Seven Episcopal Dioceses Reject New Bishop
 
BY ADELLE M. BANKS AND KEVIN ECKSTROM                                         ©2006 Religion News Service
 
he new head of the Episcopal Church, on the job for barely one month, announced Thursday (November 30) that she would dispatch a deputy into dioceses where she is unwelcome because of her progressive theology or her gender.
 
Seven U.S. dioceses have asked to be put under the guidance of someone other than new Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, who was installed as the church's first female leader on November 4.
 
Jefferts Schori said she would appoint a "primatial vicar" to perform her duties--such as consecrating new bishops--in dioceses hostile to her leadership. The vicar has not yet been named.
 
Some conservatives, however, said the idea was dead on arrival because they had no say in who Jefferts Schori would send them.
 
The "provisional" approach to healing the rift in the Episcopal Church--and the wider Anglican Communion--was crafted by Jefferts Schori and a group of bishops that began looking for a solution at a September meeting.  Several leading conservative bishops who attended the September summit, however, did not return for a follow-up meeting in November when the plan was put together.
 
Jefferts Schori will appoint the vicar--a church title given to someone who represents or acts in place of the bishop--"in consultation with" Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion.
 
Robert Williams, a spokesman for the Episcopal Church, said a bishop has not yet been chosen for the post but the plans are "to take effect January 1, 2007" and remain in place for at least three years.
 
The plan is the latest attempt to maintain fragile unity with conservative bishops, dioceses, and churches who opposed the election of an openly gay bishop in 2003. Others oppose Jefferts Schori because they do not believe women should be priests, or dislike her support of the church's progressive stance on homosexuality.  The move also indicates a willingness by Jefferts Schori to directly tackle the growing divide, even if it means ceding some of her authority in an attempt the keep the church from outright schism.
 
 
Church of Norway Ends Status as State Church
 
BY DAVID ANDERSON                                                                          ©2006 Religion News Service
 
In a radical revision of its relationship with the Norwegian government, the (Lutheran) Church of Norway has voted to abolish the nation's current system under which it was the nation's official church.
 
The mid-November vote at the church's General Synod meeting in Oyer, Norway, aims to bring to an end the state-church system that has been in place since 1537, when the then-united Denmark-Norway endorsed the Lutheran Reformation. The proposal still must be affirmed and implemented by the government, and likely will not take effect until 2013.
 
Olaf Haraldson, a Viking warrior king, brought Christianity to central Norway in the eleventh century after converting during a raiding tour of England and imposed it on his local followers.
 
At the Oyer meeting, delegates voted 63-19 that the Church of Norway should no longer be referred to as a state church in the country's 1814 constitution. Rather, they said, the church should be founded on a separate act of parliament.
 
The Norwegian constitution also says the nation's values are based on those of the Lutheran Church, and stipulates that half of government ministers must be Church of Norway members.  In addition, the church meeting said the General Synod--not the king of Norway and the government--should exercise authority over church matters.
 
The vote by the synod follows a report issued in January by a government-appointed commission that recommended the changes to reflect Norway's evolution to a modern, multi-faith society.
 
Jens Petter Johnsen, director of the Church of Norway's national council, called the synod's mid-November vote "historic."
 
"What matters is the relation between church and people, not between church and state," he said. "We will do our utmost to strengthen the service of the church in and with our people."
 
The Church of Norway has about 3.9 million members, representing some 85 percent of the Norwegian population. If the changes are implemented, Norway will follow neighboring Sweden, which separated church and state in 2000.
 
 
Government Ditches `Hunger' Label for `Very Low Food Security'
 
BY REBECCA U. CHOP                                                                               ©2006 Religion News Service
 
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has decided that Americans who go without food are no longer hungry -- instead, they possess "very low food security."
 
In an annual report released November 15 that measures Americans' access to food, the word "hunger" was omitted in favor of what the department has decided is the more scientifically accurate term.
 
The president of Bread for the World, an ecumenical Christian anti-hunger group based in Washington, blasted the department's move as an attempt by the Bush administration to play down the reality of hunger in the U.S.
 
"This was a politically motivated resort to jargon in order to reduce the scandal of hunger in America," the Rev. David Beckmann said. He said the department's move was under the influence of an administration that does not like to acknowledge that Americans are hungry.
 
The Committee on National Statistics of the National Academies, an independent panel of scientific experts who made the recommendation, is defending the change in terminology, saying that hunger is a term that describes the consequences rather than the state of food security.  Because hunger is "an individual-level physiological condition that may result from food insecurity," it must be measured on a person-to-person basis that is beyond the scope of the annual report, the committee said on the department's web site.
 
The report measures the ability of Americans to put sufficient food on the table for a healthy lifestyle. In previous years, "hunger" had been used to describe Americans at the lowest end of the measure, least able to adequately feed themselves and their families.
 
Critics also accused the administration of playing politics by waiting until after the November 7 elections to release the report instead of putting it out, as usual, in October.  Beckmann said the new term is a "technical, bloodless word" that obscures reality, while hunger is a word that motivates people into action.
 
"These people who are being described as food insecure—these people are hungry," he said. "`Hunger' has meaning to people. `Very low food security' doesn't mean anything."
 
The Department of Agriculture said there were 35 million Americans in 2005--down from 38 million in 2004--who lived in households that at some point in the year were not able to put food on the table. The number of people threatened by "very low food security" was stable at 10 million after five consecutive years on the rise.
 
 
Poll: Americans want to see ‘Merry Christmas’ in stores
 
BY MICHAEL FOUST                                                                                        ©2006 Baptist Press
 
“Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”? Some stores may be avoiding it, but an overwhelming majority of Americans still would like to see signs with the traditional greeting of “Merry Christmas” while shopping, according to a Rasmussen Reports poll of 1,000 adults. The survey asked simply, “Would you prefer stores to show signs saying ‘Merry Christmas’ or ‘Happy Holidays’?’” By a 69-23 percent margin American adults preferred “Merry Christmas.” The poll was conducted November 18-19.
 
Democrats and Republicans even agreed on the issue: 61 percent of Democrats and 85 percent of Republicans say they favor “Merry Christmas.”
 
Nationwide, stores this year seem to be more inclined to use “Christmas” instead of “holidays” in their greetings, advertising and in-store displays. Wal-Mart recently announced it would purchase TV ads mentioning Christmas, change the name of its seasonal decorating department back to “The Christmas Shop” instead of “The Holiday Shop” and play Christmas carols throughout its stores. The switch comes after conservative groups protested Wal-Mart’s usage of generic holiday greetings last year.   

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