Ohio’s Piece of `Gospel of Judas’ Puzzle Unveiled to World

c. 2006 Religion News Service (UNDATED) They are tiny brown pieces of papyrus with torn edges _ smaller than a playing card, almost woodlike in their appearance _ with lettering most people wouldn’t recognize. Some of these pieces are being revealed via television and Web images. The fragments were photographed in an Akron, Ohio, law office Wednesday (April 19) morning. The fragments are believed to be part of the newly discovered “Gospel of Judas,” unveiled last week by the National Geographic Society.

A Fascinating Life

OBITUARY The Rev. William Sloane Coffin, Protestant Social Activist, Dies at 81 The RNS obituary of William Sloane Coffin, by Jason White and Adelle M. Banks (linked above), makes for interestng reading. Coffin was, among other things, a paratrooper in WWII, translator for Patton, CIA agent, activist minister and model for a Doonesbury character. Quote: In 2004, Coffin, slowed by a stroke, did not seem bothered by death. “We should cooperate gracefully with the inevitable,” he told a reporter. “If you don’t come to grips with death early on, but know you’ll die, it will make you insecure.

D.C. Church, Lured by Development, Ended Up With `Short End of the Stick’

c. 2006 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ When the Rev. Amy Butler arrived at Calvary Baptist Church three years ago, she inherited not only a church that had dwindled from 5,000 parishioners to about 70 on a Sunday, but also a real estate headache. Located in the heart of the city’s revitalized Chinatown neighborhood, Calvary owned four aging buildings and a parking lot that were under-utilized and coveted by developers. Calvary’s story shows how churches that are promised the sky often enter development deals uninformed and unaware of the true costs, and in Butler’s words end up with “the short end of the stick.” Calvary first entered the development game in the late 1980s when the church sold air rights for about $1.5 million to renovate its Civil War-era sanctuary. Then, six years ago, Calvary sold off one of its buildings and the parking lot to a developer with plans for legal offices.

Pope Evaluates First Year as `Gentle and Firm’

c. 2006 Religion News Service VATICAN CITY _ Pope Benedict XVI commemorated the first anniversary of his election Wednesday (April 19), describing his leadership as “gentle and firm” while recalling the emotion he felt being elected to follow the juggernaut papacy of John Paul II. The comments underscored the pontiff’s continuing effort to balance the hard-line positions he crafted as the church’s top theologian under John Paul with his role as a pastor to more than 1 billion Catholics worldwide. Speaking before an estimated crowd of 50,000, Benedict revisited the moment when he first appeared on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica as the newly elected leader.

In Ownership Disputes, Churches Find `Messy and Uncertain’ Answers

c. 2006 Religion News Service (UNDATED) When the Rev. Allen Kannapell and most of St. Andrew’s parish in Livonia, Mich., decided earlier this year that they could no longer remain Episcopalians, the conservative pastor knew he had a choice. Kannapell could either launch an expensive legal fight to claim ownership of St. Andrew’s that he would likely lose, or simply walk away.

In Ownership Disputes, Churches Find `Messy and Uncertain’ Answers

c. 2006 Religion News Service (UNDATED) When the Rev. Allen Kannapell and most of St. Andrew’s parish in Livonia, Mich., decided earlier this year that they could no longer remain Episcopalians, the conservative pastor knew he had a choice. Kannapell could either launch an expensive legal fight to claim ownership of St. Andrew’s that he would likely lose, or simply walk away.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2006 Religion News Service Southern Baptists Report Slightly More Members, Fewer Baptisms (RNS) The Southern Baptist Convention saw a slight membership increase in 2005 but its churches are reporting a decline in baptisms at a time that officials have made baptisms and evangelism a denominational focus. The latest statistics from the Annual Church Profile, released Tuesday (April 18) by the denomination’s LifeWay Christian Resources, show that membership in 2005 totaled 16,270,315, a .02 percent increase over the 2004 figure of 16,267,494. Baptisms for 2005 totaled 371,850, a 4.15 percent decrease from 387,947 in 2004. That drop in baptisms _ which had increased in 2004 after a four-year decline _ prompted words of warning from a key denominational leader.

For Urban Churches Selling Hot Real Estate, the Sky’s the Limit

c. 2006 Religion News Service NEW YORK _ The Rev. Bob Brashear rubs his fingers against the 117-year-old walls of his church and a shower of red dust sprinkles the sidewalk. Above him, scaffolding protects pedestrians from falling 20-pound chunks of sandstone. Inside, water stains line the walls and cracks trace the barrel-vaulted ceiling of Brashear’s West-Park Presbyterian Church on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Brashear estimates a repair bill of at least $10 million.

Sky’s the Limit for Urban Churches Selling Hot Property

c. 2006 Religion News Service (UNDATED) A crunch on open space in many rejuvenated cities has developers courting churches with multimillion-dollar offers to buy their property and sometimes even the air above their heads. Finding the sky is the limit, many congregations are cashing in. “In an urban area, air rights are just as much as asset as a piece of property,” said the Rev. John Buchanan, pastor of Fourth Presbyterian in Chicago, which is working on a deal that could bring in $25 million. From New York to Seattle, downtown congregations are striking deals worth tens of millions of dollars.

COMMENTARY: At 100, American Jewish Committee Alert as Ever to Anti-Semitism

c. 2006 Religion News Service (UNDATED) What qualities are required to reach the age of 100? Willard Scott, my Virginia high school classmate and now Florida neighbor, who salutes centenarians on NBC-TV’s “Today” show notes such people generally have three things in common: they have good genes, they’ve stayed mentally active, and they possess a healthy self-esteem combined with the capacity to change with the times instead of becoming a gloomy wanderer down nostalgia lane. Willard’s observations also apply to organizations, including the American Jewish Committee, which in early May celebrates its 100th anniversary with a gala series of public events, programs and meetings in Washington. In the interest of full disclosure, I have been professionally associated with the AJC since 1968, working in the area of interreligious relations, a hallmark of the committee.

Should `Jesus’ Name’ Be Scratched From Public Prayers?

c. 2006 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Retired Army Chaplain David Peterson models how he thinks sensitive Christians should pray in public. “I pray in Jesus’ name but I always give a little introduction, just two or three seconds: `I’m going to pray according to my tradition and I encourage you to pray according to your tradition,”’ said Peterson, a retired colonel who coordinates chaplain ministries for the Presbyterian Church in America. “I think it’s important to show that not everybody is Christian and we want to show respect.” Peterson is responding to a growing conflict between principles of tolerance and free speech. The issue has figured most prominently in new guidelines directing U.S. military chaplains.

The Rev. William Sloane Coffin, Protestant Social Activist, Dies at 81

c. 2006 Religion News Service (UNDATED) The Rev. William Sloane Coffin Jr., a fiery and controversial social activist, Protestant minister and author who saw social justice “at the heart of the Gospel,” died Wednesday (April 12). He was 81. Coffin, who had been suffering from congestive heart failure, passed away at his home in Strafford, Vt. He rose to prominence in the 1960s as Yale University’s chaplain, a position he used to great effect to campaign against the Vietnam War and fight for civil rights for blacks.

RNS Weekly Digest

c. 2006 Religion News Service Carter Leads Baptists in Issuing New `Covenant’ (RNS) Former President Jimmy Carter, the nation’s most famous ex-Southern Baptist, has forged a “Baptist Covenant” with Baptist groups that do not embrace Southern Baptists’ conservative tilt. Carter met with 17 Baptist leaders for four hours at the Carter Center in Atlanta on Monday (April 10) and urged the various churches to overcome racial, cultural and geographic differences to form a “genuine prophetic Baptist voice in these complex times.” “The most common opinion about Baptists is we cannot get along together,” Carter said in a statement, adding that he has been “grieved by the divisions” within the 16 million-member Southern Baptist Convention. Carter, a Sunday School teacher at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Ga., severed his ties with the Southern Baptist Convention in 2000. He has since called for greater cooperation among other Baptist groups. “We should reach out to other traditional, or moderate, Baptists and form a partnership that would greatly strengthen what we do,” Carter said in a 2001 speech.