G. Jeffrey MacDonald, Religion News Service

G. Jeffrey MacDonald is an award-winning reporter and an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ.

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Gender Bias May Be Part of Episcopal Church Firings, Ex-Staffer Says

Image via  / Shutterstock.com

When the Rev. Bob Honeychurch learned that the Episcopal Church’s presiding bishop was calling for staff culture reform after firing two senior administrators for misconduct, he had a hunch what some of those cultural issues might be. From 2008 to 2012, Honeychurch served on the national church staff, where he heard accounts of gender bias on multiple occasions. Women were excluded from important decision-making, Honeychurch said, even when they held high offices and had relevant skills and experience to offer. Respecting female colleagues as equals wasn’t the norm.

Experts Push Episcopal Church to Explain Firings

Washington National Cathedral. Image via  / Shutterstock.com

The firing of two senior Episcopal Church administrators for unspecified reasons after a four-month misconduct investigation has prompted warnings that the church’s “cover-up” could endanger future victims. Some legal experts and advocates are calling for more disclosure about the managerial misconduct that led to the firings of Chief Deputy Operating Officer Sam McDonald and Director of Public Engagement Alex Baumgarten.

Two Lutheran Seminaries to Close and Reopen as New School

Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, Pa. Image via Lutheran Theological Seminary/RNS

Two Lutheran seminaries in Pennsylvania are planning to close and launch together a new school of theology in 2017 with hopes of slashing costs and reversing years of declining enrollments. The decision came this week from the governing boards of Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg and Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. The plan will cut the number of seminaries affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America from eight to seven.

Faith-Based Groups Earn Millions on Refugee Loan Commissions

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Faith-based agencies that resettle refugees in America stand to gain more than a clear conscience if the United States — after what is expected to be a fierce debate in Congress — accepts a proposed 10,000 Syrian refugees next year.

More refugees also means more revenue for the agencies’ little-known debt collection operations, which bring in upwards of $5 million a year in commissions as resettled refugees repay loans for their travel costs. All nine resettlement agencies charge the same going rate as private-sector debt collectors: 25 percent of all they recoup for the government.

This debt collection practice is coming under increased scrutiny as agencies occupy a growing stage in the public square, where they argue America has a moral obligation to resettle thousands of at-risk Syrian refugees. Some observers say the call to moral action rings hollow when these agencies stand to benefit financially.

Oldest U.S. Graduate Seminary to Close Campus

Image via Andover Newton Theological Seminary / RNS

America’s oldest graduate seminary is once again blazing a trail for other mainline Protestant institutions to follow. But this time it’s a path many would rather not travel.

On Nov. 12, Andover Newton Theological School announced plans to relocate and sell its 20-acre campus in Newton, Mass. The move will be part of “a bold new direction” for the 208-year-old school as it struggles with big deficits.

“God is doing something new in this time,” said Andover Newton President Martin Copenhaver.

“We have to figure out what it is and get with the program.”

Sister Helen Prejean: Tsarnaev ‘Genuinely Sorry for What He Did’

Sr. Helen Prejean. Photo via REUTERS / Judy Fidkowski / RNS

Sr. Helen Prejean. Photo via REUTERS / Judy Fidkowski / RNS

Sister Helen Prejean, the Catholic nun and anti-death penalty activist whose story came to fame with the 1995 film Dead Man Walking, took the stand on May 11 in the penalty phase of convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s trial. She said he is “genuinely sorry for what he did,” and told her how he felt about the suffering he caused to the bombing’s victims.

“He said it emphatically,” Prejean said.

“He said no one deserves to suffer like they did.”

From Burlap Sack to Digital File, Church Records Get Makeover

Eighteenth-century records from Byfield Parish Church in Georgetown, Mass. Photo via RNS/courtesy Congregational Library

Six years ago, the people of First Congregational Church of Rowley in Massachusetts were convinced they’d lost their treasure. A 17th-century minister’s 664-page diary, and its rare detailed account of community life in early America, had been missing for nearly two decades.

Then the phone rang.

A local bank was cleaning out its vaults when a staffer opened a burlap sack marked “dimes” and found an old leather-bound book with strange handwriting inside.

As Denominations Decline, Number of Unpaid Ministers Rises

Mark Marmon (right) teaches fly fishing at Fishers of Men retreat. Via RNS/The Episcopal Diocese of Texas, Photo: Emily Krueger

The 50 members of All Saints Episcopal Church in Hitchcock, Texas, are looking forward to December, when Mark Marmon will be ordained their priest.

One reason for the excitement? They won’t have to pay him.

A 57-year-old fly fishing guide, Marmon, whose wife is a lawyer, says he doesn’t want or need a church salary. He belongs to a growing breed of mainline Protestant clergy who serve congregations in exchange for little or no compensation.

Where Are the Christians on Burying Tsarnaev?

FBI image of Tamerlan Tsarnaev

FBI image of Tamerlan Tsarnaev

Soon after the Boston Marathon bombings, local Christian leaders stepped swiftly into the public eye, convening vigils and urging peaceful healing in the wake of senseless violence.

But their public voices have fallen mostly silent as noisy resistance grows to the prospect that suspected bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev could be buried in local soil.

Cemeteries and even some mosques have refused to take his body. His city, Cambridge, has urged family members to bury him elsewhere. Republican U.S. Senate candidate Gabriel Gomez and local talk radio host Dan Rae want him dumped in the ocean, like Osama bin Laden. Clergy have largely kept mum.

“The only signs of people who are showing some sort of moral conscience are those few who stand with a card near the funeral home saying [burial] is a corporal work of mercy,” said James Keenan, a moral theologian at Boston College. “To say, ‘we won’t bury him’ makes us barbaric. It takes away mercy, the trademark of Christians. … I’m talking about this because somebody should.”

Boston Amputees Face Long Spiritual Struggle Ahead

 Photo by Holly Thornton

Mike Norrell and Woody Thornton ski in a pyramid with Gloria Walker at the top. Photo by Holly Thornton

In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings that left three dead and more than 260 injured, perhaps none face more significant adjustments or a longer road ahead than the 14 amputees who lost a limb.

For these victims, the path forward involves relearning almost everything, from getting out of bed to getting in a car. Whether they go on to lead satisfying lives depends largely on how they handle the spiritual challenges at hand, according to amputees and researchers.

Losing a limb is like losing a family member: It involves grief and mourning, according to Jack Richmond, a Chattanooga, Tenn., amputee who leads education efforts for the Manassas, Va.-based Amputee Coalition. When one’s body and abilities are radically changed, questions of meaning are suddenly urgent: Why did this happen? Why am I here?

“You’re wondering: Why did I live?” said Rose Bissonnette, an amputee and founder of the Lancaster, Mass.-based New England Amputee Association, a support organization for amputees.

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