences of opinion in partisan political matters.
  • Request candidates for office not to imply that their candidacy or platforms are endorsed by the Church.
  • Reserve the right as an institution to address, in a nonpartisan way, issues that it believes have significant community or moral consequences or that directly affect the interests of the Church.

 

Romney takes his best shot

Mitt Romney made his case about as well as he could.

“I do not define my candidacy by my religion,” he said. “A person should not be elected because of his faith, nor should he be rejected because of his faith.â€? (I had thought his big “religion speech” was tonight, but it was this morning. My mistake.)

Speaking at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum at Texas A&M, Romney said:

tjndc5-5hqbwrqhm3bz5hrm4rp_layout.jpg“Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it ends where the affairs of the nation begin.”

And…

“If I am fortunate to become your president, I will serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause and no one interest. A president must serve only the common cause of the people of the United States.�

And…

“I believe in my Mormon faith and I endeavor to live by it,� Romney said. “My faith is the faith of my fathers. I will be true to them and to my beliefs.�

And…

“I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God and the savior of mankind.”

He also said he doesn’t want to see “any acknowledgment of God” removed from the public square.

Add it up and Romney seems to be saying: He is a person of faith and faith is important in private and public life. But his particular faith will not affect how he would serve as president.

I guess the polls will determine whether Romney’s speech is deemed a success.

By the way, “ReligionWriter.com”:http://www.religionwriter.com/ has a real good interview with Dick Ostling, one of the senior religion writers around, who co-authored a book on Mormonism. Ostling talks about Romney and his unique challenge.