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c. 2007 Religion News Service

Calif. diocese poised to secede from Episcopal Church

(RNS) The Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin (Calif.) faces a historic vote this week (Dec. 7-8) to determine if it will leave the Episcopal Church, despite Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori’s warnings against the unprecedented act.

The Fresno, Calif.-based diocese, which has been invited to join a more conservative Anglican body based in South America, would be the first U.S. diocese to secede from the Episcopal Church.

Several other dioceses _ including Pittsburgh and Fort Worth, Texas _ have taken preliminary steps out the door, but San Joaquin would be the first to make a complete break.

With about 50 churches and 9,000 mostly conservative members, San Joaquin composes a small slice of the 2.2 million-member Episcopal Church. The symbolism of its defection could loom large, however, for a church that’s faced significant hostility worldwide to its progressive pro-gay policies.

Earlier this week, Jefferts Schori and San Joaquin Bishop Jon-David Schofield traded threats in public letters.

“While you may believe that the Diocese of San Joaquin can be welcomed into another Province of the Anglican Communion, I believe you will find that few parts of the Communion will recognize such a proposal,” Jefferts Schori wrote Dec. 3.

For his part, Schofield called the Episcopal Church “an apostate institution that has minted a new religion irreconcilable with the Anglican faith.”

Moreover, he said “The decision to be made by our annual convention this Saturday is the culmination of the Episcopal Church’s failure to heed the repeated calls for repentance … and for the cessation of false teachings.”

Around the world, conservatives like Schofield were incensed that the church consecrated an openly gay man as Bishop of New Hampshire in 2004.

The Anglican Church of the Southern Cone, which encompasses Argentina, Chile, Peru and three other South American nations, has offered San Joaquin “sanctuary on a temporary and emergency basis,” said Schofield.

Episcopal leaders, however, make clear their stance: regardless of the vote’s outcome, the diocese, including all property, pensions, etc., stays with the Episcopal Church.

_ Daniel Burke

Study: Only 7 percent of churches sought government grants

WASHINGTON (RNS) A distinct minority of U.S. congregations _ just 7 percent _ sought government grants in the past four years, a new study shows.

“Government grant activity is not tremendously important for congregations … even though they’re engaged in social services in a wide variety of areas,” said John C. Green, a political science expert at the University of Akron and author of the study.

The study, released Wednesday (Dec. 5) at the annual conference of the Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy at the National Press Club, also showed that marriage counseling is the most commonly provided social service by U.S. churches.

Two-thirds, or 68.5 percent, of congregations surveyed said they offered marriage counseling. More than 50 percent of respondents said they provided a food pantry (63.5 percent), family counseling (58.8 percent), and senior citizen services (58.3 percent).

Most congregations were not familiar with “charitable choice,” a provision of the welfare reform law that increased governmental funding of faith-based social services. Twenty-eight percent of respondents said they were were at least somewhat familiar with charitable choice, while 72 percent said they were not very familiar with it.

Just 6.5 percent of congregations said a representative of their congregation had attended an outreach conference that related to charitable choice. Green said this was one area in the study that showed a variation between religious traditions.

“The historical black churches were much more likely to report a familiarity with charitable choice and attendance at conferences,” he said, with 42 percent of them knowing of charitable choice and 24 percent having attended a conference such as the ones offered by the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives.

Congregations tended to get most of their revenue from individual contributions or special fund-raising efforts.

The study was based on 1,692 responses to surveys that were sent to congregations; it has an overall margin of error of plus or minus 2.4 percentage points.

_ Adelle M. Banks

Ala. company fills orders, niche during Hanukkah

MOUNTAIN ROCK, Ala. (RNS) When Mom owns a toy store, there are plenty of Hanukkah presents for the children.

On Tuesday (Dec. 4), the Glusman family sang in Hebrew and lit a candle on a large menorah to celebrate the first night of Hanukkah, the eight-day Jewish holiday that celebrates religious freedom.

Meanwhile, UPS and Federal Express were unloading boxes of toys in their driveway.

Child psychologist Laurie Glusman, founder of a cyber-store of Jewish toys called oytoys.com that does a booming business this time of year, of course had presents wrapped for each of her three children.

“They get one gift each night of Hanukkah,” she said. “We don’t have a home filled with presents. Opening a gift each night is exciting. On the eighth night, they wrap a gift for someone in need. We let them go and pick out a gift they would like to donate.”

It’s important to emphasize generosity during this season, she said. “They understand there are people who don’t have everything they want.”

Glusman started oytoys.com modestly in August 2004 and now has several thousand customers. “It started small and grew very, very quickly. We grew by word of mouth and people searching on the Internet.”

She has sent orders to Turkey, Israel and Europe. “I meet the needs of people in small towns in the U.S. and internationally where they don’t have access to stores,” she said.

Glusman, whose husband is a rabbi, stores wholesale items in a warehouse. “I keep everything in stock,” she said.

_ Greg Garrison

Quote of the Day: Alliance Defense Fund lawyer Jeremy Tedesco

(RNS) “What’s next? A reading at the public library of `Twas the Night Before a Holiday?”’

_ Jeremy Tedesco, legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, which wrote a letter to officials of Mount Pleasant, Mich., explaining the constitutionality of use of the word “Christmas” after hearing that city officials changed the name of its Dickens Christmas Festival to “Dickens Holiday Festival.”

KRE/CM END RNS

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