Pastor Electrocuted During Baptism

BY JASON KANE                                                                                                                   © 2005 Religion News Service

aBaptist pastor was electrocuted after grabbing a microphone while submerged in the waters of a baptistry.

The Rev. Kyle Lake, 33, of University Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, died October 30. Microphones have long been used at the church due to the large size of the congregation, which regularly exceeds 600 worshippers on Sundays, according to Blair Browning, a spokesman for the church.

The baptismal candidate had not stepped into the waters and was not injured, Browning said. Lake was taken by paramedics to a nearby hospital, where he died around 11:30 a.m., the church's Web site said.

About 800 people gathered for the morning service. The church, co-founded by worship leader and songwriter David Crowder, serves a large congregation of Baylor University students. Attendance Sunday was greater than usual because of homecoming weekend at the university.

Browning, a longtime friend of Lake, said the community is in mourning.  "Not only did we lose our pastor but we've lost our friend," a statement on the church's Web site said. "We are confident that Kyle is in heaven today because of his trust in Jesus Christ as his Savior."

Lake, who had served as a pastor at the church since 1997, is survived by a wife, daughter and twin sons, Browning said.  Lake was the author of two books, "Understanding God's Will" and "Understanding Prayer."

About 1,000 people congregated at the church for a memorial service Sunday night, Browning said.


Liberal Episcopalians Make Plans
For Denominational Split in 2006

BY KEVIN ECKSTROM
                                                                                                         © 2005 Religion News Service

Liberal Episcopalians, concerned that a split over homosexuality may be inevitable next year, have begun laying the groundwork for seizing control of church property and replacing bishops who leave the church.

Leaders of Via Media, an alliance of liberal groups in 12 conservative dioceses, sketched out the plan in a Sept. 29 meeting in Dallas. Draft minutes from the meeting were leaked to the media this week.

The "Day After" blueprint -- combined with conservative plans for "faithful disobedience" and bishops who are already mulling ways to divide property -- is the latest indication that all sides are preparing for a battle royal when the church meets next summer in Columbus, Ohio.

"We want to do everything that might be necessary and appropriate to make sure that every Episcopalian who wants an Episcopal church has one," said Christopher Wilkins, the national facilitator for Via Media.

The 2.3 million-member Episcopal Church has weathered deep divisions at home and with other Anglican churches abroad since 2003, when it approved an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire and inched toward blessing same-sex unions.

Conservatives have looked to allies in the Third World for guidance, and have predicted a "realignment" of Anglicanism in North America unless the U.S. and Canadian churches repent of their actions. Wilkins and other Via Media officials insist their ideas are just a contingency plan that they hope they will never have to use. They said they will not "oust" any sitting bishop, but want to protect their churches.

Via Media leaders say they have not consulted with Episcopal Church headquarters on their plans. Conservatives, meanwhile, say the leaked plan exposes the hostility toward traditionalists who oppose openly gay Bishop V. Gene Robinson and the church's growing acceptance of homosexuality.

"I do find it troubling that they would feel a need to have these kinds of talks about how to wield power in such a ruthless manner at this stage," said Douglas LeBlanc, spokesman for the conservative Anglican Communion Network.

The Anglican Communion Network is headed by Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, and includes like-minded bishops in Dallas; Albany, New York; Orlando, Florida; Fort Worth, Texas; Quincy, Illinois; Albuquerque, New Mexico; San Joaquin, California; South Carolina and Springfield, Illinois. Most Via Media groups are located in those same dioceses.

The plan assumes that conservative bishops in the network would leave next summer's General Convention unsatisfied and try to take their dioceses out of the church. Then it would look like this:

  • Liberals would be ready to file canonical complaints that the bishops have abandoned the communion of the church.
  • Liberals would then ask that each bishop's office be declared empty, and ask the church's presiding bishop to appoint someone to fill it.
  • Vacant spots in the church's leadership structure would also need to be filled, and finances, deeds and other documents secured.
  • The liberal remnant would need to "be ready to take legal action on property" to ensure that parish buildings and assets remain in the denomination.

Lionel Deimel, president of Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh, one of the Via Media groups, said the leaked minutes have unleashed a "tempest in a teapot," but liberals take the threat of schism seriously.

"If a bishop is going to try to take a diocese out of the Episcopal Church--which (church law) says he cannot do -- then Episcopalians, the people who own the property, are going to fight him on it," Deimel said.


Churches in India Call New Delhi Bombings 'Inhuman Act'

BY DAVID E. ANDERSON                                                                                                       © 2005 Religion News Service

Protestant and Roman Catholic church leaders in India have condemned the three bombings that killed 59 people in New Delhi as Indians prepared to celebrate the Hindu festival of Diwali and the Muslim Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of Ramadan.

"This is a most inhuman act targeting innocent people," Bishop D.K. Sahu, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in India, said in a statement Monday (Oct. 31).  The NCCI is composed of 29 Protestant and Orthodox churches.

The bombs exploded Saturday at two New Delhi markets and near a bus on one of the biggest shopping weekends of the year as Indians began to prepare for the celebration of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, which began Tuesday. Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday at the end of Ramadan, also falls this week, its timing dependent on a moon sighting.

Church of North India Bishop Karam Masih told Ecumenical News International, the Geneva-based religious news agency, that the bombs were "an attempt to create disharmony and confusion" between religious communities. India and Pakistan have long been at odds -- and sometimes at war --over the disputed Kashmir, and Islamic separatists in Indian Kashmir have waged a 16-year insurgency.

But Indian nationalists said they believed the bombings were the work of Pakistan-based Islamic militants, and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Monday there was a "foreign link" to the attacks -- a not-so-veiled reference to Pakistan.

New Delhi's Roman Catholic Archbishop Vincent M. Concessao said the bombings "must be condemned by all."

In the United States, Hindu and Muslim organizations also condemned the bombings. "Terrorism focusing on Hindus, even as they celebrate their most joyous festival extolling the victory of good over evil, adds a horrific dimension to this tragedy," said Dr. Assem Shukla, a member of the Hindu American Foundation board of directors.

"The timing of this blast, as India and Pakistan move to peace and as Hindus and Muslims help each other after the massive earthquake earlier this month, shows the utter inhumanity of those terrorists."

The Council on American-Islamic Relations also condemned the bombings, saying the cruelty and timing are "beyond comprehension. ... No political cause can ever be served by such acts."

"These actions will never bring relief to any grievance and will only serve to foster discord and misunderstandings between people of different faiths."


U.S. House Passes Housing Bill Opposed by Church Groups

BY KEVIN ECKSTROM                                                                                                         © 2005 Religion News Service

The U.S. House has approved a controversial measure that would deny new federal housing funds to any nonprofit group -- including churches -- that have engaged in voter registration or get-out-the-vote activities.

The Republican-backed provision, attached to the Federal Housing Finance Reform Act, passed the House Wednesday (Oct. 26) in a 331-90 vote. A host of Democrats and church-based groups said the measure was unconstitutional. A move to strip the voting-related provisions from the larger housing bill was also defeated, largely along party lines, 220-200.

"It is unacceptable to force a poisoned choice on these entities: to help fill critical housing needs or to exercise their basic civic responsibilities," said Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.

The bill denies money from the new Affordable Housing Fund to any group that had engaged in nonpartisan voter activities in the previous 12 months. It also prohibits any voter activity after a grant has been awarded. Opponents said the bill unfairly targets black churches because they are most likely to work on low-income housing and are also involved in voter registration campaigns, and have members who tend to vote Democratic.

The bill also denies funding to organizations who don't list housing as their "primary purpose." Catholic Charities, for example, said that it would make most churches ineligible because housing is only a portion of their ministries.

The provision was drafted by the conservative Republican Study Committee (RSC), which was concerned that federal housing funds would be directed to housing activists with close ties to the Democratic party. Rep. Mike Spence, an Indiana Republican and chairman of the RSC, was unavailable for comment. The measure now goes to the Senate, where Crowley said her organization will work to defeat the voting provisions.


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