Search on for sermons about the meaning of Obama’s election

Do you expect your pastor or rabbi to deliver a powerful and “lasting” sermon on the meaning of Obama’s election during inauguration week?

The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress will be collecting video and audio recordings of sermons, as well as written transcripts.

According to the Center:

Congregations and groups interested in contributing to this once-in-a-lifetime documentary project are asked to record sermons and orations delivered during Inauguration Week 2009 and donate them to the Library of Congress. The donated recordings will be preserved at the American Folklife Center in order to enhance the nation’s historical record and preserve the voices of religious leaders and other orators for researchers and scholars of the future. After being processed by archivists, the collection will be made available to scholars, students and the general public. In addition, copies of collected materials may also be deposited at the National Museum of African American History & Culture at the Smithsonian Institution so that they may reach as wide an audience as possible.

The center is interested in sermons that will be delivered between Friday, January 16 and Sunday, January 25, 2009. So sermons delivered for Martin Luther King Day will count.

All submissions must be postmarked by February 27 and must be accompanied by signed release forms and a completed information form — found on the center’s website.

Farewell to a ‘Christian exile’

A funeral Mass for Father Richard John Neuhaus — the Lutheran-turned-Catholic scholar and writer of great influence — is being celebrated this morning at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in NYC.

There have been so many tributes made to Neuhaus since his death on Thursday that I can only hope that the homilist can come up with something fresh.

I just wanted to note that Neuhaus did write a final book that will be published in March. It’s called American Babylon: Notes of a Christian Exile. Here is a description from the online archive of Neuhaus’ work:

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Christians are by their nature a people out of place. Their true home is with God; in civic life, they are alien citizens “in but not of the world.” In American Babylon, eminent theologian Richard John Neuhaus examines the particular truth of that ambiguity for Catholics in America today. Neuhaus addresses the essential quandaries of Catholic life—assessing how Catholics can keep their heads above water in the sea of immorality that confronts them in the world, how they can be patriotic even though their true country is not in this world, and how they might reconcile their duties as citizens with their commitment to God. Deeply learned, frequently combative, and always eloquent, American Babylon is Neuhaus’s magnum opus—and will be essential reading for all Christians.

Protestant leader to give ‘national’ sermon

And delivering the sermon at the National Prayer Service that will cap the inauguration will be…the Rev. Sharon Watkins, general minister and president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), a mainline Protestant denomination of about 700,000 members.

She’ll be the first woman to give the sermon at the traditional event, which will be Jan. 21 at the National Cathedral in D.C.

She said:

I am truly honored to speak at this historic occasion. My prayer when I preach is always that God will use me to bring a Gospel message that is uplifting and appropriately challenging to those who hear it. I hope that my message will call us to believe in something bigger than ourselves and remind us to reach out to all of our neighbors to build communities of possibility.

This past August, Watkins was at the Stony Point Conference Center in Rockland, leading a denominational conference.

Upstate Amish seek to buck smoke detectors, building codes

Here’s an interesting development way up north in Morristown, N.Y. (no, not Morristown, N.J., but Morristown, N.Y., north of Syracuse and even Watertown, right by the Canadian border):

Eleven Amish families sued the rural town in federal court today, saying Morristown’s building-permit requirements are infringing on their right to practice their ultra-traditional faith.

Apparently, the town has brought 10 prosecutions against Amish families for building (or moving) homes without certified architectural plans, battery-powered smoke detectors and other “modern” requirements.

According to an AP story from a few months ago, a town judge said that the Amish could not claim that building codes hinder their religious freedom. We’ll see if a federal court agrees.

The Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty filed the lawsuit.

Seminaries not teaching sexuality (or training advocates), study says

How much should seminaries be focusing on sexuality?

It’s a good question. The world of religion is constantly focused on issues of sexuality, from the causes of homosexuality to sexual abuse committed by clergy.

And clergy have always offered marital counseling, including on questions of sexuality.

According to a new study based on a survey of 36 Christian and Jewish seminaries, seminaries are not doing the job when it comes to sexuality. Two-thirds of seminaries offer no courses on sexuality and 90 percent of seminary grads never take a course on sexuality.

The study was done by the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing and Union Theological Seminary in NYC.

“With so many congregations embroiled in controversy over sexual orientation issues, or struggling to address teenage sexuality, or concerned about sexual abuse, there is an urgent need for ordained clergy who understand the connections between religion and sexuality,” the Rev. Debra W. Haffner, director of the Religious Institute, said in a statement. “Seminaries must do more to prepare students to minister to their congregants and be effective advocates for sexual health and justice.”

You can read the report HERE.

The report is called “Sex and the Seminary: Preparing Ministers for Sexual Health and Justice.”

And “justice?”

The executive summary includes this:

Seminaries are not providing future religious leaders with sufficient opportunities for study, self-assessment, and ministerial formation in sexuality. They are also not providing seminarians with the skills they will need to minister to their congregants and communities, or to become effective advocates where sexuality issues are concerned.”

The last line is interesting: “to become effective advocates where sexuality issues are concerned.”

Of course, even within one seminary, not everyone is likely to agree on what issues to advocate for. Or even how to explain the issues. This may be why, in part, seminaries are reluctant to address sexuality directly. Maybe…

‘American Idol’ for Westchester rabbis

You often hear about newcomers to the suburbs going “shul shopping” or “church shopping,” trying to find the right house of worship.

Jews who want to get a feel for eight Westchester rabbis now have a relatively easy way to do so!

The Rosenthal JCC in Pleasantville is beginning a 15-class “Introduction to Judaism” series this Tuesday (Jan. 13). It will cover all the Big Stuff — Torah, the sages, keeping kosher, holidays, lifecycle events, prayer, Kabbalah and more — and will be taught by the following rabbis:

  • Rabbi Joshua Davidson of Temple Beth El
  • Rabbi Steven Kane of Congregation Sons of Israel
  • Rabbi Douglas Krantz of Congregation B’nai Yisrael
  • Rabbi Seth Limmer of Congregation B’nai Yisrael
  • Rabbi Geoffrey Mitelman of Temple Beth El
  • Rabbi Jason Nevarez Temple Shaaray Tefila
  • Rabbi Mark Sameth of Pleasantville Community Synagogue
  • Rabbi Jeremy Winaker of Bet Torah

So come try ’em out. The whole series costs only 36 bucks.

Richard John Neuhaus, intellectual, provocateur, blogging pioneer, dead at 72

I know I was not alone in regularly reading “The Public Square,” Father Richard John Neuhaus’ essay in his journal, First Things, and wondering how he did it.

It was page after page after page of acerbic insights about the religious news of the day, sharp critiques of those he disagreed with, numerous books reviews (of the most demanding books), harsh assessments of the secular press, and Neuhaus’ clear and unafraid declarations of faith.

“The Public Square” was really among the first blogs — a rolling vision of the world around Richard John Neuhaus.

I asked Neuhaus a few years ago, before he gave a talk at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, just how he did “The Public Square.” He smiled politely and said something about working all the time. It was a question he had heard before.

He died this morning at 72, apparently succumbing to side effects from cancer. I saw Neuhaus at Cardinal Avery Dulles’ funeral, only a couple of weeks ago. When I pointed out that he had walked in, someone commented that Neuhaus had aged tremendously and was hardly recognizable. Now we know the end was near.

Let’s be honest: Most people never heard of Neuhaus. He wasn’t really a public figure, in the modern celebrity sense.

But among those who care about Catholic thought, the larger realm of Christian thought, the political school of thinking that’s become known as neo-conservativism, and the role of religion in the public square, he was really an intellectual giant.

Like Dulles, he had an unusual and interesting back story.

He was born to a Lutheran minister in Canada and became a Lutheran minister himself. During the 1960s, he served a poor church in Bed-Stuy and became known as a progressive and an opponent of the war in Vietnam. He later started turning to the right. He converted to Catholicism in 1990 and was ordained a priest by his friend Cardinal O’Connor.

He remained a New York priest, putting out First Things from NYC.

Together with his buddies George Weigel and Michael Novak, Neuhaus became a leading voice for neo-conservativism — in religion, politics and society. He pushed for closer relations between Catholics and evangelicals so they could work together on abortion and other issues. He had little patience for mainline Protestants and others who he saw as watering down Christian truth.

When he spoke at St. Joseph’s in 2005 about why Catholics do not share Communion with most other Christians — an obstacle to Christian “unity” according to some — he said: “The only unity pleasing to God, and the only unity we can rightly pray for, is unity in the truth.”

He became very ill about a decade ago and nearly died. When he recovered, he wrote about it in “As I Lay Dying: Meditations About Returning.”

Neuhaus took a strong position on everything. When the clerical sex-abuse crisis unfolded, he blamed a generation of weak bishops for letting the wrong men become priests. He insisted that many abuse cases had nothing to do with pedophilia, but arose from gay priests abusing young teenagers. He also rarely failed to take a shot at the secular press for being anti-Catholic or anti-religion.

He loved to write and he loved to argue. As they say, he didn’t suffer fools. He made his case for faith as he saw it, even if it meant rhetorically punching someone in the mouth.

I loved to read him. But I always hoped he would never get mad at me.

One-woman play on Dorothy Day

Interest in Dorothy Day only seems to increase.

I’m always hearing about lectures and writings about her life and influence. Even Cardinal Egan often mentions her as being among Catholic role models when he speaks in churches.

It’s understandable. What a story she was. A newspaper reporter who became an anarchist before focusing on social justice and becoming a Roman Catholic.

There’s something for everyone in her bio.

On Sunday (Jan. 11) at 6:30 p.m. at Graymoor, the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement will present a one-woman play, “Fool for Christ, the Story of Dorothy Day.” Sarah Melici, a New Jersey-based actress, will play Day.

According to Graymoor: “Written by Donald Yonker, “Fool for Christ” opens with Day, at the age of 75, looking back at her life while in jail after having been arrested for picketing with César Chávez and the California grape growers. Melici portrays Day at various ages and also takes on the roles of other important people in her life.”

Open to the public. A $5 donation is requested. Graymoor is on Route 9, just north of the Westchester/Putnam border.

Black church leaders to celebrate inauguration at DC ball

The inauguration is less than two weeks away, and there will be lots of balls and parties in D.C.

One of them will be the African-American Church Inaugural Ball on Sunday, Jan. 18, at the Grand Hyatt Washington.

Numerous big-name church leaders will attend, including Rev. Gardner Taylor, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker Sr., not to mention folks like Donna Brazile, Marian Wright Edelman, Earl Graves, Congressman John Lewis and Gen. Colin Powell.

The black church will be represented in Washington.

The executive producer of the event is Yonkers’ own Pernessa Seele, the founder/CEO of The Balm in Gilead, a non-profit group that for 19 years has been helping (and prodding) black churches to deal with HIV/AIDS in the black community.

It’s been a crusade for Seele (that’s her), who was an immunologist at Harlem Hospital during the late 1980s when she was overwhelmed by the extent of the AIDS crisis. She started The Balm in Gilead, against all odds really, and has become a truly influential and greatly respected figure in the African-American community — almost single-handedly forcing black churches to confront an issue many did not want to face.

She’s a hero to many.

Proceeds from the ball will benefit The Balm in Gilead.

Seele’s pastor is the Rev. W. Franklyn Richardson of Grace Baptist Church in Mount Vernon, who is serving as chairman of the ball.

And the Grace Baptist Church Choir will be among several performers.

I’ll be writing more about the ball next week.