At the scene of the crash

The ELCA News Service provides a minister’s-eye view of the crash of Continental 3407, starting with this:


CHICAGO (ELCA) — The Rev. Stephen C. Biegner heard the Feb. 12 crash that claimed 50 lives when a commuter airplane plunged into a nearby home in suburban Buffalo, N.Y.

“I got over there as fast as possible and started praying,” said Biegner, a pastor at Zion Lutheran Church, Clarence Center, only a few doors down from the fiery site.


United Methodists were there, too:

(Rev. Chuck) Smith and his family heard Flight 3407 fly over and experienced their home shaking three times shortly thereafter. They live about a half-mile to the east of the crash site. “Many parents are asking me how to reassure their children, knowing their homes will remain on the flight path,” he said.

Vatican journalist: It’s Dolan

Italian journalist Paolo Rodari says that Archbishop Timothy Dolan is heading for NY.

Here’s his blog.

Here’s a Catholic News Agency summary.

Rodari says the announcement should “arrive shortly.” Tuesday?

He says the finalists were Archbishops Gregory, Mansell, Myers and Nieves. Interesting. No one has thought that Mansell has been in the running for some time…

Now we wait.

Armonk temple shares abundant harvest

Social action is a lynchpin of Reform Judaism.

So the Irving J. Fain Award for Outstanding Synagogue Social Action Programming, presented by the Union for Reform Judaism, is a big deal.

One of the 20 congregations to win this year is Temple B’nai Yisrael in Armonk. The congregation won for participating in the Roxbury Farm Partnership, “which recruits members of the wider Armonk community to purchase farm shares and to identify community partners with whom to share the abundant harvest.”

Said Rabbi Marla Feldman, director of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism: “The congregations that win Fain Awards exemplify the passion for social justice that is at the very foundation of Reform Judaism. These outstanding congregations bring hope and healing to their communities through their efforts to fulfill the Jewish mandate ‘l’taken et haolam’ – ‘to repair our broken world.’ “

One of five runners-up was Temple Beth El of Northern Westchester in Chappaqua, which “hosted public officials from federal, state and local levels as guest speakers to educate attendees about how to effectively advocate for environmental justice.”

Egan’s piano an unlikely star

Cardinal Egan has some fun with all the rumors about his retirement in the new issue of Catholic New York.

In a brief interview, he says that his piano — much rumored to have been moved from his residence — “has never been moved even one inch in any direction.”

About the possibility of Pope B16 accepting his retirement, Egan says: “I know no one outside the Congregation for Bishops in the Vatican who would have any worthwhile information on that subject. Still, I would note that I am two years beyond the date for retirement and it may come at any time.”

I’m sure many will be looking for hidden meaning in this statement. I can only take it to mean that anything is possible.

The cardinal took exception to the Feb. 5 article in the NYT that pushed the rumor mill to new heights (the effect that the NYT has on everything). He says that he hopes that few take such articles seriously.

He says: “Still, the suggestion in the article that nothing has happened in the archdiocese over the past nine years apart from “closings” is a bit ugly. I trust that the faithful know better.”

And that’s why all the summations of his tenure will say that he did not like the media.

UPDATE: Whispers in the Loggia says that Egan’s successor has reportedly received notice that he’s B16’s choice and has accepted. According to Rocco Palmo’s source(s), NY’s 10th archbishop will be Spanish-speaking, a “conciliator,” and “good with priests.”

One might ask, “Shouldn’t all bishops be good with priests?”

Timothy Dolan is regarded as a conciliator and Good With Priests. And he went out of his way to learn Spanish a few years back.

‘…a crime against God and against humanity’

Pope Benedict XVI met with many American Jewish leaders today, with the Bishop Williamson affair certainly on everyone’s mind.

The pope said:


“The Church is profoundly and irrevocably committed to reject all anti-Semitism and to continue to build good and lasting relations between our two communities. If there is one particular image which encapsulates this commitment, it is the moment when my beloved predecessor Pope John Paul II stood at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, pleading for God’s forgiveness after all the injustice that the Jewish people have had to suffer.

“The hatred and contempt for men, women and children that was manifested in the Shoah was a crime against God and against humanity. … It is beyond question that any denial or minimisation of this terrible crime is intolerable and altogether unacceptable.

“This terrible chapter in our history must never be forgotten. Remembrance – it is rightly said – is ‘memoria futuri’, a warning to us for the future, and a summons to strive for reconciliation. To remember is to do everything in our power to prevent any recurrence of such a catastrophe within the human family by building bridges of lasting friendship.

“It is my fervent prayer that the memory of this appalling crime will strengthen our determination to heal the wounds that for too long have sullied relations between Christians and Jews”, Benedict XVI concluded. “It is my heartfelt desire that the friendship we now enjoy will grow ever stronger, so that the Church’s irrevocable commitment to respectful and harmonious relations with the people of the Covenant will bear fruit in abundance.”

Dolan’s vision thing

I don’t know if Archbishop Timothy Dolan of Milwaukee will, in fact, become the next archbishop of NY, as so many expect.

Regardless, it’s worth taking a look at a pastoral letter he offered to his archdiocese only two weeks ago.

The letter deals with an extensive planning process that the archdiocese has undertaken in recent years. It lays out a clear vision for the church in Milwaukee — a vision that acknowledges challenges, requires input from clergy and laity, and sets expectations.

It has a real “We’re all in this together” feel.

If Dolan does come to NY, you have to figure that something similar will happen here.

Even if someone else gets the job, though, there’s a good chance that such a process will take place.  Although Cardinal Egan oversaw planning for a realignment of parishes, most observers believe that a far more inclusive, sweeping “vision statement” is needed for the Archdiocese of New York.

Dolan’s letter says up front that the church is dealing with suburban flight, a worsening priest shortage, “an increase in the number of cradle Catholics who unfortunately later leave the Church,” a growing number of people who see no use for organized religion, more Catholics marrying late, and a growing push in society for “privacy” and “individuality” at the expense, at times, of the church’s moral teachings.

This is heavy-duty stuff that Dolan says is addressed in a new planning document: Vision 21.

It says, among other things, that lay leadership must expand so that priests can pastor, that new forms of parish leadership and organization need to be explored, that parishes need to work more often with neighboring parishes, that Catholic schools may have to be run differently, and that diverse Catholic communities — Latino, Asian, African — must be “celebrated and cared for.”

Dolan writes: “You see what’s happening here? Our conversations about planning have not been reduced to nervous chatter about closing parishes or trimming numbers of priests, but about the challenges and needs of God’s people right now, and how the Church must plan to meet them.”


Two things about Dolan’s letter strike me.

First, he is direct and informal, without talking down to anyone.

Second, he acknowledges that some will disagree with him. He writes that some people will think he’s being too aggressive and others will think he’s not being aggressive enough. He seems to be okay with that.

“I regret disappointing both sides,” he writes. “Hopefully, my decision…is a prudent middle course; yes, clean, clear direction has been given; but the way we implement these guidelines has to include the very people most affected: our pastors, parish directors, and faithful parishioners.”

Thinking theologically about the ‘U.S. crisis’

Just got a heads-up on a very interesting class being offered at Union Theological Seminary in NYC — the capital of liberal Protestantism — starting tonight.

And it’s going to be available on iTunes University.

Three leading “progressive” Christian Theologians — Cornel West, Gary Dorrien and seminary President Serene Jones (that’s her) — will teach the class: “Christianity and the U.S. Crisis.”

Here’s the description:

As the world waits anxiously for news of the market’s every fluctuation, as artistic programs feel the purse strings of their funding begin to pull tight, as we watch global violence escalate in conflicts where religion seems to play a key role, as new poverty for some means an exponential increase in suffering for those who have always been on the underside of global prosperity, and as a new generation in North America begins to navigate waters swelling with the waves of new technology and greater human diversity – we feel ourselves caught in the web of a crisis whose origin is murky and whose voracious grasp covers all aspects of our common life.

This course will attempt to describe the various edges and contours of the deepening U.S. crisis and to chart various Christian responses to it. In particular the course will ask:

1. How could the resources of the U.S. progressive Christian tradition enable Christian responses to the current crisis?

2. How can Christians think theologically about markets, globalization, and social justice?

3. How do structural forces of oppression – sexism, racism, homophobia, classism – undergird the crisis we are facing and what constitutes Christian social witness in the face of these structural forces?

4. What role do new media and new technologies play in crafting our sense of the common good and how can we understand these technologies theologically?

5. Can we think systematically and theologically about a crisis with so many overlapping layers – economic, ecological, social, moral – and what core beliefs would Christians draw on to do so?

Sure sounds like the kinds of questions that progressive Christians would want to ask (and try to answer).

The class is weekly through May 6. Within 24 hours after each lecture, the classes will be available on iTunes University.

Conservative rabbis to press ‘aliya’ to Israel

Conservative rabbis are meeting in Jerusalem this week, but I haven’t heard much about the proceedings.

The Rabbinical Assembly — which represents Conservative rabbis in the U.S., Israel and elsewhere — is having its annual convention.

The Israeli press was very interested (not surprisingly) in plans to promote aliya — the immigration of Jews from the diaspora to Israel.

“Although the Conservative Movement has always been Zionist, this campaign is a little bit radical,” said Rabbi Andy Sacks, director of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel.

The RA was also to challenge the all-powerful-ness of the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate of Israel, which runs the show religiously even though many Israelis are not Orthodox.

And the RA was set to honor some local notables, including Rabbi Joel Meyers of White Plains (that’s him), the group’s outgoing executive vice president, who has led the RA for 20 years, and Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, also of White Plains, who will replace Meyers.

It’s not just Lincoln’s 200th

Darwin’s 200th birthday is this week and religious denominations are “celebrating” in different ways.

The Episcopal Church has provided a one-page insert about Darwin for parishes to slip into their bulletins. It includes:


A backlash against the scientific view of evolution emerged as conflict grew between those who believed in the certainty of Genesis against the upstart young field of biology because the serendipity of evolution by natural selection involved no intervention by God.


And this:


The conflict still exists and frustrates the teaching of evolution in some parts of the United States. There remain those who read the bible as a scientific text, and those who would use evolution as a means of disproving God. Yet if one is willing to enter the dialogue, theology that is informed by science can still offer some enlightened ways of encountering God, 200 years after Darwin’s birth and 150 years after the publication of his generative theory.


The Vatican, meanwhile, will soon open an international conference on the theory of evolution. The gathering will include a critical study of “intelligent design” but will involve no proponents of it.

Father Giuseppe Tanzella-Nitti, a professor of theology at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, said this week: “No evolutionary mechanism is opposed to the affirmation that God wanted and, therefore, created humankind.”

“Basically, evolution is the way in which God created” the cosmos, he added.

No announcement yet

Regarding the speculation about the naming of a new archbishop of New York…

It hasn’t subsided. Not at all.

Everyone seems to think that the announcement is imminent. I’ve heard several scraps of information that, taken together, make me agree.

I even heard from a contact in Wisconsin who informs me that the word there is that Archbishop Dolan will be named Egan’s successor today or tomorrow.

At the same time, I realize that it could add up to nothing.

It’s happened before.

So we wait.