Archives For ministry

Trump administration announces initiatives to protect religious freedom
President Donald Trump said Jan. 16 his administration is taking “historic steps” to protect the right to pray in public schools. On National Religious Freedom Day, the administration released new guidance for school prayer for that will require state departments of education to report public charges of religious discrimination to the U.S. Department of Education, CNN reported.

The new guidelines also add a section on the Equal Access Act, which denies federal funds to public schools that prohibit student meetings based on religious, political, or philosophical content.

Illinois lawmaker urges churches to pray for Springfield
State Rep. Dave Severin says Illinois lawmakers need prayer. So, he’s urging churches to sign up and sit in the House gallery when the legislature is in session. The Republican from Marion has launched a Pray for Springfield Facebook page, which links to a calendar that shows dates the House is in session and if a church group is scheduled to be in the gallery.

Pastoral politics mostly a mystery, survey says
Most Americans who attend religious services at least a few times a year say the sermons they hear have about the right amount of political discussion, and they generally agree with clergy about politics. But 45% also say they’re not sure if their clergy members are Republicans or Democrats, according to research by Pew Forum.

Church planter facing deportation
A Southern Baptist church planter in California will likely return to England at the end of this month, leaving behind a growing church. Obed Brefo and his wife, Elena, are planting King’s Cross Church in one of the least churched neighborhoods in San Diego. The pastor, who hopes his family can return to California early next year, will utilize guest speakers and video messages during his absence, Baptist Press reports.

Multiracial congregations on the rise
The share of multiracial churches in the U.S. has grown from 6% in 1998, to 16% in 2019, according to Religion News Service. The number of black, Hispanic, and Asian clergy leading multiracial congregations has also increased, RNS reports, while fewer white clergy members are leading multiracial churches.

Sources: CNN, Pew Forum, Illinois Baptist, Baptist Press, Religion News Service

United Methodists divide over LGBT marriage and ordination
The media has largely focused on LGBT issues in reporting on the United Methodist Church split, writes evangelical columnist David French, but, “The true fracturing point between mainline and evangelical churches is over the authority and interpretation of Scripture.”

An 8-page statement titled the “Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation” likely will govern the divide of the nation’s second-largest Protestant denomination. The plan, which will need approval from the UMC’s legislative body this spring, gives $25 million to conservative congregations toward the formation of a new denomination that opposes gay marriage and ordaining LGBT clergy.

>Related: “If the new denomination takes its orthodoxy on mission,” missiologist Ed Stetzer wrote, the Methodist traditionalist group “may create new paths we all can learn from.”

President rallies evangelical voters amid deepening divides
At the inaugural “Evangelicals for Trump” rally Jan. 3 at a Miami megachurch, President Donald Trump sought to shore up support from Christian voters after a Christian magazine editorial supported his impeachment. “Evangelicals and Christians of every denomination and believers of every faith have never had a greater champion…in the White House than you have right now,” Trump said at the rally at El Ray Jesus Church.

The event and the President’s “Evangelicals for Trump” coalition were announced the day after now-retired Christianity Today editor Mark Galli wrote that Trump should be removed from office.

7 key abortion stories from the last decade
Just ahead of the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission has released its list of seven of the most important abortion stories from 2010-2019. Leading the list: the trial of late-term abortionist Kermit Gosnell, whose eventual conviction on first-degree murder charges received almost no national media coverage.

As church membership declines, churches use tech to connect with new audiences
At a time when just half of all Americans belong to a house of worship, more and more churches are using online resources to gather people and address spiritual needs, USA Today reports. “In the beginning, a lot of churches thought the internet would hurt and keep people from coming,” said an online campus pastor at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif. “But it’s actually one of the best ways to reach new people.”

Sources: French Press, Christianity Today, Baptist Press, Christian Post, ERLC, USA Today

 

Christianity Today editorial highlights fractures in evangelicalism
Evangelical leaders across the country continue to debate a Dec. 19 online column by Christianity Today editor in chief Mark Galli calling for President Donald Trump’s removal from office. On Dec. 18, Trump became only the third U.S. President in history to be impeached.

“Whether Mr. Trump should be removed from office by the Senate or by popular vote next election—that is a matter of prudential judgment,” Galli wrote. “That he should be removed, we believe, is not a matter of partisan loyalties but loyalty to the Creator of the Ten Commandments.”

Several evangelical supporters of President Trump spoke out publicly against the column, including Franklin Graham, son of CT founder Billy Graham. The younger Graham posted on Facebook that his father would have been disappointed by the piece, and also said Billy Graham voted for Trump in 2016.

CT President Timothy Dalrymple discussed the whirlwind surrounding the column in a statement supporting the editorial and calling for further conversation between evangelicals. Meanwhile, Christian Post reports, nearly 200 evangelical leaders told Dalrymple in an open letter that the column “offensively questioned the spiritual integrity and Christian witness of tens of millions of believers who take seriously their civic and moral obligations.”

California church defends prayer for 2-year-old’s resurrection
Bethel Church in Redding, Calif., is planning a memorial service for a 2-year-old girl after praying several days that she would be resurrected from the dead. Olive Heiligenthal, daughter of Bethel Music’s Kalley Heiligenthal, was pronounced dead by doctors Dec. 14 after she suddenly stopped breathing. Using the hashtag #wakeupolive, the church spread word online about the prayer campaign.

Church leaders cheer repeal of parking tax requirement
Lawmakers have effectively rescinded a measure that would have cost churches and other nonprofits more than $1.7 billion over the next decade. A section of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would have required houses of worship and other nonprofits to pay a 21% tax on employee benefits including parking and transportation. Both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives approved legislation in December that repealed the requirement.

Supreme Court to review ‘ministerial exception’ rulings
Religious liberty advocates cheered the announcement that the U.S. Supreme Court will consider whether churches and other religious organizations can make employment decisions without government interference. The high court will review opinions by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that found two Roman Catholic schools in California do not have the right to fire teachers for the purpose of the “ministerial exception” recognized by the high court in a 2012 opinion. In that unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled a “ministerial exception” exists that enables churches and other religious groups to hire and fire based on their beliefs.

Religious freedom commission reauthorized
President Donald Trump signed an omnibus bill Dec. 20 that has as one result the reauthorization of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The agency, created in 1998, is now reauthorized until Sept. 30, 2022, and will receive funding of $3.5 million a year, Religion News Service reports.

Sources: Christianity Today, Facebook, Christian Post, ERLC, Baptist Press, Religion News Service

O’Rourke: Opposing same-sex marriage should mean losing tax-exempt status
“There can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break for any institution or organization in America that denies the full human rights and full civil rights of every single one of us,” Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke said at a forum hosted by CNN and gay rights advocacy group Human Rights Campaign. O’Rourke’s controversial position has been rejected by some of his fellow candidates, but Religion News Service reports the candidates’ liberal theology on orientation and gender is now the norm for most of the country.

Conflict in Syria endangers Christianity in the Middle East
The United States’ decision to withdraw troops from a Kurdish-controlled region of Syria “could lead to the extinction of Christianity from the region,” said one evangelical leader. President Donald Trump announced last week he would hand over control to the Turkish government, a move many say will allow ISIS to continue their assault on religious minorities, including Christians.

Brunson’s book details discouragement, suicidal thoughts in prison
Missionary Andrew Brunson contemplated taking his own life while imprisoned in Turkey, he writes in a new book released Oct. 14. In “God’s Hostage: A True Story of Persecution, Imprisonment, and Perseverance,” Brunson writes at one point, all he heard from God was silence. He was released last October after more than two years in prison. Since his release, he and his wife, Norine, have shared their story at various events, including at the 2019 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference.

Man baptized after Arkansas church offers forgiveness
Brenton Winn destroyed $100,000 of property at Central Baptist Church in Conway, Ark., in February 2019. Six months later, Winn was baptized after accepting Christ through a recovery program the church helped him enter. “As I’m starting to understand how God works, I’ve realized I didn’t pick the church that night. God picked me,” he said. “If it had been any other church, I think I’d be sitting in prison right now.”

Are our pastors our friends?
One-fifth of Christians say they regularly meet with or talk to the lead pastor of their church outside of weekly church services and events, according to Barna Research. Still, “friend” leads the list of words that best describe a Christian’s relationship with his or her pastor, followed by mentor, counselor, and teacher.

Sources: Religion News Service, Christianity Today, ERLC.com, Christian Post, Baptist Press, Barna Research

High-profile religious freedom cases set for high court’s 2019-20 session
The U.S. Supreme Court is poised to consider several cases dealing with the First Amendment right of freedom of religion, including a trio of cases that ask whether sexual orientation and gender identity are included in non-discrimination protections in federal workplace law.

“This is shaking up to be an exciting term for religious liberty,” said Mark Rienzi, president of the religious freedom legal nonprofit Becket, as reported by The Christian Post.

“I think this term will see the court have some opportunities to tighten up and improve its doctrine and in the process, perhaps, stem the tide of religious liberty cases it’s been getting in recent years by giving some clear answers and some clear resolutions to some lingering controversies.”

IBSA joins religious freedom lawsuits
The Illinois Baptist State Association will join two lawsuits involving religious liberty issues for the purpose of protecting Southern Baptist churches in the state. One case involves zoning regulations that prohibit churches and church plants from being located in certain areas of a city; the other contests requirements that churches and religious institutions cover the cost of abortions for their employees.

World Vision shifts sponsorship program to empower kids
A ministry dedicated to helping impoverished children around the world will now let the kids choose their own sponsors, instead of the other way around. “We are simply expressing what we believe in a new and fresh way,” Edgar Sandoval, president of World Vision US, told Christianity Today. “We are working to empower them to be agents of change.”

United Methodists to consider separation plans
Following a narrow vote in February to keep its traditional positions on marriage and qualifications for clergy, the United Methodist Church appears poised for a breakup next year. Religion News Service reports the country’s second largest Protestant denomination (after Southern Baptists) will consider how to allow dissenting churches to leave the denomination, while keeping their ties to support organizations like publishing houses.

Disaster Relief continues in the Bahamas
Southern Baptist agencies are working with local churches and Baptist leaders to help residents of the Bahamas rebuild after Hurricane Dorian. “At the end of the day, when all the disaster relief groups from the U.S. go back, the Bahama Baptists are still there,” said Jeff Palmer, CEO of Baptist Global Response. “We want God to be the champion in this, and we want our local Baptist partners to be, as well.”

Sources: Christian Post, Illinois Baptist, Christianity Today, Religion News Service, Baptist Press

By Meredith Flynn

Quilters_small

“Each one of us has got some adopted grandchildren.” In a Sunday school classroom at Marshall Missionary Baptist Church, Alberta Siverly explains why she and her sisters meet here every week. Along with their friend Karen Wallace, the sisters are assembled to work on quilts for an annual auction held by Illinois’ Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services (BCHFS).

Today’s work isn’t focused on quilts for this year’s auction—the 20 bed-sized blankets the small group creates every year are finished, ready for pick-up and transport to BCHFS’s Carmi campus. Alberta says they like to work ahead. The sewing they do these Wednesday mornings at the church and on their own time at home is for next year’s quilts, and for the baby blankets and prayer shawls they create when they hear of a need.

Their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, adopted or not, are the subject of much conversation around the table as the sisters and Wallace share stories and back-to-school photos. Dona Sanders, the youngest sister, has a granddaughter who was adopted through the Children’s Home as an infant. She’s now a junior in high school.

The Marshall quilts have raised tens of thousands of dollars for BCHFS since 2005, when the group created their first one for the auction held during the agency’s annual fall festival. Now in its twentieth year, the festival is BCHFS’s single-largest fundraiser, said Executive Director Denny Hydrick.
This year’s fall festival is Sept. 21 in Carmi.

The Marshall quilters and other partners across the state enable the ministry of BCHFS, Hydrick said. The agency, which celebrated its centennial anniversary last year, receives no state or federal funding and is supported by donor individuals and churches.

“Each church probably has its own story,” Hydrick said, “but from my perspective, partnerships are so intertwined with the ministry, you just can’t exist without them.”

All in the family
Organizers estimate this year’s auction will have between 60 and 80 quilts, with at least a quarter of those created by Loving Hands, the ministry that started 25 years ago out of Marshall’s “old lady class,” as Siverly calls it.

“Wait a minute, don’t put that in there,” Wallace says. “Just put ‘mature class.’”

“This is the last class you go to before you get promoted,” says Shirley Shumaker, another sister. Promoted, as in heaven. As they work, the quilters speak often of Carolyn Siverly, Alberta’s sister-in-law who passed away in May. And Martha Garner, their oldest sister, who will turn 90 in October. After a recent fall, she’s currently in a nursing facility.

Draped over a chair next to their work table is the last quilt Carolyn worked on. “I had to finish it for her,” Alberta says. The sisters say Carolyn was born with a talent for colors and fabrics. “She could throw in an odd block that you wouldn’t think would even belong in that quilt, but it looked right,” Wallace said. She’s the group’s newest recruit, but she lived down the street from the sisters when they were young.

As Wallace sews and the sisters look over patterns and swatches, they teach a crash course in quilting. The quilt patterned with interlocking circles is “Double Wedding.” Another with little girls in profile is “Holly Hobby,” also known as “Sunbonnet Sue.”

Sunshine on the front porch.

Blocks, batting, backing.

“We love to talk quilts,” Siverly says. “My husband, before he passed away, he said, ‘Alberta, you’re going to turn into a quilt.’”

The sisters and Wallace hold several different conversations across the table, often finishing each other’s sentences. “Eat, sleep, and drink quilts,” one says. Across the room: “And then repeat.”

Loving Hands started when a woman at the Marshall church wanted to be more involved in missions. She had a garage built at her home so the group could meet there; they rotated from one member’s home to another before eventually moving their weekly meeting to the church. They gather Wednesday mornings to get ideas and to plan future projects, but the majority of the sewing they do at home.

Pastor Paul Cooper steps into the classroom to greet the quilters, recalling a lunch he shared with the group early in his tenure as pastor. He had driven them to Carmi to drop off their auction quilts and suggested a Mexican restaurant on the way back. Not accustomed to the cuisine, every one of the quilters ordered the same entrée—a chicken chimichanga.

“We got him young,” Siverly says affectionately of their pastor. “We trained him the way we wanted him to go, with God’s help.”

“He’s doing really well too,” adds another quilter.

The Loving Hands ladies talk about the need to recruit new blood for the group. A fellow church member built them a large quilt stand positioned just outside the sanctuary. They swap out the featured quilt every few weeks—the one currently on display has a woodland theme, with animals hidden throughout.

As they stand in the foyer examining the quilt, the Loving Hands greet the few people here on Wednesday morning with hugs and conversation. Some are actual family, others just feel like they are.

“Everybody down here’s related to everybody else.”

Cultural crossroads
Two hours south of Marshall, Susan Shilling works on a quilt with a group of brand-new sewers. Shilling, who has helped lead the quilt auction for BCHFS for 10 years or more, is teaching the ins and outs of quilting to junior highers at her church, First Baptist in Grayville.

“They’re real beginners,” Shilling said. “Two of the girls had never touched a sewing machine.” She plans to do the actual quilting for their creation, but she’s been careful to let them sew together the pieces of the quilt top. “If they have a boo-boo, they have to pick it out themselves and fix it. I want to be able to say the girls made the quilt.”

Shilling marvels at what the Marshall group accomplishes each year. “I just can’t imagine how they get all those quilts made.” When she drove to Marshall to pick up this year’s quilts, she saw the file cabinet in the Sunday school classroom, already full of projects for next year’s auction.

The quilts sold this year will benefit the four main ministries of BCHFS: residential care at the Children’s Home in Carmi; care for new and expecting mothers at Angels’ Cove Maternity Center in Mt. Vernon; adoption services; and counseling offered at Pathways centers around the state.

In addition to those initiatives, Hydrick says BCHFS is also pursuing a new avenue of ministry: a crisis pregnancy clinic. The new opportunity is in response to Illinois’ new abortion laws, which repealed several longstanding restrictions on the practice. The clinic would provide pregnancy testing and ultrasounds, as well as counseling for women as they make decisions.

“In our one hundred years of history, the ministry has always adapted to meet more contemporary needs,” Hydrick says. It’s been 100 years since the first sibling group of four came to live at the Carmi campus. A century of ministry has been made possible by the benevolence of donors and giving churches, he says.

In Marshall, the Loving Hands quilters are considering a future trip to Illinois Amish country to look at material and get ideas for upcoming projects. Youngest sister Dona will likely drive, because she has a van. They’ll continue to meet on Wednesdays, working on quilts for people in need, now and in the future.

“Eat, sleep, and drink quilts.”

“And then repeat.”

Meredith Flynn is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist.

Pastor’s death by suicide renews calls for help for hurting leaders
California pastor Jarrid Wilson died by suicide Sept. 9 after preaching that day at the funeral of a woman who had taken her own life. Wilson was an advocate for mental health and had encouraged the Church to care for people who are struggling. The news of his death started numerous conversations about the depression and isolation often connected to church leadership.

“Sometimes people may think that as pastors or spiritual leaders we are somehow above the pain and struggles of everyday people,” wrote Greg Laurie, pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship where Wilson served as associate pastor. “We are the ones who are supposed to have all the answers. But we do not.”

Related: Depression often goes unshared in isolating vocation

Liberty students protest after Falwell aides speak out
A recent Politico story on Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. resulted in a protest attended by around 200 students Sept. 13. Around 60 of those were there to demand an investigation of the president, Religion News Service reported. Falwell’s leadership and management of the Virginia university founded by his father were called into question by the Politico article, which relied on information from several current and former staffers.

Duke rejects ministry over policy on sexuality
Young Life was denied official status as a student organization on campus at Duke University after the student senate unanimously rejected the ministry for its policy on LGBTQ volunteers and staff. “We do not in any way wish to exclude persons who engage in sexual misconduct or who practice a homosexual lifestyle from being recipients of ministry of God’s grace and mercy as expressed in Jesus Christ,” Young Life’s policy states. “We do, however, believe that such persons are not to serve as staff or volunteers in the mission and work of Young Life.”

California lawmakers call on pastors to change treatment of LGBTQ people
The California Legislature passed a non-binding resolution Sept. 4 blaming religious groups and others for “disproportionately high rates of suicide, attempted suicide, depression, rejection, and isolation amongst LGBTQ and questioning individuals.” The resolution calls religious leaders to “counsel on LGBTQ matters from a place of love, compassion, and knowledge of the psychological and other harms of conversion therapy.”

Wednesday night is still a church night for most
An overwhelming majority of Protestant pastors say their churches host some type of activity on Wednesday evening, with adult small group Bible study and gatherings for youth and kids atop the list. “Church leaders frequently discuss the difficulty of getting people to participate in church activities multiple days each week,” said Scott McConnell of LifeWay Research. “Yet the vast majority of churches are still open and active on Wednesday nights.”

Sources: Christianity Today, USA Today, Illinois Baptist, Religion News Service, Christian Post, LifeWay Research