News Briefs

Episcopal News Service. August 8, 2002 [2002-188-1]

Philippine Independent Church celebrates its centennial

(ENS) Born out of the struggle of the Filipino people to break free from centuries of colonial oppression and foreign domination, a new and independent church was proclaimed on August 3, 1902 by the Union Obrera Democratica, the first labor union in the Philippines. Within a year the Iglesia Filipina Independeniente (Philippine Independent Church) had attracted 1.2 million members, about a quarter of the population.

After years of mixed fortunes, the church received the gift of apostolic succession as signified by the historic episcopate on April 7, 1948 when three bishops of the Episcopal Church in the USA consecrated three new IFI bishops at St. Luke's Pro-Cathedral in Manila. In 1960 the two churches entered into a concordat of full communion--a relationship that has continued and been enriched over the years.

To celebrate that relationship, Bishop Christopher Epting, the presiding bishop's deputy for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations, joined the August 2-3 centennial celebration and signed The Manila Covenant, a document that, among other things, expresses concern about the disruptive consequences of economic globalization, the danger of foreign intervention in the Philippines because of the international war on terrorism, and the call for restitution from damages caused by centuries of colonialism. He was joined by the Ven. Peter Golden, archdeacon of the Diocese of Long Island, in representing the ECUSA.

Epting brought greetings from Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold during the Centennial Mass. "Our two churches have been friends for many years," he told the congregation of several thousand. "As we were blessed to share with you the gift of apostolic succession in the historic episcopate, so you have shared with us the inseparable nature of the gospel from the struggle for justice and peace in this world. And just as you have been faithful in preserving the apostolic ministry," he added, "so I ask you to pray for us that we may always faithfully proclaim the gospel in such a way that it truly is good news to the poor."

In addition to Obispo Maximo Thomas Millamena of the IFI, the covenant was signed by Archbishop Peter Carnley, primate of the Anglican Church in Australia; Archbishop Joris Vercammen of the Old Catholic Church of Utrecht; and representatives of other churches in full communion with the IFI, including the Church of Sweden, the Old Catholic Church of Switzerland, the Church of North India, and other ecumenical partners and friends. The covenant summarizes the commitment of participants to stand in solidarity with this thriving church of six million Filipinos, many of them representing peasants and the working class.

Before the centennial celebration, Epting attended an International Church Leaders' Solidarity Summit where participants learned more about the Philippine Independent Church's history, theology and social teaching. "I was very moved by the courage and vitality of this young church," he said on his return, "and I look forward to our finding ways to deepen our relationship in the coming years."

New archbishop of Canterbury addresses concerns expressed by critics

(ENS) Archbishop Rowan Williams of Wales, newly appointed archbishop of Canterbury, has sent a letter to his international colleagues in the Anglican Communion, asking for their prayers and addressing concerns expressed by his critics, especially on sexuality issues.

"At the moment I am chiefly conscious of bringing to the task only the fear, the confusion and the sense of inadequacy that come from my personal resources," he said in the letter to Anglican Communion primates dated July 23. "I have to trust that God will give (not least through your fellowship and intercession) what is needed--and that I shall have the grace to receive and respond to what he gives."

Addressing the "disquiet" expressed by some over his views on "certain questions, in particular on human sexuality," Williams said that "an archbishop is not someone elected to fulfil a programme or manifesto of his own devising, but to serve the whole Communion. He does not have the freedom to prescribe belief for the Church at large."

As a participant in the international conversation on sexuality, he said that he hoped that "what I have written has contributed to the continuing discussion but my ideas have no authority beyond that of an individual theologian." He also said that the 1998 Lambeth Conference resolution against the ordination of non-celibate gays and lesbians or blessing of their relationships "declares clearly what is the mind of the overwhelming majority in the Communion and what the Communion will and will not approve or authorise. I accept that any individual diocese or even province that officially overturns or repudiates this resolution poses a substantial problem for the sacramental unity of the Communion."

Williams said that he had always tried to distinguish between "personal theories and interpretations and the majority conviction of my church." He added, "Since the Lambeth resolution also commends continuing reflection on these matters, my main hope will be to try and maintain a mutually respectful climate for such reflection, in the sort of shared prayerful listening to Scripture envisaged by Lambeth." He expressed the hope that "we can hold to the urgent common priority of mission and evangelism, and avoid the temptation of becoming trapped in questions where the politics of our culture sets the agenda."

Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold shared the Williams letter with the bishops of the Episcopal Church as part of background for their September meeting in Cleveland, pointing out that the letter "speaks for itself and underscores a point that I have frequently made: If we are a Communion and not simply a loose association of national churches then we must take with full seriousness how our actions affect other parts of the Communion."

Survey finds that half of Britons attend church at least once a year

(ENI) A survey by the Baptist Union of Great Britain has revealed that almost half the population in the nation attends church at least once a year--exclusive of weddings, baptisms and funerals. Nine percent said that they attended church once a week, 10 percent once a month, another 10 percent once a quarter, and 12 percent once a year. Just three percent said that they attended more than once a week.

The survey also underscored the difficulties faced by those who attend church only occasionally. About 18 percent said that they had reservations about the kind of welcome they received at church.

"When people come across the threshold it is important that we make them feel welcome," said Nick Lear, a Baptist Union mission adviser. "There's always room for improvement." While attendance at Baptist churches has been increasing while other denominations have been losing support, he said that "it's a pattern for all denominations that people are less willing nowadays to make a commitment."

The Church of England has released attendance figures that "reveal a larger church than was previously understood," using statistics for attendance during a whole week, rather than just on Sundays. In the past, attendance at Christmas and Easter services was based only on those who took communion. At Christmas in 2000, 2.85 million attended services but fewer than half took communion. The church says that the new way of counting gives a more accurate picture of support, although critics say it is designed to mask the long-term decline in attendance at Sunday services.

National Council receives Lilly grant to develop resources for new programs

(NCC) The National Council of Churches has received a three-year $500,000 grant from the Lilly Endowment of Indianapolis for developing resources of new programs, alleviating some of the financial pressure the ecumenical organization has encountered in the last few years.

After a major reorganization of staff, facilities and budget, the NCC has moved from a life-threatening deficit to a balanced operating budget, stable long-term investments and increased donor support. The Lilly grant provides an additional boost for the council's next phase of its renewal, according to council leaders.

"The Lilly grant is crucial venture capital, assisting us where we need it most--in reaching out to those who believe in the kind of work we are doing and who, given appropriate information, will help underwrite its expansion," said the Rev. Bob Edgar, who became NCC general secretary in January 2000.

From its founding in 1950, the NCC has been largely dependent on the contributions of its 36 member churches. As those denominations faced dwindling budgets, their investment in cooperative work through the NCC slowly declined, forcing the council to draw on its reserves and long-term investments. That precipitated a financial crisis that threatened its existence. The Lilly grant will underwrite programs to address the most critical issues facing member churches in the future.

Canada's Roman Catholics differ with many basic tenets of the church

(ENI) A poll conducted among Canada's Roman Catholics shortly before the arrival of Pope John Paul II for July's World Youth Day in Toronto reveals some deep disagreements over many of the basic tenets of the church.

A poll by the National Post newspaper shows that 82 percent believe that priests should be allowed to marry and 80 percent think women should be ordained to the priesthood. About 70 percent said that divorced persons should be permitted to remarry and a similar percentage favored abandoning the church's ban on birth control.

"While close to one in two Canadians viewed themselves as Roman Catholic, a majority were exhibiting a pick-and-choose style that was readily evident in declining attendance, the selective adoption of beliefs, practices and values, and the widespread ignoring of church teachings in the area of sexuality--including sex outside of marriage, birth control, abortion and homosexuality," said Prof. Reginald Bibby, a leading expert on religious trends in Canada.

"What we find is that the majority of Catholics across the board are not holding to the teachings of the Catholic Church," he said, "but there are important differences between those who are actively involved and those who are not."

Bishop Peter Schoenbach, general secretary of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that the poll results were not surprising, given the strength of secular influences everywhere in the nation. On the issue of priestly celibacy, he said that "there have been interesting situations where Anglican priests who are married have been accepted into the church. It isn't by any means a completely closed subject. We are part of a universal church and what might seem to fit in one country may not necessarily fit elsewhere."

"The demand for reforms since the Second Vatican Council [1962-65] cannot be stopped despite all attempts of the Roman Curia and conservative groups within the church," said Tobias Raschke of We Are Church Youth, part of a worldwide Catholic reform movement. "The survey shows clearly that Canadian Catholics are dissatisfied with the present fundamentalist policy of the Roman hierarchy. If the church wants to be relevant in the future it has got to listen to real people--and the real people are the young people," he said.

Church leaders warn about military build-up in South Asia

(ENI) As India and Pakistan continue their military confrontation over the disputed region of Kashmir, church leaders in South Asia have issued a warning against the military build-up and criticized the money spent on arms in such an impoverished region.

"The colossal magnitude of human insecurity and deprivations make South Asia the most vulnerable space on the globe today," the church leaders said in a statement issued at the end of their July meeting in Sri Lanka. The meeting was organized by the Christian Conference of Asia and the World Council of Churches.

"The situation here is alarming," said Metropolitan Joseph Mar Irenaeus from India, one of the CCA presidents. "Development activities are ignored in the name of national defense." While those expenditures have increased, the region was facing "growing economic problems, poverty and malnutrition," he told the conference. He called the increase in military spending a "criminal waste of precious resources."

A two percent cut in India's defense spending would enable the government to provide safe drinking water for 226 million people, or to supply essential medicines without charge to all the 135 million people who cannot afford them now, according to M.A. Oommen, a prominent Indian economist.

The border tensions between India and Pakistan is threatening the whole region, according to several speakers, making it the only region in the world where a nuclear war was a real possibility. Some noted that even very poor countries like Bangladesh are being drawn into the military build-up.