One year and counting for Archbishop Tim

One year ago today, the rumor became fact: Tim Dolan was the next Archbishop of New York.

He had been talked about as a leading contender for the job for at least several years. His name came up in every conversation I had with a priest or church “insider” about who might replace Cardinal Egan.

I always heard the same thing: He was funny, engaging, insightful and “just what New York needs.” I had met Dolan briefly a few years before — but even a quick chat was enough for me to know it was all true.

tjndc5-5otbe1et0us110m2skcb_layoutFrom the day the Vatican made it official, Dolan lived up to his rep. And he received about as much Good Press as any public person in New York could possibly expect.

The media gushed over him for a solid two or three months. Breathless stuff. We had a larger-than-life guy.

Dolan told reporters that he would spend his first year getting a sense of things and listening to people. True enough, he’s gone from parish to parish and talked with many priests and lay Catholics — often in his now-famous spot phone calls.

I’ve heard a few grumblings — not many — that it’s time for Dolan to act.

He faces many of the same issues that Egan and Cardinal O’Connor before him faced. There aren’t enough priests. Many pastors are up there in age. Northern parishes are growing and many city parishes are not. Many Catholics schools are struggling. The archdiocese is becoming increasingly Hispanic, even as many Hispanic Catholics attend separate Spanish-language Masses or worship at largely Hispanic parishes. There are certainly a large number of illegal immigrants going to Mass in New York — who the church stands up for, even if many white Catholics will not.

Then there’s the economy. Demands on the church are greater. Resources are fewer.

As Dolan said in Poughkeepsie the other day: “Number one, more people come to us because you usually come to people you know, and most people know and feel comfortable with their church. If they’re short on rent, their kid’s tuition or grocery money, guess where they are going to go? Their parish.”

Dolan will mark his first anniversary in New York (he was actually installed on April 15) by spreading some more good cheer.

He told ABC News: “The number of people who have come to me, from the mayor’s office on down, and said, ‘Archbishop, we kind of like having you around. We’re worried about you. You better work on your weight.” They’re right, and I really, really have to watch the intake because I love to eat. I love being with people.”

Last night, Dolan held court at a “Theology on Tap” program at a NYC bar.

Whispers in the Loggia’s Rocco Palmo was there and typed a blow-by-blow account that you can read today.

There were about 900 people, Palmo wrote, and it took Dolan 20 minutes just to get across the room.

The boss had plenty of jokes, like “assure me I’m not picking up the tab tonight.”

He talked primarily about the “Petrine ministry” — the papacy.

He said “all we believe is Jesus Christ — alone — is the center and source of unity and authority in his church… he designated Peter as his vicar.”And “we believe Jesus gave Peter the privilege of being his earthly representative…”

And this: “Jesus is the head of his church… but — in case you haven’t noticed — Jesus just so happens to be invisible, alright?”

That’s Dolan.

My guess is that Dolan will soon begin making his mark in the Archdiocese of New York. It will be keenly interesting to see what he really thinks about what needs to be done.

If you want to know more about him, I came across an Oct. 19 release date for a new book from John Allen, Catholic journalist extraordinaire. It is to be called “American Pope: A Biography of New York’s Archbishop Timothy Dolan.”

American pope, huh? He’ll have a lot to live up to…


‘Will God be pleased with my current contribution to the church?’

Churches and synagogues, like everyone else, are hurting financially.

Giving is down. Services are being cut. I’ve heard that a few local churches are in real trouble.

I’m on a lot of church/synagogue mailing lists, and I recently received an appeal from one Protestant church in the LoHud (it really doesn’t matter which one).

The letter asks for congregants to provide extra support so the church can meet its budget.

It includes this:

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It is never easy to ask for money, particularly during challenging economic times. The easiest way to do it is state the facts, present the needs, and ask each of you to respond according to your own willingness and ability. May our Living God help us share in carrying on the ministries of our church.

Before you fill in the pledge card for 2010 and bring it to church, please ask yourself the following questions:

What does xx Church mean to me?

Will God be pleased with my current contribution to the church?

Am I an obedient Christian according to biblical teachings?

Am I giving the best for my God’s church?

The Bible says when we sow bountifully, we reap bountifully. God honors an extravagant giver. God wants us to bring our tithes and offerings to His storehouse of ministries (Malachi 3:10).

The high costs of Jewish day schools is not a NEW challenge

Since the onset of the Great Recession, there has been a tremendous amount of concern in the Jewish community about the debilitating costs of day schools.

But Shira Dicker, a well-known writer and publicist out of NYC, has written a very absorbing and persuasive column in The Jewish Week about the struggle that non-affluent Jews have long faced to pay day school tuition.

The problem is not new, she writes, even if many Jews did not notice before the recession. She writes, in part:

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But the problematic price tag of Jewish education was enabled by a culture of affluence that somehow got tangled up with American Jewish identity. My unscientific observation is that this culture took root in the early ‘80s and grew wildly in the intervening decades, subverting the teaching of the Ethics of the Fathers—“Who is successful?” The answer became “He who makes tons of money and has lots of stuff.”

Within this culture of affluence, there was a distinct shame associated with financial struggle, a belief that not having enough money indicated some kind of existential failure. After a brief eternity of being a have-not in a land of haves, it is startling for me to suddenly hear the phrase, “I cannot afford…”

For the last quarter century, those who were committed yet couldn’t afford the high price of being Jewish were bullied or shamed into silence or compliance. That reality changed, nearly overnight, and I view the defection of Jewish families from the day school system as an important wake-up call, a reaction to the myth that if Jewish education is a priority, families will always find a way to finance it.

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That’s what is called brutal honesty.

Christian talk on the recession

The current issue of The Christian Century is focused on the recession.

The cover headline reads: “Theological Dividends: Lessons of the economic downturn”

I have an article about how churches in good, old Westchester County have tried to respond to the needs of suburbanites.

My story is not on the Christian Century website, so you can’t read it unless you’re an old-fashioned subscriber. We miss subscribers in the print world.

But you can read the thoughts of the Rev. Michael Lindvall, pastor of the Brick Presbyterian Church in New York City, who writes about the different ways people try to come to terms with the financial mess. Some blame others. Some focus on being victimized.

But Lindvall puts the onus on human sin. He writes:

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Calvin saw that human brokenness is no simple matter of doing some things that are wrong while doing others that are altogether right. Rather, even our noblest, wisest and most selfless acts are tinged with the sin that permeates even our virtues. Niebuhr reminded us that sin is not simply a reality within individual persons or a matter of autonomous choices; it is systemic. Sin is built into our finest institutions. It is endemic in our highest culture. It is hidden in our wisest strategic plans and plagues well-intended governments and noble reform movements. Sin confounds complex financial derivatives and the rescue plans designed to clean up their mess. No one, not one, is righteous.

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You can also read the musings of four other Christian scholars. One of them, Deirdre McCloskey, who teaches at the University of Illinois at Chicago and has written a theological defense of capitalism, wrote this:

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Innovation has been better than any exercise of the usual Christian charity. Indeed, from the point of view of a theology of creativity, it has been Christian charity. Give what you will to the poor of the world, economic creativity since 1800 has given ten times more. Simple charity is good for your soul. But if you wish actually to help the poor, you should let markets and innovation work, because they are what have transformed the lives of the poor. Look at China or India, freed from Mao’s communism or the License Raj. The world economy has sharply slowed this year. But it will return next year to raising the incomes of the poorest faster than at any time in history.

More on the recession

The Alban Institute, a non-profit educational group in Herndon, Va., that tries to support religious congregations, is offering an interesting selection of on-line “webinars” on subjects related to money.

Or the lack of it.

There’s “Talking about Money, Like it or Not.” “Stewardship in Lean Times.” “Staff Anxieties in a Changing Economy.”

And more, more, more.

There’s even “Being Ready for a Rebound,” which is described like this:

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This webinar provides perspectives on the current economic recession that can help you and your congregation start now to prepare for your future, rather than just weathering the downturn and delaying your dreams for a better day.

Join us to hear the guidance of two well-known and highly respected church leaders about how congregations and denominations can be more vital after the economic crisis, than than they were even before it began.

Take the Catholic economic justice quiz

The U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference has unveiled a website for “Catholic Teaching on Economic Life.”

There you’ll find podcasts, videos, key principles, policy papers, prayer resources and more.

There is also an “economic justice quiz,” which includes questions such as:

1. According to the 2007 U.S. Census, how many people in the United States live below the poverty line?” The choices are: 1.8 million; 5.6 million; 15.9 million; 26.7 million; and 37.3 million.

Want the answer? Look it up.

2. Which right of workers do the bishops not mention in Economic Justice for All, a Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy? The choices: to safe and decent working conditions; to choose to join together to form unions and associations; to wages without dligent work in exchange; to be treated as persons, not simply as means to a profit; to fair wages sufficient to provide for their families’ basic needs.

Okay, that’s an easy one.

3. The values of my faith lead me to believe that economic choices and institutions should be judged based on (choose one): whether they help the U.S. maintain its superpower status; preventing our country’s national debt from continuing to grow; how the poor and vulnerable are faring; how well my (or my family’s) stocks are doing.

The correct answer is obvious. But how many people would really choose another one?

4. Catholic teaching affirms that the free market (choose one): is important to promoting economic freedom, but its operation must be modified when it harms vulnerable members of society; provides equal access to wealth and success for anyone who is willing to work hard; is inherently unjust and ultimately leads to the poorest getting even poorer.

Well, these questions aren’t that difficult. But, again, you have to figure that a lot of people would consciously pick the “wrong” answer.

No money for United Methodist hymnal

Another blow from the Great Recession:

The United Methodist Church has had big plans for a new hymnal.

But the project has been halted because the United Methodist Publishing House doesn’t have the $2 million needed to make it happen.

“The resources required to sustain a dedicated staff and pay for the planned activities are simply not available at this time,” said Bishop Ernest S. Lyght, chair of the hymnal revision committee and the immediate past bishop of the New York Conference (that’s him).

The current hymnal was published in 1989.

Hope in hard times

The Episcopal Church is offering a free booklet to help faith communities “nurture a culture of generosity and hope” during these uncertain times.

The publication — available for immediate download — is called “Find Hope in Hard Times: Seven Spiritual Practices.”

“Christian hope is based on trust,” the Rev. Laurel Johnston, the Episcopal Church’s Program Officer for Stewardship, said in a statement. “Trust that God will continue to fulfill God’s promise in a new way to each generation that leads to freedom, free to be the people God intended us to be. The ‘Finding Hope in Hard Times’ resource guide invites communities of faith to take on seven disciplines that nurture hope and a path towards spiritual and financial freedom.”

Here are the sections you’ll find: Count Your Blessings; Count Your Cash; Learn to be Content; Choose a Simpler Lifestyle; Keep on Giving; Rebuild Spiritual Communities; and A Financial Downturn can be a Spiritual Upturn.

Each section includes a suggested action and a “Pause for Reflection.”

Print copies can be obtained through ebr@episcopalchurch.org or at 800-903-5544 or by going to www.episcopalbookstore.org.

A modern disaster?

A thought for Monday morning before I head to NYC for an interesting interview…

I was talking to a Presbyterian pastor over the weekend who noted that churches have become real good at responding to natural disasters. The horrible flooding in Fargo provides several good examples.

But the time is coming, the pastor said, when churches may have to respond to the tumult caused by the Recession in a similar way…

Catching up after a week ‘away’

I’m back from my week-long furlough.

It’s always good to get some down time (but it’s better with a paycheck).

I’ve gone through my 1,088 new emails and am ready, I think, to refocus on religion news.

What did I miss?

Over in Connecticut, a bizarre bill that would have changed the structure of Catholic parishes apparently caused quite a stir before dying a quick death.

The idea was to force Catholic parishes to be financially accountable by forcing pastors to report to boards of directors.

The authors of the bill must have missed those lessons in grade school, high school and college about the Constitution. They might want to take a peek at the document at some point in their political careers, no?

Anyway, thousands of Connecticut Catholics rallied in Hartford to oppose the bill, which was quickly pulled. (ADD: A reader notes that the bill could be revived at some point.)

What else?

Cardinal Egan, in a radio interview, suggested that the Catholic Church might consider opening the priesthood to married men. “I think it has to be looked at,” he said.

Huh?

Apparently, Egan has been influenced by the lack of vocations to the priesthood in New York. Okay, but isn’t this a strange time to be bringing up such a weighty matter that has long been debated by lay Catholics?

Interesting that Egan noted that priests in the Eastern Catholic churches are allowed to be married. I’ve heard this argument made countless times by “progressive” Catholics. Now I can only wonder if Egan, in the waning days of his tenure, will follow up his radio interview with a more elaborate explanation of his position on this much-debated question (check out some of the comments on this David Gibson blog post).

What else?

The Pew Forum finds that church attendance has NOT increased during the recession.

And the recession continues. St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in White Plains has had to evict a food pantry after 27 years. The church is running a deficit and needs to find a tenant who can pay.

I wrote my last FaithBeat column about a ministry at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Yorktown Heights that has been helping job seekers for 20 years. I went to a meeting attended by some 50 people who are out of work.

On a happier note, tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day.

Cardinal Egan will get a send-off of sorts, as he waves to parade-goers from the steps of St. Patrick’s for the last time as archbishop.

And the parade will be dedicated to the Sisters of Charity, who are celebrating their 200th anniversary of serving New York’s poor.