Rasool Berry on How the Early Church Dealt With Racial and Cultural Division

“Therefore I conclude that we should not cause extra difficulty for those among the Gentiles who are turning to God.” (Acts 15:19, NET)

It has never been more complicated to be a pastor than it is right now. At least that’s how it often seems. As racial tensions and culture clashes have dominated the headlines in our nation, too often those unwanted guests have decided to attend our churches as well. How do we navigate our ministries to the safe harbors of peace and unity while still fulfilling our prophetic call to proclaim the truth of the gospel that challenges our tendency to elevate our norms over others? And how can Scripture equip us to address today’s racial and ethnic tensions?

In the Acts of the Apostles, Luke highlights one of the greatest threats the early church faced: ethnocentrism and cultural pride within the fellowship of believers. As the gospel spread beyond the initial band of Jesus’ Jewish followers across geographic and cultural boundaries, these impulses threatened to pull the adolescent church apart. Eventually the controversy led to the Jerusalem Council described in Acts 15.

“The key question, then, in Acts 15 is not ‘Do these people have to do circumcision as a good work in order to get justified?’ ” N. T. Wright observes. “It’s …‘Do you have to become ethnically Jewish in order to belong to the family of Abraham, the people of promise?’ ” The way early church leaders dealt with this question in the Jerusalem Council provides a powerful model for how we can respond to racial division in our churches and communities today.

The situation

At his ascension, Jesus told his followers, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Jesus’ call to his followers foreshadows the structure of the Book of Acts. Luke details the spread of the gospel in Jerusalem (chapters 1–7), then expands the narrative to Judea and Samaria (8–12), and finally describes the church’s reach to the ends of the earth (13–28). But this Spirit-driven growth into new regions also provoked an existential crisis right at the very beginning of the church.

By this point in history, many Jews felt their ethnicity and culture gave them not only a source of righteousness as God’s chosen people but also an inherent superiority over the Gentiles. Many even recited a daily prayer: “Blessed are You, Eternal our God, who has not made me a gentile.” Even those who followed Christ could not fathom that God would save Gentiles without somehow making them “Jewish” religiously and culturally.

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Source: Christianity Today

Christian Evangelist and Concert Technician to Famous Pianists Franz Mohr Dies at 94

Franz Mohr, former chief concert technician at Steinway & Sons in New York, has died at 94.

He was, in his own assessment, “just a piano tuner who loves the Lord.”

But Mohr’s expertise and backstage support was valued by the world’s most famous concert pianists, including Van Cliburn, Vladimir Horowitz, Artur Rubinstein, Glenn Gould, Rudolf Serkin, and Emil Gilels. They relied on his deep musical knowledge and technical skill.

He traveled around the world with them, protecting and servicing their concert-grade grand pianos, each of which was built by 200 Steinway & Sons artisans and cost more than $200,000. Mohr prepared the pianos with tuning, voicing, and adjustments for optimal performance to the artist’s particular liking. Between concerts, he could be found in Steinway Hall’s basement in Manhattan, doing regular, meticulous maintenance.

His true passion, however, was unashamedly proclaiming the love and hope of Christ to this niche community.

“He was like a magnet drawing them in,” said Tom Carpino, Franz’s pastor at The Bridge (Nazarene) Church, in Malverne, New York, “and bringing the Bible’s message to whomever he could.”

Franz was a member of The Bridge for more than 40 years and served for many years as an elder. He also regularly spoke to Christian groups and worked with Crescendo International, a Cru ministry.

“With my little tuning hammer I have shared the Lord in unbelievable places,” he said.

He died at home on March 28 from complications related to COVID-19.

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Source: Christianity Today, Peter K. Johnson

Doctor Who Fought Church Gunman Is Remembered as a Kind Protector

This undated photo provided by Aliso Niguel High School shows Dr. John Cheng on the sidelines of a game as the Aliso Niguel High School team doctor. He was known by all as simply Dr. John, the quiet, calm physician who mentored kids in kung fu, finding time between patient appointments to encourage people to learn self-defense. So it was no surprise to friends and colleagues that Cheng spent his final moments saving others by rushing a gunman who fired on a Southern California church luncheon of mostly older Taiwanese people, including Cheng's recently widowed mother. (Andrew Mashburn/Aliso Niguel High School via AP)
This undated photo provided by Aliso Niguel High School shows Dr. John Cheng on the sidelines of a game as the Aliso Niguel High School team doctor. He was known by all as simply Dr. John, the quiet, calm physician who mentored kids in kung fu, finding time between patient appointments to encourage people to learn self-defense. So it was no surprise to friends and colleagues that Cheng spent his final moments saving others by rushing a gunman who fired on a Southern California church luncheon of mostly older Taiwanese people, including Cheng’s recently widowed mother. (Andrew Mashburn/Aliso Niguel High School via AP)

ALISO VIEJO, Calif. (AP) — He was known by all as simply Dr. John, the quiet, calm physician who mentored kids in kung fu, finding time between patient appointments to encourage people to learn self-defense. So it was no surprise to friends and colleagues that John Cheng spent his final moments saving others by rushing a gunman who fired on a Southern California church luncheon of mostly older Taiwanese people, including Cheng’s recently widowed mother.

The 52-year-old father of two often looked for ways to protect people. He was concerned enough about the growing number of mass shootings that he had taken safety courses to prepare himself for a situation like the one that cost him his life Sunday.

“It was characteristic of Dr. Cheng to charge forward at that gunman,” said Erica Triplett, Cheng’s office manager. “It does not surprise any of us. Dr. Cheng exemplified what he was built for — his heroism that saved so many people not only at that church, but throughout his career.”

The family and sports medicine physician was like family to the staff and he encouraged them to learn kung fu, telling them about the importance of knowing self-defense techniques. He also learned how to handle a gun for that same reason.

That preparedness combined with Cheng’s serene disposition likely gave him a proclivity for acting heroically, according to active shooter experts. Most people in those situations freeze.

“People don’t rise to the level of the occasion; they fall to the level of training that they have,” said active shooter expert Chris Grollnek, who believes such trainings should be as common as fire drills. “This man obviously as a doctor was inoculated (to deal) with bad things from a bone sticking out of somebody’s arm to a tragic event like what happened inside the church in Orange County.”

Authorities credit Cheng’s quick action with saving perhaps dozens of lives at a celebratory luncheon for congregants and their former pastor at Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church, which worships at Geneva Presbyterian Church in the Orange County community of Laguna Woods.

Prosecutors say the gunman, David Chou, 68, of Las Vegas, was motivated by hatred of Taiwan, where he was born and grew up after his family was forced from mainland China when Communists took control. He had no connection to the church but it afforded him access to a large group of Taiwanese to target, authorities said.

Chou spent about an hour with attendees at the luncheon, apparently to gain their trust so he could execute his plot, authorities said. He chained doors shut and glued locks. He had two 9 mm handguns and three bags, containing four Molotov-cocktail-type incendiary devices and ammunition.

When Chou began shooting, Cheng charged him and was shot. He died at the scene but his quick action disrupted the shooter, who was then hit by a chair thrown by the church’s former pastor, Billy Chang, and jumped on by three members of the congregation who used an extension cord to tie him up until police arrived.

Cheng was the only one killed. Five others were wounded, including four men ages 66 to 92 and an 86-year-old woman.

Sheriff Don Barnes called Cheng’s heroism “a meeting of good versus evil.”

“Dr. Cheng’s selfless love for others stopped a hate-filled act from claiming more lives beyond his own,” Barnes said in a tweet.

Those who knew Cheng said that selflessness defined his life.

He started his practice by knocking on doors to introduce himself as the new family doctor in the area, said Johnna Gherardini, executive director of South Coast Medical Group. Cheng gave physicals to student athletes and then donated the money he was paid to Aliso Niguel High School.

Gherardini took kung fu with her daughter at Cheng’s urging.

“He’s always taught us how to protect ourselves,” she said.

His patients remembered him as a concerned listener. “He was unfathomably kind,” read a note left by a patient taped to the door of his office, where people left flowers to pay homage.

In a video posted online, Cheng said he was inspired to get involved in medicine after seeing the care his father provided as a physician in their small community in East Texas, where the family had moved to from Taiwan when Cheng was a baby.

“It’s those small-town values that were ingrained in me when I was younger that really helped create this sense of community,” said Cheng, who graduated from Texas Tech University School of Medicine and did his residency in California. “And in this modern society, in these modern times, we miss a lot of that.”

He called the patient-doctor relationship special “so you get to know a lot about the patient, their family, the community that they live in. And what’s beautiful is that I live in the same community.”

Cheng’s pastor and close friend, Ira Angustain, took a class with him to learn how to handle a gun safely.

“We talked about how people were losing their minds and going around shooting people for no reason,” said Angustain, pastor of Kingdom Covenant Church in the nearby community of Lake Forest. “He didn’t want to feel helpless.”

On Sunday morning, Cheng texted Angustain to let him know he wouldn’t be coming to service because he was taking his mother to her church.

She had stopped going since her husband passed away a couple of months ago, still grieving his death. But Chang, the church’s former pastor who had written to her expressing his condolences, was visiting from Taiwan and the church had invited her to a service and luncheon to see him.

Cheng volunteered to drive his mother, but in a horrible twist of fate, instead of the outing giving her peace, she would end up witnessing his death that day.

“My heart is aching,” the visiting pastor wrote in a statement.

Shortly before the shooting, Angustain replied to Cheng’s text, telling him to say hello to his mother.

“You’re such a good son,” Angustain texted to Cheng.

“I can always be better,” Cheng replied.

Less than 15 minutes later, Cheng didn’t hesitate to charge the gunman.

“Evil didn’t take Dr. John out,” Angustain said. “Dr. John chose to lay down his life for others so they could live.”

___

Watson reported from San Diego. Associated Press writer Stefanie Dazio in Los Angeles and news researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.

Source: Religion News Service

Charles C. Camosy on Stop Saying Poor People Make You Advocate for Abortion: Economically Vulnerable People of Color Are Significantly More Anti-Abortion Than Rich White Folks Are.

People attend the Jewish Rally for Abortion Justice on the National Mall, May 17, 2022, in Washington. RNS photo by Jack Jenkins
People attend the Jewish Rally for Abortion Justice on the National Mall, May 17, 2022, in Washington. RNS photo by Jack Jenkins

(RNS) — Stop me if you’ve heard claims like these since Justice Samuel Alito’s draft majority opinion was leaked:

“We need to center the stories of the economically vulnerable and why they need abortion.”

“This is about privileged white men trying to control women’s bodies.”

“Laws restricting abortion are forms of white supremacy.”

All the time, right? One can’t swing one’s Gucci handbag these days without hitting a handful of privileged folks speaking on behalf of poor people (and especially poor people of color) as a way of bolstering their own support of abortion rights.

It’s true that Black and brown people are pushed to have abortions significantly more often than white people. For the last 14 years I’ve taught at Fordham University in the Bronx. During that time, the abortion rate outside our campus walls hovered around an astonishing and horrific 50%.

This is one of the poorest parts of the country, with very high percentages of Black and brown residents who are structurally coerced into having abortions: They often face poor access to housing, child care and health care. They often lack support for being a mother of multiple children (most women who have abortions already have one or more children) in the workplace. They face horrific levels of intimate partner violence. All of these correlate very closely with abortion.

But those who imagine these populations as allies in favor of abortion rights ought to think again. Indeed, in 2021 Gallup found that economically vulnerable people of color are significantly more anti-abortion than rich white folks are.

For those in households making under $40,000 per year, only 30% want the official position of the Democratic Party: that abortion be legal in all cases. For those in households making over $100,000 per year, those who want unlimited abortion rises to 39%.

Of economically vulnerable people, 42% want abortion legal only in certain cases, while 50% of those with economic privilege do. But wait for this one: 1 in 4 economically vulnerable people want abortion banned altogether, while only 1 in 10 economically privileged people want the same.

In addition, in every circumstance in the same Gallup poll, people of color were more anti-abortion than were non-Hispanic whites.

People demonstrate outside of the U.S. Supreme Court on May 3, 2022, in Washington. A draft opinion suggests the U.S. Supreme Court could be poised to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion nationwide, according to a Politico report released Monday. Whatever the outcome, the Politico report represents an extremely rare breach of the court's secretive deliberation process, and on a case of surpassing importance. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

People demonstrate outside of the U.S. Supreme Court on May 3, 2022, in Washington. A draft opinion suggests the U.S. Supreme Court could be poised to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion nationwide, according to a Politico report released Monday. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

The differences were even more stark when asked about whether they identify as pro-life or pro-choice. Economically vulnerable people were +11 percentage points to the pro-life side while economically privileged people were +24 to the pro-choice side. Slightly more people of color identify as pro-life than pro-choice, while the opposite is true for non-Hispanic whites.

These numbers force us to confront a demonic state of affairs: Those who are most likely to oppose abortion are the very folks more likely to be structurally coerced into abortion.

To watch privileged prognosticators consistently invoke poor people of color to defend their abortion stances, then, is quite a spectacle. If we took the time to actually listen to these populations — if we actually centered their views and experiences — it would directly challenge Roe’s abortion-friendly policies. (Handed down from on high, of course, by a group of privileged and overwhelmingly white men.) It would challenge the Roe-delivered abortion extremism that the United States currently shares with only seven other countries.

While the pro-life movements have put many millions of dollars into pregnancy help centers and other facilities (which dwarf the number of abortion clinics) to try to help these women over the last five decades, it must be said that much more could and should have been done to address the structural problems and failed public policies leading to such diabolical outcomes.

Happily, the libertarian hold on the Republican Party — and, by extension, much of the pro-life movements — is beginning to wane. Religious pro-lifers especially are making significant moves to address so-called abortion demand.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops announced last November its new project, titled: Walking with Moms in Need. (The California bishops have their own plan, titled We Were Born Ready.) The Ethics and Public Policy Center recently announced its Life and Family Initiative. The de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture at Notre Dame University has created a Women and Children First initiative.

These efforts are certainly better than those by corporations such as Amazon that tirelessly work to undermine worker-friendly benefits in favor of profits for their shareholders, even as they offer the violent “choice” of abortion to their employees. Heck, they’ll even pay women to travel to go get an abortion rather than actually provide support for them to be both mothers and Amazon employees.

Abortion is an “unchoice” for those without power and privilege. They don’t want violence. They want justice.

If the chattering classes are interested in learning more about why the popular narrative about economic vulnerability, race and abortion is false, I commend the following Black voices to you, just as a start: Gloria PurvisJustin GiboneyMonique Chiereau Wubbenhorst and Connecticut state Rep. Trenee McGee. They will absolutely blow your mind, and there’s (much) more where they came from.

For the rest of punditry: Advocate for abortion rights, if you must. It’s now clear that you’re on the wrong side of history — if history is bending toward nonviolence and lifting up the voiceless and marginalized. But when you advocate, stop invoking folks as allies who do not, in fact, share your views on abortion.

Vangelis, the Greek Composer of Chariots of Fire’s Famous Electronic Theme Tune, Dies Aged 79

Vangelis, the legendary Greece-born electronic composer and musician who was best known for his electronic theme song for Oscar-winning ‘Chariots of Fire’, has died at the age of 79

Greek media reported that Vangelis died in a French hospital while being treated for Covid-19.

According to the Athens News Agency, Vangelis, born Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou, died on Wednesday 18 May, his lawyers’ office said, but gave no cause of death.

The reclusive, mostly self-taught keyboard wizard was a lifelong experimenter, switching from psychedelic rock and synth to ethnic music and jazz.

In a career spanning over five decades, Vangelis drew on space exploration, wildlife, futuristic architecture, the New Testament and the 1968 French student riots for inspiration.

He played in several bands and solo, but his huge breakthrough came with the score for Chariots Of Fire, a 1981 film that told the story of two British runners in the 1920s.

Vangelis’s score received one of the four Academy Awards the film won – but he was fast asleep in London when the Oscars result was announced on March 29, 1982 – his 39th birthday.

‘I’d been out late celebrating,’ he later told People magazine.

His theme for ‘Chariots of Fire’ beat John Williams’ score for the first Indiana Jones film in 1982. It reached the top of the US billboard and was an enduring hit in Britain, where it was used during the London 2012 Olympics medal presentation ceremonies.

The signature piece is one of the hardest-to-forget film tunes worldwide – and has also served as the musical background to endless slow-motion parodies.

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Source: Daily Mail

Archaeologists Find Ancient Underground City Where 70,000 Christians Could Have Fled to Escape Persecution

Faithful light candles prior to the Easter Resurrection Service at the Patriarchal Cathedral of St. George in Istanbul, late Saturday, May 1, 2021. (Erdem Sahin/Pool via AP)
Faithful light candles prior to the Easter Resurrection Service at the Patriarchal Cathedral of St. George in Istanbul, late Saturday, May 1, 2021. (Erdem Sahin/Pool via AP)

JERUSALEM, Israel – Archaeologists have uncovered a large, 2,000-year-old underground city in Turkey that could have been a refuge for early Christians escaping Roman persecution, Live Sciences reports.

Excavators found the ancient complex inside a limestone cave in the Midyat district of Turkey’s Mardin province. The underground city contains storage chambers for food and water, homes, and houses of worship, including a church and what appears to be the remains of an ancient synagogue with a Star of David painted on the wall.

Archaeologists believe the city – officially named “Matiate” – was built sometime in the second or third centuries AD after discovering Roman-era artifacts like coins and lamps inside.

“It was first built as a hiding place or escape area,” Gani Tarkan, director of Mardin Museum and head of excavations told Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency.

“Christianity was not an official religion in the second century [and] families and groups who accepted Christianity generally took shelter in underground cities to escape the persecution of Rome,” Tarkan said. “Possibly, the underground city of Midyat was one of the living spaces built for this purpose.”

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Source: CBN

McLean Bible Church Leaders Hope a New Church Election Will Resolve Lawsuit

Pastor David Platt preaches at McLean Bible Church, July 11, 2021, in Vienna, Virginia. Video screen grab via MBC
Pastor David Platt preaches at McLean Bible Church, July 11, 2021, in Vienna, Virginia. Video screen grab via MBC

(RNS) — Leaders of a prominent Washington, D.C.-area congregation hope to end an ongoing conflict by redoing a contested church election.

That election is the subject of a lawsuit pending in Virginia state court. Several current and former members claim McLean Bible Church leaders failed to follow the church’s constitution during an election for church elders in July 2021.

Church leaders have fought the lawsuit in court. Now they hope to render the suit moot.

“We have an opportunity to resolve conflict in our church biblically and peacefully and move forward together as a united church, bringing hope to our city and to the nations,” Pastor David Platt told church members in a video announcing the resolution plan.

The conflict over the McLean election is part culture war, part battle over bylaws, fueled by political polarization and the broader evangelical “woke wars,” combined with a recent pastoral transition and a global pandemic.

Last summer, McLean Bible held a routine church meeting to elect three new elders for the Northern Virginia congregation. Those elders needed at least 75% of the vote to be approved.

But the vote failed, a first in the church’s history.

The failed vote took place during a time of conflict at the church, with critics claiming Platt, a bestselling author, had replaced Bible teaching with Critical Race Theory and liberal social justice. Many church members had also taken to watching services online during the COVID-19 pandemic rather than attending in person — making it difficult to defuse tensions.

Platt blamed a conspiracy for the failed election.

“A small group of people, inside and outside this church, coordinated a divisive effort to use disinformation in order to persuade others to vote these men down as part of a broader effort to take control of this church,” he said in a sermon last year.

Pastor David Platt preahes at McLean Bible Church, July 18, 2021, in Vienna, Virginia. Video screengrab via MBC

Pastor David Platt preaches at McLean Bible Church, July 18, 2021, in Vienna, Virginia. Video screen grab via MBC

The elders were approved in a follow-up election, which was held under new rules. Those rules required church members to show identification and to fill out a ballot with their name on it. Some church members, who had been labeled as inactive, had to cast provisional ballots while their status was reviewed.

Under the resolution plan, which must be approved this week by the congregation, the church would redo last summer’s election, using secret ballots. A neutral observer would oversee the election and count the votes. All active members, including anyone who was a member at the beginning of the pandemic and claims to still be a member, would be allowed to vote.

If the elder election fails, the church has 90 days to select and approve replacement elders. If they are unable to do so, the church elders — including Platt — would face a vote of confidence.

The proposal to redo the election is not a settlement, Wade Burnett, a pastor at McLean, told Religion News Service. Instead, he described it as an effort to resolve the conflict internally, rather than relying on the courts to referee the dispute.

He said the proposal would give plaintiffs almost everything they have asked for.

“This remedy, if approved by the church, essentially renders the lawsuit moot,” he said in an email. “The plaintiffs will receive a revote with essentially all of the relief they are requesting from the court.”

One sticking point is over who can vote in the election.

Rick Boyer, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, said his clients have rejected the church’s proposal and plan to go ahead with the lawsuit. The proposal has also been criticized in a Facebook group called “Save McLean Bible Church,” which has about 850 followers online.

Boyer, a conservative lawyer known for his support of “Vexit” — a plan for some Virginia communities to defect to West Virginia — said the church’s plan allows hundreds of new members, who joined McLean in the past year, to vote.

Instead, Boyer told RNS in an interview that plaintiffs want to exclude new members who joined the church after July 2021.

“You can’t come in after an election is over and bring in a whole bunch of people who have no right to vote in that election, then redo the election,” he said. “They’re inviting us into a rigged game and the whole reason we’re in court is because we’re trying to undo a rigged game.”

Burnett said several hundred people have joined the church in the past year and they would be able to vote in elections. He also said the church has hired an outside observer with no previous ties to the church to oversee the election if the proposal is approved by the congregation.

Burnett said church leaders believe they followed the church’s constitution during last year’s vote, but they are willing to redo the election to bring the conflict to an end. He said he and other McLean leaders are still open to meeting with the plaintiffs in order to resolve the dispute outside the courts.

He admitted there are risks in the proposal. Church members could reject the plan outright, or they could decide to vote in new leaders, rather than the present elders. The church’s constitution, he said, also sets a high bar for consensus — one that may be difficult to achieve.

“It’s hard to get 75% of people to agree on anything these days,” he said.

During a congregation meeting Wednesday (May 18), Burnett highlighted a passage from the New Testament Book of 1 Corinthians, which criticizes early Christians who took each other to court. He called the legal conflict “a black eye for the bride of Christ and a mark against our testimony to the world around us.”

“The thing that I wish was different is that we could have talked together as brothers and sisters in Christ,” he told RNS. “I wish that would have been true before the lawsuit was filed, after the lawsuit was filed. I wish it was true today.”

Source: Religion News Service

Willow Creek Community Church Announces Major Layoffs Amid Post-Coronavirus Plague Struggle

The main campus of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois. Photo courtesy of Willow Creek Community Church
The main campus of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois. Photo courtesy of Willow Creek Community Church

(RNS) — Willow Creek Community Church, a Chicago megachurch that was one of the largest and most highly regarded congregations in the nation, will lay off 30% of its staff due to post-COVID-19 declines in attendance and giving.

“Willow is about half of the size we were before COVID, which is right in line with churches across the country,” Dave Dummitt, Willow Creek Community Church senior pastor, told his congregation in a video announcing the cuts. “But as you can see, and as you can imagine, that has fiscal impactions.”

Founded in the mid-1970s, Willow Creek grew from a start-up congregation meeting in a movie theater to one of the most influential Protestant congregations in the United States, drawing more than 25,000 worshippers weekly by 2017, according to Outreach Magazine.

But the church has struggled in recent years after the resignation of co-founder Bill Hybels, who was accused of sexual harassment and abuse of power. The co-pastors who succeeded Hybels also resigned not long afterward, followed by the entire church elder board.

Hybels has denied any wrongdoing. A 2019 investigation by a group of outside Christian leaders found the allegation against him credible.

Pastor Bill Hybels, the former senior pastor of the 12,000-plus-member Willow Creek Community Church in northwest-suburban Chicago, at American University in Washington on July 1, 2010. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Pastor Bill Hybels, the former senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, in Washington on July 1, 2010. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Before the layoffs, staff costs made up about 72% of the church budget, according to an update released by the church earlier this month. The layoffs will save $6.5 million, bringing staff costs closer to half of the current budget.

“These changes are difficult on staff members whom we love who will no longer have a staff role — some of them have been with us for many years,” the church said in the update. “We are providing generous financial care for each of these individuals, ranging between three months and one year based on tenure.”

A recent study from the Hartford Institute for Religion Research at Hartford International University for Religion and Peace found that about a third of churches saw a major decline of 25% or more from 2019 to 2021.

At the end of 2021, attendance at Willow Creek was down by 57% from 2019, with giving down as well. Willow’s leaders say that decline is on par with declines at other megachurches.

“In our informal network with other large churches, we know of only two churches experiencing attendance and engagement beyond 60% of their pre-Covid numbers, with many around 50%,” the church said in its announcement.

Willow also laid off staff in 2019 and 2020.

Pastor Dave Dummitt. Video screengrab

Pastor Dave Dummitt in an introductory video for Willow Creek Community Church. Video screen grab

Dummitt’s tenure at Willow began in June 2021 in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and the national protests that followed the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. Dummitt was not able to meet with staff or church members for months.

Last fall, the church announced plans to rally around a theme: Love God, Love People, Change the World.

During the pandemic, Willow Creek, like many other megachurches, applied for a Paycheck Protection Program loan. That loan, for $5.63 million, was forgiven in 2021, according to data from the Small Business Administration.

While announcing the layoffs, Dummitt said that the church is starting to turn the corner and has seen some positive developments. Still, he said, this is a difficult time.

“I’d like to ask you to join me in praying for our entire staff in the coming days and weeks,” he said. “We’re trusting God to lead and guide each of us as we take next steps with him.”

Source: Religion News Service

Pope Francis Changes Catholic Canon Law to Allow Lay Brothers to Lead Religious Orders With Priests

Pope Francis greets Father Michael Perry, then-minister general of the Order of Friars Minor, during a meeting with the superiors of the four main men's branches of the Franciscan family at the Vatican in this April 10, 2017, file photo. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)
Pope Francis greets Father Michael Perry, then-minister general of the Order of Friars Minor, during a meeting with the superiors of the four main men’s branches of the Franciscan family at the Vatican in this April 10, 2017, file photo. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Granting an exception to canon law, Pope Francis said the Vatican office that deals with religious orders can permit men’s communities that are made up of both priests and brothers to choose one of the brothers to be a provincial superior or even the superior general.

A rescript from the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life published by the Vatican May 18 said the approval for appointing or electing a brother to head a “clerical institute” would be given “discretionally and in individual cases.”

Pope Francis approved the change Feb. 11, said the rescript, which was signed by Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, congregation prefect, and Archbishop José Rodríguez Carballo, secretary.

In 2017, the heads of the four men’s branches of the Franciscan family — the Friars Minor, Capuchins, Conventual Franciscans and the Third Order Regulars — asked Pope Francis to allow them to elect brothers to leadership positions, including those with authority over ordained priests.

Father Michael Perry, who was minister general of the Friars Minor at the time, said such permission would allow the Franciscans to live the order’s ideal of leadership, which should challenge the friars — brothers among themselves, whether ordained or not — “to ‘minority,’ to not going up, but going down.”

Minority, Father Perry had told Catholic News Service, is the opposite of clericalism, which is “a drive upward as if upward mobility offered something, some security and guarantee of fidelity, a way of controlling people so they remain faithful to the truth. Franciscans, we don’t see it this way.”

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Source: America Magazine

Pope Francis and U2 Singer Bono Launch a Foundation for Women’s Education at the Pontifical Urban University in Rome

U2 frontman Bono Vox and a wheelchair-bound Pope Francis launched a women’s education foundation together in Rome on Thursday.

Bono, 62, and the 85-year-pope shared a platform organised by Scholas Occurrentes, Latin for ‘Schools of Meeting’, a worldwide network of schools promoting educational opportunities.

The Pope inaugurated the Scholas Occurrentes International Educational Movement on May 19 during a meeting with young people in Italy’s capital.

The event took place on Thursday evening at the Pontifical Urban University, called the Urbaniana, which lies within walking distance of St Peter’s Square.

‘Girls’ education is a superpower to fight extreme poverty and I would like to ask His Holiness if you think that women and girls have the same important role to change the world and climate change,’ said the Dubliner.

Francis answered yes, saying ‘we speak of Mother Earth, not Father Earth,’ with a smile that earned him applause.

The Pope was seen using a wheelchair in public for the first time in early May, days after he said he was having treatment for knee pain.

The young students welcomed the pope with a show of chants and recitals based around the theme of protecting the environment.

‘We need poetry and courage to care for our common home, we must defend the harmony of creation and women know more about harmony than we men do,’ said Francis.

Scholas Occurrentes started as an education project created for children in impoverished areas in Buenos Aires, at the initiative of the then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis.

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Source: Daily Mail