The Episcopal Church Welcomes You
» Site Map   » Questions    

« Return
Diocesan Digest - March 30

[Episcopal News Service] 
  • CALIFORNIA: Grace Cathedral supports New Orleans' Grace Episcopal Church rebuilding
  • MISSISSIPPI: Katrina's story to be told through children's art
  • NEW JERSEY: Bishop joins call for comprehensive immigration reform
  • NEW YORK: Diocese joins theology institute to respond to Afghan convert
  • PENNSYLVANIA: Special convention approves budget

CALIFORNIA: Grace Cathedral supports New Orleans' Grace Episcopal Church rebuilding

[SOURCE: Grace Cathedral] Sadly, like many of its neighbors, New Orleans' Grace Episcopal Church was devastated – body and soul – by Hurricane Katrina. Both its buildings and its well-known and highly-regarded community-outreach programs were destroyed. Now, the church is attempting to rebuild.

San Francisco's Grace Cathedral will hold two special collections to help Grace Episcopal Church – on Sunday, April 2, at the 11:00 a.m. Eucharist and on Thursday, April 13, at the 6:00 p.m. Evensong service. Individuals may contribute to the rebuilding of Grace Episcopal Church in New Orleans at any other time by sending a check to Grace Cathedral with "Grace Episcopal" or "New Orleans" designated as the beneficiary.

Grace Episcopal Church has been an anchor in New Orleans' historic Mid-City neighborhood for over 120 years, and is reflective of the city's rich ethnic and cultural diversity. The congregation is made up of African immigrants, African-Americans, Hispanics, and people of European ancestry. Worship takes place in English, Spanish, and several other languages.

In addition to providing worship, spiritual guidance, and comfort, Grace Episcopal is depended upon by the people of New Orleans for vital social services; for example, the church has operated a childcare center for the area's working poor for over 30 years.

More information about Grace Episcopal Church may be obtained at the church's website

MISSISSIPPI: Katrina's story to be told through children's art

[SOURCE: Diocese of Mississippi] A simple truth: The birds knew. The birds knew that Hurricane Katrina was coming.

So begins "Story of a Storm," a picture book by Reona Visser and the children of Coast Episcopal School in Pass Christian, Mississippi. The story is told through creative and collaborative collage art with simple messages that express profound emotions and describe the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina.

The idea for "Story of a Storm" came to Visser during the evacuation process while driving in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Visser, a fifth grade teacher at Coast Episcopal School and a native of South Africa, felt compelled to write a book about Katrina. She felt fortunate to be able to return to her home in Diamondhead, Mississippi, one day after Katrina hit. Of her home, Visser said, "Buried under a mound of trees, it still looked good compared to the devastation around us. The house was dry and we stayed, camping out with none of the luxuries we take for granted."

The first week after the storm, Visser had her own children draw pictures about the storm. "It seemed like a good way to help them deal with the trauma," said Visser.

As friends started coming by to look for Visser and her family, she invited their children to say at her home while the parents searched through mud and rubble for their belongings. She told both the children and the parents about her idea of creating a book. The children were enthusiastic about working on the group project. "Some children were dropped off at 7:30 in the morning and stayed until 8:30 at night," said Visser.

Two weeks later, when email communication was restored, Visser emailed friends and invited more kids to come and take part in the collage creations. The result was thirty children, ranging from kindergarten to eighth grade, working on collaborative collages.

Each piece of art is the product of more than one child. One child might have drawn a leaf, another painted it, a third cut it out and another placed it on the collage. Visser enabled the children to contribute to the project according to their abilities. The artwork is mixed media and was made with materials they had on hand including cardboard, newspaper, paints and markers, and cotton balls. On one collage a recovered roof shingle (complete with nail hole) was used to depict the asphalt of a road. On another, a student used her necklace to represent wire from a telephone pole.

All of the children who participated are part of the student body of Coast Episcopal School. The school itself was damaged and a large part of the student body was left homeless. Despite its damage, the school was serving as a hub for relief efforts, and was dubbed Klub Katrina by locals and by volunteers.

About one month after the storm, teachers were able to return to school to prepare for students. Visser took the children's artwork to school to decorate an empty bulletin board in her class. "I needed a fresh, happy look when the students returned later that week," she said.

Those who saw the works were moved. Volunteers who came through the school started taking pictures of it and talking to Visser about the project and her desire to publish the works as a book and to contribute proceeds to the relief effort. Stacey Griffith, the wife of one volunteer and a graphic designer with experience in designing children's books and charitable-project books, donated her time for art direction and layout.

Griffith contacted Quail Ridge Press with whom she had worked on other book projects and the publisher agreed to contribute production, promotion, and distribution of the book. Local photographer Josh Hailey donated his time to photograph the artwork for the book. The generosity even reaches to Korea where printer Sally Kim agreed to donate the cost of printing the book.

Proceeds from the book will benefit the Coast Episcopal School Relief Fund which helps families rebuild their homes and replace necessities. "Story of a Storm" is scheduled for release this month and will be available through bookstores, gift shops and directly from Quail Ridge Press at 1-800-343-1583 or

NEW JERSEY: Bishop joins those calling for comprehensive immigration reform

[SOURCE: Diocese of New Jersey] New Jersey Bishop George E. Councell issued a pastoral letter March 28 urging federal lawmakers to drop efforts to criminalize efforts to aid undocumented immigrants.

"We cannot make our nation safe by discarding justice or criminalizing compassion for the poor and the oppressed," he wrote in his letter.

Councell echoed growing concern that such provisions in immigration reform measures will prevent Christians from acting out of their baptismal covenant to serve Christ in each other.

The full text of Councell's letter is available at

NEW YORK: Diocese joins theology institute to respond to Afghan convert

[SOURCE: Diocese of New York] The Diocese of New York and the Institute of Advanced Theology at Bard College have issued a statement on the Afghan courts' attempt to convict a man of a crime for converting to Christianity.

The statement said the trial of Abdul Rahman "represented a serious setback for inter-faith understanding and respect, as well as an egregious violation of human rights. Our work in dialogue with religious perspectives different from our own has progressed by means of the mutual acknowledgement that, in the end, only God can determine absolute standards of truth and falsehood, and that only God will punish defection from those standards."

The New York Times reported March 30 that Rahman, 41, was secretly flown to Italy, where he was granted asylum under round-the-clock protection by the government.

His arrival culminated several days of strong pressure on the American-supported government in Afghanistan, where Rahman had been jailed for weeks for his conversion. Many in Afghanistan called for his death, while Western nations demanded his release.

The statement said, "To see religious tolerance violated in an allegedly post-totalitarian state substantially supported by the United States distresses us, and the court's response to international concern, although welcome, still does not amount to acknowledging freedom of conscience in matters of faith."

The complete text of the statement and related statements are available at under the announcements heading at the link "Important Statement about the threat to freedom of conscience."

PENNSYLVANIA: Special convention approves budget

[SOURCE: Diocese of Pennsylvania] Delegates to a special diocesan convention held March 24 approved a 2006 program budget, nearly three and half months after refusing to accept the budget that was presented at the diocese's regular convention.

According to a statement on the diocese's website, the approved budget will use $550,000 in unrestricted net assets. The Diocesan Council had put forward a budget that included using $950,000 of such money. That amount was rejected and the budget amended at the $550,000 amount.

On November 5, the convention rejected a proposed $4.8 million 2006 program budget by a vote of 205-175. The use of unrestricted net assets in the budget was a major controversy.

The notice on the website ( said more information would be posted soon.

The special convention took place against the backdrop of an ongoing dispute between Bishop Charles E. Bennison Jr. and some sectors of the diocese, including the Standing Committee, which has asked the bishop to resign or retire by March 31. Bennison has refused that request.

A report from the Presiding Bishop's Office of Pastoral Development concluded earlier this month that its consultants "cannot recommend any process of conciliation or any 'rigorous long-term process for addressing problems.' If the Standing Committee and the Bishop still insist that some process be devised for them to address the issues that have been raised and/or to work on terms of separation through formal mediation, then the Presiding Bishop's Office will assist as long as the ground rules are defined by outside persons to insure that neither party tries to control the process. The expense of this work would be solely that of the Diocese, and the choice of the mediation firm would be that of the Presiding Bishop's Office."