KANSAS: Bishops hope to create 'moral climate' favoring education
[SOURCE: Associated Press] Led by Kansas bishops from three denominations, about 120 people gathered in Topeka, Kansas, on April 29 for a conference meant to make them politically active on behalf of public schools.
Sponsoring the event were Bishops Dean Wolfe, of the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas; Scott Jones, of the Kansas Area United Methodist Church; and Gerald Mansholt, of the synod that covers Kansas and Missouri in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. Participants gathered in a meeting hall of Grace Episcopal Cathedral, only a few blocks west of the Statehouse.
Participants had workshops dealing with student diversity, rural schools and applying values in the modern world. They also received a primer on financial issues and discussed religious faith and science education.
"Our primary purpose has been to raise awareness and to set a table a lot of different people can together around and begin to look at these issues," Wolfe said.
"We want to set a moral climate that says these are the concerns you ought to be bringing to bear on making these decisions," Jones said during a break in the conference. "In that sort of fundamental way of shaping the debate, we have a contribution to make."
The conference came the same day the House Select Committee on School Finance trimmed $65 million from a Senate-passed school finance plan, so the legislation would instead phase in a $401 million increase in aid to public schools over three years.
But the bishops said they're not advocating any particular bill, nor do they plan to get involved in legislative campaigns.
"What we do want people in our denominations to do is to vote, to be involved in the process, to run for election, to be active in school boards and the development of curriculum, to be as involved as possible," Wolfe said.
MISSOURI: Religious leaders back effort by coal miners to unionize
[SOURCE: Diocese of Missouri] A delegation of five religious leaders met with officials of Peabody Energy Company at the company’s St. Louis headquarters April 27 to add their arguments for allowing workers at the company’s non-union mines to organize.
The delegation won a meeting with Peabody officials after submitting a petition signed by more than 500 religious leaders, including 62 judicatory heads, and five denominational leaders. Among those signing were 32 bishops of the Episcopal Church, including Bishop George Wayne Smith of Missouri and Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold.
At issue is an attempt by the United Mine Workers of America to unionize 19 non-union mines operated by Peabody or one of its subsidiaries in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia. All of the mines were once worked by union miners.
The UMW wants to avoid going to the National Labor Relations Board, which would initiate a long and legally expensive process of scheduling elections at the mines. Instead, it wants miners to have the right to simply check off on their employee work cards that they are union members. If more than 50 percent of the miners at a given mine did so, the company would have to recognize the UMW as the bargaining unit for the miners.
Vic Svec, a Peabody spokesperson, said the company supports the NLRB process.
"We believe every employee has the freedom to choose, including the right to choose to be union-free," said Svec.
At stake is not so much wages as it is safety, said miners, working and retired, who attended a lunch at Christ Church Cathedral in downtown St. Louis prior to a news conference conducted by Religious Leaders for Coalfield Justice.
"The single greatest thing the union ever negotiated was the creation of the safety committees at each mine," said Randy Phelps, a laid-off miner who now works as an organizer for the UMW in southern Illinois.
The Rev. Teresa Mithen, rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in St. Louis and religious co-chair of the St. Louis chapter of Jobs for Justice, told a television reporter at the news conference that the religious leaders’ involvement in the miners’ organizing effort should come as no surprise.
"In our baptismal covenant we promise to respect the dignity of every human being and what we are doing is asking the company to respect the dignity of its workers," she explained.
More information about the effort, including a list of the Episcopal Church petitioners, is available at http://www.missouri.anglican.org/ miners.doc
OREGON: Bishop tells Bush of his concern about immigration bill
[SOURCE: Diocese of Oregon] Bishop Johncy Itty of Oregon told President Bush in a letter earlier this month that he is concerned about some provisions of an immigration bill pending in Congress.
He criticized HR 4437’s plan to make it a felony for people offer aid to undocumented immigrants.
"Criminalizing acts of kindness, mercy, and compassion is an affront to the democratic values of our nation and runs counter to the Judeo- Christian principles on which our nation was founded," Itty wrote. "As a nation we must respond to the economic, political, and social realities of our time which are at the root of current problems."
He noted that both the House of Bishops and the church’s Executive Council have declares their strong opposition to any legislation that would make it unlawful for faith based or humanitarian organizations to act to relieve the suffering of undocumented immigrants.
The complete text of Itty’s letter is available at http://www.diocese-oregon.org/artman/publish/article_270.shtmlww.diocese-oregon.org/artman/publish/article_270.shtml.
PENNSYLVANIA: Standing Committee asks again for bishop’s departure
[SOURCE: Diocese of Pennsylvania Standing Committee] Saying it is upset over a $350,000 drawdown from the Diocese of Pennsylvania’s unrestricted net assets, the Standing Committee has reaffirmed its desire to see Bishop Charles E. Bennison Jr. leave office.
In an April 21 letter, the committee said it believes that the withdrawal came prior to a special convention March 24 convened to approve a 2006 program budget. The committee questions why it was not asked for approval and why the convention was not told about the move.
Delegates to the March 24 convention approved the 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 that 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 Standing Committee’s statement is the latest in an ongoing dispute between Bennison and some sectors of the diocese, including the Standing Committee, which has asked Bennison to resign or retire by March 31. Bennison has refused that request. Consultants from the Presiding Bishop's Office of Pastoral Development concluded earlier in March that they "cannot recommend any process of conciliation or any 'rigorous long-term process for addressing problems.'"
The full text of the letter is available at http://www.diopastandingcommittee.org/April%2021st%20Letter.htm.
WASHINGTON: Special cathedral service bolsters Louisiana
[SOURCE: Diocese of Louisiana, Washington National Cathedral] Hurricane Katrina exposed racism and economic inequality in New Orleans that must not be forgotten nor allowed to rematerialize as the city rebuilds from tragic flooding, Louisiana Bishop Charles Jenkins told worshipers in a sermon at Washington National Cathedral on April 30.
Jenkins was guest preacher at a Louisiana Day service at the landmark cathedral.
Jenkins told the congregation that televised images of Mardi Gras and the New Orleans Jazz Festival might suggest the city is getting better, "but in fact you are seeing vignettes, scenes from life but not the fullness of reality."
Speaking from the historic Canterbury Pulpit from which the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his last Sunday sermon, Jenkins said Hurricane Katrina exposed deep social problems in New Orleans.
"God has a way of working," he said. "What no one can imagine is that in the least likeliest place in America tragedy has become opportunity."
"To be unmade is to be remade," Jenkins said. "We stand at a touchstone moment. That which happened in New Orleans is not just what happened to a poor city at the mouth of the Mississippi, it is about all of us."
"To rebuild the buildings and forget the values is beneath us," he said. "We cannot allow the opportunity to slide into the unconscious memory of the forgotten. As a mature people we must insist the new city which rises from the ruins of the old to be a place where our collective values speak to the dignity of every human being."
Almost 900 people attended the 11 a.m. service, including about 80 pilgrims from the state and Louisiana natives living in the Washington area.
The Very Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd III, dean of the cathedral, announced the collection from the Louisiana service would be donated to St. Thomas Health Services, a free community healthcare provider in New Orleans affiliated with the Louisiana diocese. In February, the cathedral held a revival service that raised $85,000 for Katrina relief.