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c. 2005 Religion News Service

Woman Nominated to Lead Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

(RNS) The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has nominated the Rev. Sharon Watkins to serve as its next president. If formally elected in July, she will become one of the first women to lead a major mainline Protestant denomination.

The Disciples General Board unanimously nominated Watkins on Sunday (April 17) to serve as the Disciples’ next general minister and president. The 770,000-member denomination, based in Indianapolis, Ind., will formally elect its president at a general assembly July 23-27.

“I believe the church is blessed to have a leader like Sharon emerge,” said the Rev. Chris Hobgood, current Disciples president, in a statement Monday (April 18.)

“Because she calls on God before she does anything else, the faithful leadership she will give will stand this church in very good stead,” Hobgood said.

Watkins, 50, will leave her position as senior minister of the Disciples Christian Church of Bartlesville, Okla., to take on her new role.

Watkins said in a statement Monday (April 18) she is honored by the chance to lead the church during a period of change and new opportunities.

“As a life-long Disciple, I know our church has a unique, God-given mission for these times,” said Watkins, who has also held leadership roles at Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, Okla.

Several smaller denominations have had women in their top administrative positions.

In 1988, the Church of the Brethren, a 135,000-member denomination, elected Elaine Sollenberger as its conference moderator, the top elected position. Both candidates for the next conference moderator are women, said spokeswoman Cheryl Brumbaugh Cafford.

It is not believed that any mainline denomination larger than the Christian Church has had a woman in the top position. In the 2.3 million-member Episcopal Church, for example, the highest position a woman has held is diocesan bishop.

_ Celeste Kennel-Shank

Fired Habitat for Humanity Founder Forms New Housing Ministry

(RNS) As expected, Habitat for Humanity founder Millard Fuller, who was fired in January from his house-building organization, has announced the formation of a new housing ministry.

“Building Habitat is not intended to compete with Habitat for Humanity. Rather, we seek to be a companion to it and to similar organizations that are working to eliminate poverty housing,” Fuller said in a statement Monday (April 18). “We will raise money to help local organizations build more houses, and we will raise awareness both about global housing needs and ways in which those needs can be met.”

Fuller and his wife, Linda, were fired after “several months of differences” with the Habitat board. Some of those differences related to alleged inappropriate conduct by Millard Fuller with a now-former female employee. Fuller denied any wrongdoing.

Since the firing, the Fullers have sought a new way to continue their work to help needy people gain homes.

David Snell, co-founder of Habitat Partners, a group that formed to encourage the board to reconsider the firing, issued a statement of support for the new organization, to be based in Americus, Ga.

“While the Fullers and Habitat for Humanity might now be on different paths, both paths lead to the same place, the elimination of poverty housing,” Snell, a Building Habitat board member, said in a statement. “It is good for Habitat for Humanity and good for the poor that Millard has a new platform from which to preach his message of hope.”

Habitat for Humanity officials, who affirmed their firing of the Fullers in early March, voiced concern that another organization with a similar name and mission would confuse donors and volunteers.

“Our brand, which is among the strongest and the most trusted in the country, is one that thousands of people have helped build over the last 29 years,” said Chris Clarke, a spokesman for Habitat for Humanity, also based in Americus.

He said in an interview that the organization’s lawyer had stated their concerns in a letter to Fuller and an officer of the new organization.

“We welcome his or anyone’s involvement in trying to raise awareness of the issues of poverty housing and raising money for it,” he said in an interview. “Our concern is the use of the Habitat name creates confusion.”

_ Adelle M. Banks

Focus on the Family Declines to Meet With Gay Rights Group

(RNS) Focus on the Family officials said they have no intention of allowing demonstrators from the gay rights group Soulforce inside their Colorado Springs, Colo., headquarters May 1-2.

The evangelical ministry said it will proceed with a “community meeting” on homosexuality scheduled for Monday (April 25), one week before Soulforce plans to bring hundreds of people to protest Focus on the Family’s traditional views toward homosexuality.

Soulforce, in turn, has urged its members to boycott the discussion.

Soulforce believes homosexuality is compatible with the Bible, while Focus on the Family maintains that homosexuals can change their sexual orientation through prayer and counseling.

“They’re making a public demonstration,” said Tom Minnery, Focus on the Family vice president for public policy. “We think the public ought to have an opportunity for a response.”

Minnery, in an interview, declined to say how Focus on the Family will handle the demonstrators, but said founder James Dobson will be in Washington for the National Day of Prayer and unavailable to meet with Soulforce leaders.

He suggested that new Focus on the Family President and CEO Jim Daly would also be unavailable. “They came asking … that he be an ambassador of goodwill, but the problem is they’re bringing hundreds of protesters, and that’s hardly an atmosphere of goodwill,” he said.

Soulforce officials could not be reached immediately for comment.

Minnery said the Rev. Mel White, Soulforce founder and a former evangelical ghostwriter, has met with Focus on the Family officials in the past, but “nothing came out of it then and we have no reason to believe anything different would come out of it this time.”

“Mel has asked for a private meeting to dialogue, but the reason he does not want to participate in the community meeting is because his position is not debatable,” Minnery said. “He can’t have it both ways.”

_ Kevin Eckstrom

Timing of Passover Presents Quandary for Observant Jews

(RNS) Jews who observe Passover, the commemoration of the Jewish exodus from slavery in Egypt, according to traditional religious teachings are faced with an unusual situation _ the holiday begins at sundown on Saturday (April 23), just after the end of the Sabbath.

The timing of the holiday is complicated because of traditional Jewish practices that seem difficult to adhere to simultaneously.

On Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath that begins Friday evening and lasts until sundown Saturday, Jews are obligated to eat meals that include bread, which is to be blessed separately in a ceremony called “motzi.”

However, beginning at “the fifth hour” of daylight (around 11 a.m.) on the day on which Passover begins, it is prohibited for Jews to have any bread or other leavened products, called “chametz,” in their homes. This year, that day falls on Saturday.

Further, it is forbidden to eat matzah, the unleavened bread that is eaten throughout the eight-day Passover period, outside Passover because Jews are supposed to enter the holiday with an eager appetite for the food.

This situation, when Passover begins just after Shabbat ends, happened only 11 times in the entire 20th century. It will happen again in 2008, 2021 and 2025.

Rabbis throughout the ages have advocated several ways to address the concern and remain faithful to the laws of both Shabbat and Passover, but the most commonly practiced method is to substitute “egg matzah” for the bread used for Shabbat’s motzi.

“The matzah that’s used on Passover must be `bread of affliction,’ which the rabbis describe as consisting only of flour and water,” explained Eliezer Diamond, associate professor of Talmud and rabbinics at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.

Therefore, matzah that is flavored or fortified with anything other than those two ingredients does not qualify as the matzah that Jews are commanded to eat during Passover and can be used for motzi before the holiday begins. Ashkenazi Jews, who trace their roots to Eastern Europe, do not eat egg matzah during Passover at all, while Sephardic Jews, who have ancestors from Spain, do.

When Shabbat falls in the middle of Passover, regular matzah is used for the motzi blessing.

_ Holly Lebowitz Rossi

Quote of the Day: Pope Benedict XVI

(RNS) “Dear brothers and sisters, after the great Pope John Paul II, the cardinals have elected me _ a simple, humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord.”

_ Pope Benedict XVI, who prior to Tuesday was known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany.

DH/PH END RNS

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