First Woman is Among Four Nominees to Head Episcopal Church

                                                                                  © 2006 Religion News Service

ne woman and three Southern men have been nominated to lead the Episcopal Church as the badly divided denomination faces an uncertain future and threats of schism after decades of fighting.

The four bishops -- Katherine Jefferts Schori of Las Vegas; J. Neil Alexander of Atlanta; Henry Parsley of Birmingham, Alabama; Edwin Gulick of Louisville, Kentucky -- were nominated January 25 by a 29-member nominating committee to serve as presiding bishop.

The church's new presiding bishop will be elected to a nine-year term on June 18 at the Episcopalians' General Convention meeting in Columbus, Ohio. The winner will be installed in November at the National Cathedral in Washington.

Many U.S. churches are watching the Episcopalians closely as they confront inner conflicts over homosexuality and biblical authority, and the next few years will be a critical test of the church's ability to remain intact. Whoever is elected will have to guide the U.S. church through painful internal divisions and confront growing isolation from sister churches abroad.

Three of the four bishops come from the church's Southeast region, which is one of the few areas not losing members. Schori is the first woman nominated for the job. If elected, she would be one of the highest-ranking women ever to lead a major U.S. church.

Of the four nominees, only Parsley voted against the election of openly gay Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire in 2003. Ever since Robinson's election, Anglican leaders from the Third World have pressured the American church to repent of its actions, and Anglican leaders in England have grown restless with the go-it-alone policies of their U.S. and Canadian members. So far, the U.S. church has remained mostly defiant.

The presiding bishop has no direct authority over other bishops, and cannot dictate policy within either the U.S. church or the Anglican Communion.

Poll: Americans Worried About Threat of Poverty

BY GLORIA FILOSA                                                                                         © 2006 Religion News Service             

Nearly two-thirds of Americans fear that poverty will increase, while almost the same proportion worry they will find themselves among the lowest economic class, according to a new poll by Catholic bishops.

Almost five months after the abject poverty of New Orleans was televised across the world in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the Washington-based Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) released a poll tracking people's perception of the poor. "The numbers are staggering," said Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, N.Y., the bishops' CCHD chairman. "Right now, 37 million men, women and children are living below the poverty line. That's one out of every eight Americans."

Before Katrina, New Orleans had a child poverty rate at more than 38 percent, one of the highest in the country.

Hubbard released the survey in New Orleans on Jan. 19 as part of announcing an additional $500,000 in grants awarded to groups helping poor victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita rebuild their lives.

Before Katrina hit, the committee had given $9 million to 315 projects across the nation working to help the poor. After Katrina, the committee gave out $150,000 to groups in the hardest-hit areas. The 20 post-hurricane grants range from $10,000 to $30,000 each, and collectively cover three states and 11 Catholic dioceses. The Archdiocese of New Orleans will receive $30,000 for its community centers in the most devastated parishes.

The same survey found that 75 percent of Americans think the disaster should become a tool for educating the public about poverty, while 23 percent said too much attention already has been paid to the situation. The poll was conducted among 1,131 members of the general adult population in December and is the sixth "Poverty Pulse" survey taken since 2000.

While Hubbard said his group was not surprised at the vast poverty encapsulated in New Orleans, the poll showed that 41 percent of Americans were taken aback at the stories depicting poverty here. Fifty-nine percent said they were not surprised. The lack of jobs that pay "a living wage" and a lack of education were the top reasons for poverty, the poll found. Twelve percent attributed poverty to "laziness."

Conservative Christians in Canada Heartened by Election

BY RON CSILLAG                                                                                            © 2006 Religion News Service     

Conservative Christians in Canada are expressing cautious optimism about the January 23 federal election of political leaders that could be receptive to their issues.

Led by Prime Minister-designate Stephen Harper, the Conservative Party won a minority government with 124 seats in the 308-seat House of Commons, the lower house of Canada's parliament.

The Liberals, who have governed since 1993, tallied 103 seats, the separatist Bloc Quebecois 51 and the left-leaning New Democratic Party 29. There is one independent. Because the Conservatives fell short of the 155 seats required for a majority, Harper, 46, will need the help of the other parties to pass legislation.

Conservative Christians clashed often with the Liberals, who have been led by Paul Martin since 2003. Under his leadership, the government legalized same-sex marriage and considered other social measures that upset evangelicals. "We now have a government that will be more sympathetic to a number of the issues of concern to evangelicals," Bruce Clemenger, president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, told Baptist Press. "But for Canadians, this was a cautious vote for change."

In a statement, the fellowship said it "will continue to work across party lines and make a positive contribution to public policy with this new parliament ... (and) will continue to promote principles that we believe will strengthen the social fabric of Canada and promote shalom."

Evangelicals are "optimistic that we're not going to see more of the same," said Glenn Penner of Voice of the Martyrs Canada. But because of the minority government, neither are they going to see dramatic moves on same-sex marriage or abortion, Penner added.

On the other hand, some Christians were buoyed by Harper's election-night departure from the country's long-held status quo when he said "God bless Canada" in his victory speech. Roman Catholic Bishop Fred Henry of the Calgary diocese said he was "greatly encouraged by (Harper's) brief statement of prayer."

In a statement published widely before the election, Harper said government "must respect (religious) convictions and not attempt to interfere in the free public expression of religious belief."

Orthodox Jews Allowed Symbolic Boundary
to Do More Sabbath Tasks

BY ANA ALAY                                                                                                 © 2006 Religion News Service      

A six-year legal dispute over a symbolic religious zone has ended, allowing a group of Orthodox Jews to maintain and expand its eruv, a boundary that increases the number of tasks one can do on the Sabbath.

 In a 5-0 vote on January 24, with one member abstaining, the Tenafly (New Jersey) borough council also agreed to pay $325,000 in legal fees to the Tenafly Eruv Association, which sued the borough in 2000 for banning the symbolic area.

The eruv, an area bounded by telephone wires and utility poles marked with plastic strips called "lechis," allows observant Orthodox Jews to do physical tasks otherwise banned outside the home on the Sabbath, such as pushing a baby stroller and carrying objects such as keys. "It's a resolution to a long drawn-out affair, and everyone is happy," said Rabbi Jeffrey Fox of the Kesher Synagogue of Englewood, which draws congregants from Tenafly, including a founding member of the Eruv Association, Chaim Book.

The settlement requires the eruv association to advise the borough if it wants to expand the zone, which currently encompasses about one-third of the 4.4-square-mile borough. The borough's insurance will cover about one-third of the settlement costs, officials said.

In 2000, the council voted to ban the eruv, citing an ordinance against signs or objects on telephone poles. The vote came amid residents' complaints that the government would be favoring one religious group if it allowed the symbolic enclosure. The group of Orthodox Jews had obtained permission for the eruv from Bergen County and two utility companies.

A federal judge agreed with the borough but the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia overturned that decision, saying that the eruv, which remained intact pending the legal proceedings, is a religious accommodation under the First Amendment.

Tenafly Mayor Peter Rustin said the vote closed an ugly chapter for the town. "This was something that had a life of its own and never should have happened. I'm happy to put this behind us," the mayor said.

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