As a White Church Dies Off, a Black Church Gets a `New Beginning’

c. 2006 Religion News Service BIRMINGHAM, Ala. _ Midfield First Baptist Church, which had dwindled to about 40 mostly elderly, white worshippers, recently held its last service in the church building it had called home for nearly 50 years. A week later, it handed over the keys _ and its $1.8 million property _ to a predominantly black Baptist church called New Beginnings in a property giveaway that gives new meaning to the church’s name. “Somebody came up with the idea, why don’t we just give them the building,” said the Rev. Eugene Nail, 78, pastor of Midfield First Baptist since 2000.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2006 Religion News Service Archbishop of Canterbury Slams `Flaws’ in Iraq War LONDON (RNS) Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams on Friday (Dec. 29) attacked the decision by the United States and Britain to go to war in Iraq as having “moral and practical flaws,” and said he wonders whether he could have done more to try to prevent it. “I am wholly prepared to believe that those who made the decisions made them in good faith,” Williams told British Broadcasting Corp. radio.

Ford Funeral to Follow Episcopal Burial Rites

c. 2006 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ The funeral service for former President Gerald Ford at Washington National Cathedral on Tuesday (Jan. 2) will follow the formal burial rites of his Episcopal faith, feature Bible readings by his children and remembrances by President Bush and former President George H.W. Bush. Ford, 93, died Tuesday (Dec. 26) at his home in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2006 Religion News Service Ford Praised for Steady Hand, Support for Jews (RNS) Religious leaders are lauding former President Gerald Ford, who died Tuesday (Dec. 26) at age 93, praising his common decency, his steady hand in turbulent times and his support for Jews living in the former Soviet Union. Evangelist Billy Graham called him “one of the closest friends I have had in the political world.” Ford became president after Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 under the weight of the Watergate scandal. Ford soon pardoned Nixon and declared the end of “our long national nightmare.” “President Ford was a great healer, and brought us together,” Graham said.

In Amish Country, `Christian Broadway’ is Big Business

c. 2006 Religion News Service STRASBURG, Pa. _ Few signs beckon pilgrims seeking the Millennium Theatre. They know the way, or at least their bus drivers do. “Our audience doesn’t have any trouble finding us,” public relations manager Pamela Evans said, explaining the paucity of billboards along the Lancaster County roads leading to the 2,000-seat Millennium and its older sister, the 700-seat Living Waters Theatre.

On `Christian Broadway,’ Nothing is Amateur

c. 2006 Religion News Service STRASBURG, Pa. _ The sprawling stage at Millennium Theatre is more than 300 feet long, wrapping around both sides of the 2,000-seat theater. The sets are gigantic, the lights brilliant, the music thunderous. At any moment, dozens of actors and live animals might be swirling across the stage or up the aisles.

COMMENTARY: Anybody Have a Cure for MEGO Disease?

c. 2006 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Despite the best attempts to immunize myself, each December I contract the dreaded MEGO (My Eyes Glaze Over) illness. MEGO is brought on by reading the many year-end neatly typed single-spaced “Family Letters” received from friends. These cheery familial reports usually feature overachieving whiz kids accompanied by warm fuzzy Norman Rockwell images that only intensify the disease. The letters represent a literary genre with enough rich material for a Ph.D. thesis and therapeutic conversations in a psychiatrist’s office.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2006 Religion News Service Graham Cited `Most Admired’ in Gallup Poll for 50th Time (RNS) Evangelist Billy Graham has been named in the Gallup Poll’s top 10 “most admired” men list for a record 50th time. In a poll taken in mid-December, the 88-year-old evangelist came in fifth. Ranked before him, in order, were President George W. Bush, former President Bill Clinton, former President Jimmy Carter, and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. The men ranking behind Graham, in order, were former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Pope Benedict XVI, former South African President Nelson Mandela, former President George H.W. Bush and Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2006 Religion News Service Carter, in Letter to U.S. Jews, Defends Use of `Apartheid’ in Book (RNS) Former President Jimmy Carter, under fire from Jewish leaders for describing Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands as “apartheid” in a new book, has written an open letter to U.S. Jews to defend and clarify his use of the term. In the letter, dated Dec. 15, Carter describes a meeting with the Board of Rabbis of Greater Phoenix while on a tour to promote his book, titled “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.” “I emphasized, as I had throughout the tour, that the book was about conditions and events in the Palestinian territories and not in Israel, where a democracy exists with all the freedoms we enjoy in our country and Israeli Jews and Arabs are legally guaranteed the same rights as citizens,” Carter said. Carter said he and the six Phoenix rabbis also “discussed the word `apartheid,’ which I defined as the forced separation of two peoples living in the same land, with one of them dominating and persecuting the other.” His use of the word “apartheid” has landed the former president, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 for his efforts to broker peaceful solutions to international conflicts, in a great deal of controversy.

COMMENTARY : Between a Rock and a Hard Place

c. 2006 Religion News Service (UNDATED) The atheists who claim they just want organized religion to let them alone cannot seem to let organized religion alone. Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris have replaced the old lump of coal in our Christmas stocking with books that denounce religion and advocate atheism. New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof couples them as examples of an “increasingly assertive, often obnoxious atheist offensive.” Dawkins and Harris are drawing readers with the same hokey bravado displayed by the 19th century orator Robert Ingersoll. Known as “the great agnostic,” he earned his 10 fleeting minutes of fame by opening his gold watch and challenging God, if he existed, to strike him dead before a minute ticked away.

10 Minutes With … Phyllis Tickle

c. 2006 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Every few months, it seems Phyllis Tickle is at it again, with a new book on the cycles of prayer _ called the Daily Offices, the Liturgy of the Hours, the Divine Hours or, as Tickle calls it, “Fixed-Hour Prayer.” The idea is stopping every three hours for scripted prayers. Jews stop three times a day, Muslims stop five times a day and Christians _ depending on their level of observance _ stop as many as eight times a day. The result, she said borrowing from St. Paul, is “a constant cascade of prayer before the throne of God” as a continuous cycle of prayer envelopes the world.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Always Winter and Never Christmas

c. 2006 Religion News Service (UNDATED) As I recently watched “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” with my sons, I reached a disturbing conclusion: The White Queen of Narnia is taking over the world. People who have read the book or seen the film know that, when the enchanted realm of Narnia was under the tyrannical control of the White Queen or the White Witch, it was always winter and never Christmas, as the faun, Tumnus, laments. Well, as it gets closer to Dec. 25 here on Earth, no one wants to mention Christmas.

In a Year Dominated by Elections, Americans Voted Against the Status Quo

c. 2006 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Elections, the late columnist Franklin P. Adams once said, “are won by men and women chiefly because most people vote against somebody rather than for somebody.” And whatever Americans were voting for in 2006, it seems clear that what they were voting against was the status quo. Episcopalians, for one, decided to give a woman a shot and elected their first female leader, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. U.S. Muslims turned to Ingrid Mattson as the first woman to lead the Islamic Society of North America. Southern Baptists, dissatisfied with the old guard, chose a relative unknown, Frank Page, as their dark-horse choice to lead the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.

What’s a Jew to Do on Christmas Eve?

c. 2006 Religion News Service NEW YORK _ Round midnight last Christmas Eve, Joshua Neuman killed any doubts he had about the success of Heebonism 2005, the party-like-you-mean-it bash his Jewish cultural magazine throws every Dec. 24. About 1,500 sweat-drenched scenesters were mobbing the dance floor and he was squished into a corner with a blow-up Hassidic Jew doll. This Yuletide eve, Heebonism _ with performances by DJ Russell Simins from Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and The Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs’ Nick Zinner _ drops at the 2,000-capacity Chelsea club BED New York.