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Pittsburgh Update

Pittsburgh Update publishes weekly summaries of recent developments in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, The Episcopal Church, and the Anglican Communion that affect or could affect Pittsburgh Episcopalians. Emphasis is on reporting, not interpretation. This is a service of Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh. This site is in no way affiliated with the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh or the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh.


A Pittsburgh Episcopal Voice          

A Service of Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh         

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Week Ending 05/28/18

Candlelight Vigil at White House Draws a Crowd

With the heavy media attention on Presiding Bishop Burrys' sermon at the recent royal wedding, it was inevitable that stories of the interdenominational prayer vigil and march to the White House  last week would focus on Curry's participation. Update carried a story on the plans for the march and its declaration in the May 14 posting.  The church hosting the prayer meeting could not hold all those who showed up, and crowd estimates suggest over 1000 marched to the White House for the candlelight vigil.  The actions were in support of a statement issued by the group "taking back Jesus" by advocating for care of the poor, the ill, and welcoming of the stranger and condemning as heretical the idea of "America First." A sampling of the stories follows: thehill.com, CNN, Christian Post, Episcopal News Service, the Guardian.

Same Sex Marriage Developments in Australia and Among Methodists

Recently the decision became public of Australian Anglican bishops to not allow Anglican buildings or liturgy to be used for same-sex marriage, following changes in Australian law permitting such marriages.  Anglican.ink carried a story on the way an Anglican parish got around the prohibitions by having the wedding of two of their parishioners hosted in the church of another denomination with participation from both the host congregation and the Anglican parish.  The article is clearly set up hoping to elicit an investigation and possible disciplinary action against the clergy.

The United Methodist Church has called a special three-day General Conference for early 2019 specifically to deal with the issues of ordination of LGBTQ members and same-sex marriage.  The Judicial Court for the Methodists has ruled that any body, group, or member of the Church may submit petitions “in harmony with the purpose” of the session.  Some church members are afraid that this will result in the Conference again getting bogged down in procedural debates and not getting to the substance of the matters in the admittedly short session.  This session will be of  special interest to Episcopalians because of the on-going discussions for a full communion agreement between The Episcopal Church and the United Methodists.

Adjusting to the Modern World

Several announcements this last week show the Church adjusting to a digital world, and one that is increasing aware of environmental issues. Fuller Seminary,  the largest multi-denominational seminary in the U.S. announced that it was selling its campus in Pasadena and will relocate to Pomona in a building better designed for the growing sector of on-line classes.  Regular enrollment has dropped dramatically, but their on-line courses have grown and are now over half of enrollments. Responding to the increasing dependence on digital assistants such as Siri, Cortana, and Alexa, the Church of England has announced that it has developed a module for Alexa that allows people to ask theological questions, or have the assistant say grace and offer daily prayer.  They hope to have the service offered through Google Play in the near future.  Another group in England is now offering polyester cassocks made entirely from recycled plastic bottles.  The fabric is supposed to feel like a soft wool and is being marketed to the ecologically aware clergy. Currently they only offer cassocks for men, but are working on designs for women.

U.S. Supreme Court Sets Date for Review of SC Case

The June 7, 2018 agenda for the U.S. Supreme Court review of possible cases includes the petition for certiorari filed by the Lawrence faction trying to overturn the property decision issued by the South Carolina Supreme Court.  Bishop Skip Adams has issued a pastoral letter asking for prayers and explaining what might happen next. 

Following-Up on Previous Stories

 Blogger Steve Skaradon has an interesting essay May 23 reflecting on the Presiding Bishops sermon at the royal wedding and showing the influence of  the African-American lay theologian Verna Dozier on his thought.
The pressure brought to bear by Baptist women upset by Paige Patterson's statements on domestic abuse  has born fruit.  Patterson has stepped down as President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, but he and his wife will remain as theologians in residence and get to continue living in a house on the campus built for them.  A columnist at ReligionNews.com comments on these developments here.
GAFCON leader Peter Jensen has issued a statement defending GAFCON's actions "admitting" the Province of Recife to their version of the Anglican Communion.  It is interesting for how he tries to reframe the structure of the Anglican Comunion.  Update covered the GAFCON action in April.

Abrupt Departure Raises Questions

The Living Church reports that Neva Rae Fox who has led the Episcopal Digital Network and was the chief communications officer for the Episcopal Church abruptly departed from her job on Wednesday of last week.  There was no announcement from the Church Center, and her name was simply removed from the staff listings. No one at the Center would comment.  Fox had been the chief communications spokesperson since 2007.  The timing is very puzzling because she had just returned from London where she handled press issues associated with the Presiding Bishop's appearance at the royal wedding, and the office is gearing up for the intense work schedule that General Convention will bring. The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is now listed as interim director.

Virginia Bishop Cancels Search for Suffragan

Bishop Shannon Johnson has issued a pastoral letter announcing that he has terminated the search for a suffragan bishop because of internal tensions among diocesan staff and leadership that need to be resolved, and because his own plans as bishop are now undergoing re-evaluation.  His letter is here.  Episcopal Cafe had this to say about the announcement.  The diocese is one of the largest in the Episcopal Church, but they also are not lacking in bishops they can tap.  the Rt. Rev. Susan Goff is Suffragan Bishop, and the Rt. Rev. Rober Ihloff is Assisting Bishop.  In addition the Rt. Rev. Ted Gulik is serving as interim Canon to the Ordinary.  There are also retired bishops living in Virginia.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Week Ending 05/21/18

Fort Worth Priest Elected Bishop of Newark


The diocese of Newark broke two barriers with the election of the Rev. Carlye Hughes of Fort Worth.  Hughes will be the diocese's first African-American Bishop and it's first female bishop.  Deputies to the diocesan electing convention made her a clear choice on the first ballot.  Hughes has spent the last several years as rector of  Trinity Parish and helping Episcopalians in Fort Worth rebuild their diocese.  Hughes came to the ministry after a full career in corporate training in the Northeast, and her first parishes were in New York.  The Diocese of Newark covers the parts of New Jersey most linked to New York City, thus making her election something of a homecoming.  Hughes is the second African-American woman to head an Episcopal Diocese, the first being Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows of Indianapolis. 

Texas School Shooting Brings New Responses from Church

The shooting at a high school in Sante Fe, Texas, southeast of Houston left 8 students and two teachers dead.  Nearby Episcopal Churches responded by opening their doors for those seeking a place to pray.  The Episcopal Church in Dickinson hosted an evening prayer service for the community in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. Bishop Doyle and other Episcopal Church officials sent their messages of condolence.  But as the Update has noted on numerous occasions, the Church's efforts to end this violence go well beyond "thoughts and prayers."  Churches in other dioceses organized forums, and urged parishioners to both pray and act.  In 2015 General Convention passed a resolution (2015-C0005) that covers the full gun control agenda.  The 2018 convention has a resolution on its agenda addressing "lunch box" or "ghost" guns (Resolution C015).

Presiding Bishop Hits a Home Run at Royal Wedding

Last week the planners of the royal wedding announced that the Episcopal Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry would preach the wedding address for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.  After he preached on Saturday,  the press announced that the Bishop "stole the show." If you want to see Bishop Curry's whole address, Episcopal News Service has video of the sermon from the BBC and from the large screens outside where you can hear crowd reaction. Both videos and transcripts of his sermon were on every major media channel, website, and print media.  The BBC not only covered the talk positively, but included more information on the Presiding Bishop. The reporter from Esquire ended his piece with the comment "Now, if you’ll excuse me, I am going to join the Episcopal Church." Slate's reporter analyzed the sermon as a radical theological statement. One of the most interesting comments was the analysis of the sermon by the a regular columnist on Jewish matters for Religion News.  The Anglican Communion News Service posted a piece summarizing the media attention, as did the Episcopal News Service and the Episcopal Cafe.   The Archbishop of Canterbury  declared that Curry's sermon "blew the place open." He also referred to it in a talk given at an evangelism conference on Pentecost.   Saturday Night Live did a sketch based on an "interview" with Curry, and the Presiding Bishop found himself an invited guest on network morning shows, PBS, and others.  There were criticisms.  Some found the 13:47 minute address too long.  Some of the British Royalty seemed uncomfortable with parts of the address and delivery style.  The GAFCON group was clearly unhappy with all the attention given the talk and criticized it as "Christianity-Lite" (i.e. pandering to the public by focusing on the positive feature of love and leaving out sin, the need to amend one's life, and Christ's Death on the cross).  The best response to the Christianity-Lite claim is found on a British blog

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Week Ending 05/14/18

South Carolina Episcopalians Ask Court to Implement Decision

Episcopalians have filed suit in South Carolina state courts asking that the courts issue orders returning the property in possession of the schismatic group that the State Supreme Court ruled belong to those who remained in the Episcopal Church. They see no reason to wait for the U.S. Supreme Court to decided if it will hear the appeal brought by the schismatic group led by Bishop Lawrence, since the state supreme court ruling is a final decree.  The Episcopalians have suggested appointment of a special master to oversee the transfer of property.  The Episcopalians expect to resume control of parish properties by having members of the congregation willing to participate in the Episcopal Church assume the governance of the parishes.  That may mean portions of the congregation and its leadership will withdraw to form a new ACNA church. They also filed an amended brief in the federal case asking the court to issue an order forbidding the break-away group from using certain names and symbols of the diocese. The press release from the Episcopal Church in South Carolina is here.  The filing in state court is here, and the amended brief in federal court is here. The Update's most recent previous coverage of these legal issues is here.

Presiding Bishop to Preach at Royal Wedding

Within an hour of the Anglican Communion announcing that Presiding Bishop Michael Curry had accepted an invitation to preach at the wedding May 19 of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle the web site crashed from over use.  The initial announcement described the Presiding Bishop as "from Chicago" without clarifying that was where he had been born, and not where he served as bishop or currently resided.  As a result, a number of the news services initially misidentified Curry as the Bishop of Chicago or living there. (See for example, Associated Press,  the Chicago Sun Times,  the CBS service ET online, and  the BBC). The Diocese of Chicago issued their own statement.  Later stories were more accurate and began to focus on his social activism and emphasis on evangelism. In China, the story highlighted his support of the LGBTQ community. Traditionally the preacher at a royal wedding is a senior member of the Church of England, but the couple apparently wanted to emphasize the bride's American origins and Africa-American Heritage, and thus chose Curry, the head of the American branch of the Anglican Communion with a reputation for dynamic preaching.  The Archbishop of Canterbury helped the couple make their selection, and his endorsement of the choice sent a message to those who questioned the Episcopal Church's place in the Anglican Communion.

Anglican Provinces Make Statements on Same-Sex Marriages

The three-branched Anglican Church in New Zealand has voted to allow blessing of same-sex unions while.  Last year the synod delayed a vote for more study.  The new study proposed a form of local option. One of the three strands, representing Polynesians, will not implement the decision, but also did not block it for the other branches of the Church. Two other provinces made negative statements.  Australia, where civil marriage for same-sex couples has just been approved, has published an agreement reached by Australian Bishops that they will not authorize formal blessing rites or allow marriages in their churches, although informal pastoral blessings may well take place in the dioceses, especially those who spoke in favor of the marriage referendum. The Update had earlier reported on the Austalian synod had chastized the Scottish Church for their vote to permit Church marriages of same-sex couples, but now a confidential agreement among Australian bishops has been released.   The Church of Ireland Bishops have also issued a statement to the Irish synod emphasizing that there has been no change in the Church of Ireland's definition of marriage as a commitment between one man and one woman.  The New Zealand decision means there are now four Anglican Provinces (the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada, The Scottish Episcopal Church, and New Zealand) providing forms of church recognition for same-sex marriages.

Bomb Rocks Texas Church

When the Rev. Rev. Steven Balke arrived at his church office  on Thursday he discovered that sometime between evening worship at St. Stephen's Church in Beaumont, TX and his return on Thursday, a bomb had been set off at the church office door. No one was hurt.  ATF and FBI officials are investigating.  The Church's School which was in session when Balke reached his office was evacuated as were the offices.  The package bomb appears very similar to an unexploded bomb found at a local Starbucks on April 26.  Damage was minimal and the church and school reopened on Friday.

Women Breaking New Ground as Bishops

Within a 24 hour period both the Canadian Church and the Church of England celebrated women breaking new ground as bishops.  The Canadian Church announced the election on the first ballot of the Rt. Rev. Melissa Skelton as the Archbishop of British Columbia and the Yukon.  She is Bishop of New Westminster within that province and will continue with those duties in addition to her role as Archbishop. The province she will head is one of four internal provinces within the Anglican Church of Canada.  She is the first woman to hold that office.  In London, the Church of England was celebrating the installation of the Rt. Rev. Sarah Mullally as Bishop of London.  Originally consecrated a suffragan Bishop in the Diocese of Exeter, Mullally was appointed to fill the London see in March 2018.  The Diocese of London is one of the largest and most prestigious posts in the Church of England.  Mullally noted that seat where she had just been enthroned was the target of a bombing by British suffragists almost exactly 105 years earlier.

House of Bishops Releases Draft of Healing Service for Church Leaders who Suffered Abuse Within the Church

Last week the Update reported on criticism of the approach that the House of Bishops was taking to listening to the stories at General Convention of those church workers who suffered abuse from church leaders.  Bishop DeDe Duncan-Probe, the House of Bishops planning committee chair,  has now issued a fuller description of their intention which was to create a special liturgy for reconciliation, not a hearing. (That will take a different format at General Convention.) 

Presiding Bishop to March in Ecumenical Protest of White House Policies

On May 24, 2018, Presiding Bishop Curry will join with a number of ecumenical leaders and spokespersons for Christian Social Action groups in a March to the White House.  The March will launch the "Reclaiming Jesus Declaration." Among signers of the Declaration are the evangelical leader the Rev.  Jim Wallis, Bishop Vashti McKenzie (the elected head of the House of Bishops of the African Methodist Church),  Bishop Carroll Baltimore of the International Community Baptist Churches, and reitred heads of the Wesleyan Church, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and Reformed Church.  Marchers will conduct a candlelight vigil while protesting policies that disadvantage the poor, encourage bigotry, condone lying by public officials, and reject the idea of "America First" as heretical. The Anglican Communion News Service has this story.  Episcopal Cafe posted this.

Washington D.C. Church Hits Snag in Condo Project

St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Dupont Circle was destroyed by fire in 1970.  The congregation has been in temporary and rented space ever since trying to find a way to rebuild.  An innovative arrangement with a condominium developer that would have provided multipurpose space within the condominium development for St. Thomas on its original site has hit a major snag.  Construction, nearly 60 % complete was halted by order of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs after a group calling itself the Dupont Circle Residents Association (DCRA) sued to stop the 7 story development.  The D.C. Court of Appeals ruled for DCRA.  The church has now filed an appeal.  The suit was filed after the church put up a series of posters on the outside of the new building criticizing President Trump's policies.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Week Ending 5/7/18

South Carolina Files Reply in U.S. Supreme Court Appeal

The Episcopal Church has now filed its answer to the request for certiorari filed by the break-away group in South Carolina.  The South Carolina Supreme Court had ruled that all but 9 of the church properties belonged to those who remained in the Episcopal Church.  The Episcopalians are arguing that the state court judges who made up the 3 person majority had used state law to determine ownership and thus there was no federal issue to resolve.  As a back-up, they also argued that the break-away group had not raised federal first amendment issues in the earlier rounds and had  misinterpreted the U. S. Supreme Court opinion that they were now citing. Steve Skaradon has an interesting commentary in his May 7 blog

Former Bishop Asks to Serve Rest of Sentence in House Detention

Heather Cook, the former suffragan bishop of Maryland, has asked that the court allow the remainder of her seven-year sentence to be served in house detention. The Baltimore Sun covered the request here, and Anglican.ink here. She has served 3 years of the sentence.  Cook was denied parole a year ago when the family of the bicyclist she killed (in a hit and run while driving drunk and texting) opposed parole, and because she seemed unrepentant.  The family is also opposing this motion, feeling that she should serve her entire sentence in prison.  Cook received a lighter sentence than a Wisconsin Lutheran bishop who is serving his full sentence after killing a runner under similar circumstances.  

Chili Takes Steps to Become Anglican Province

On May 12 members of the Diocese of Chili will gather to affirm a synod vote made in 2015 that would be a major step in the process to create an autonomous Anglican Communion province.  It is currently a part of the multi-national Province of South America (formerly called the Province of the Southern Cone).  Assuming that the special synod on May 12 agrees, adopts canons and a constitution, creates 4 dioceses within its bounds, and elects a primate and 4 bishops, Chili will receive a visit from a special delegation of the Anglican Consultative Council in about 6 months.  That group will then make a recommendation to the ACC about admitting Chili to the Anglican Communion.  The Archbishop of Canterbury also needs to formally recognize the Province.  This careful process is in contrast to the unilateral decision of the GAFCON primates recently to recognize a break-away group in Brazil as a province and to claim it is part of the Anglican Communion. Mark Harris  comments on the GAFCON claims.

New Twists in Abuse Cases

Police in North Carolina say that two more people have come forward to accuse Howard White, a deposed Episcopal priest.  White pled guilty to charges of sexually abusing a boy from St. George's School (R.I.) while on a trip to Massachusetts, and is now charged in North Carolina for abuse of two children while serving a parish there.  The new accusations bring the number of victims in NC to four.   Meanwhile, St. Paul's School in New Hampshire, has been sued by two former students for failing to protect them from sexual abuse by staff when they were students at St. Paul's in the 1960s.  The suit includes 10 different charges.

Over 350 Sign Letter in England Countering Negative Comments on TEC Marriage Task Force Report 

The reaction in England over the letter William Nye, Secretary to the Archbishop's Council wrote in response to a request for comment on proposals from the Episcopal Church task force dealing with marriage continues. Nye stated that, if adopted, the proposals would bring "stringent consequences" for the Episcopal Church .  A new public letter which began as a blog entry by Jayne Ozanne has been  signed by 350  people, including many clergy, two bishops and several deans. Thirty-nine are voting members of the Church of England Synod.   The signers are all communicants of the church, and come from 41 of the 42 Church of England dioceses.  Its content is brief, thanking the Episcopal Church for leading the way on this issue and disassociating the signers from Nye's comments.

New Steps Taken to Bring Diocese of NW Pennsylvania and Western New York Together

Pittsburgh Update reported earlier that the Bishop of Northwestern Pennsylvania, Sean Rowe, who was serving also as the provisional bishop of the Diocese of Bethlehem in PA,  had begun conversations with the Diocese of Western New York to serve as provisional bishop there when Bishop Franklin retires in 2019.  Bethlehem elected a new diocesan last week and so Rowe no longer has duties there. The standing committees of Western New York and Northwestern PA have now both voted to share a bishop and administration for five years beginning  when Franklin retires. The two diocese share a border, but are in different Provinces.

Women Continue to Press Churches on Abuse Issues

Women continue to hold American churches accountable for church complicity in abuse and harassment.  Baptist women are pressing hard for the resignation of Paige Patterson, one of the most senior Baptist pastors, the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and one of the architects of the 10 year conservative movement within the church.  Patterson's opposition includes some of the most prominent women of the church, and has resulted in numerous public statements and a petition by over 1000 women asking for him to step down because of statements he has made in the past condoning some domestic violence, and other sexist statements.

The Episcopal House of Bishops has announced that it will make time at General Convention to read written statements about the effects of sexual abuse and harassment suffered within the church.  This is a partial response to a Task Force on these issues appointed by the President of the House of Deputies and to the #MeToo movement in general.  Even though women bishops planned the event, it has draw considerable criticism because the statements will be read by someone in the House of Bishops and will be anonymous.  They are not allowed to name abusers or go into details on the actual abuse.  Only a sampling of the statements will be read.  The concerns about the format have been discussed in a Facebook posting on the page set up for discussion about General Convention.

ELCA Elects Two African-American Women As Bishops

With roots in the Scandinavian immigrant communities, the Evangelical Lutheran Church is among the "whitest" of mainline churches.  Within 24 hours, regional synods in South Central Wisconsin and Southeastern Pennsylvania both elected African-American women as their bishops, the first black women to be chosen as bishops in their denomination.  Both The Rev. Patricia A. Davenport and Rev. Viviane Thomas-Breitfeld have held major leadership roles as clergy.  The ELCA is in full communion with the Episcopal Church.  The Episcopal Church consecrated the Rev. Barbara Harris as suffragan bishop of the Diocese of Massachusetts in 1989.  Harris, who is African-American, was the first woman to serve as a bishop anywhere in the Anglican Communion.  Not until 2017, with the consecration of Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows as the eleventh bishop of Indianapolis, did the Episcopal Church have an African-American woman serving as diocesan bishop.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Week Ending 4/30/18

Religious Support of Same Sex marriage in the News

Religion News carried a story on a survey of over 40,000 Americans done by Public Religion Research Institute on attitudes of Americans towards same sex marriage.  It shows major gains in support across all American religious groups, including black churches.  The article provides a summary of the findings.  The full report is here.

 Meanwhile the letter  Church of England official, William Nye, sent in response to a query for comment by the group working on the General Convention task force on revision of the marriage liturgies continued to set off waves.  Numerous groups protested that the Church of England has never been surveyed on the question and thus his characterization of C of E feelings was not based on fact.  However, it has now been reported that contrary to first reports, that the letter was drafted after some staff consultation, and thus was mostly Nye's own opinion, those staff consultations included the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. 

Consecration of First Woman Bishop in Brazil

The Update reported in January that Brazil had elected Canon Marinez Santos Bassotto as bishop of the Amazon.  She is the first woman elected bishop in that Province.  Now the consecration has been celebrated.  Two women bishops, Linda Nichols from Huron in Canada and Griselda Delgado del Carpio, the Bishop of Cuba, were present.  Nichols preached the sermon.  The Primate of Brazil,  Bishop Francisco de Assis da Silva, presided.  The Anglican Communion News Service posted this account.  Episcopal Cafe published pictures that Bishop Nichols had posted on the web. 

Army Chaplains Accused of Discrimination Against Jews

Two army chaplains are under investigation after they harassed, and then fired without cause, the lay staff who had been providing Shabbat services for the Jewish soldiers stationed at Fort Campbell for 34 years. This left the 80+ Jewish soldiers at the base without any religious services. The chaplains also told the Jewish leaders that they would have to celebrate Passover on a different date because the services on that Friday would interfere with Good Friday services. Furthermore, the worship leaders were told that if they decided to hold services on Passover there would be no advertising or support for the service. The nearest synagogue is over 50 miles away in Nashville.

Beyonce' Mass in San Francisco Gets Wide Response

The announcement that the afternoon contemporary worship service at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco would feature music by Beyonce' touched off a major reaction before it occurred.  The service was a cooperative effort between the Cathedral and a class at San Francisco Theological Seminary called "Beyonce' and the Hebrew Bible."  The afternoon services by The Vine usually attract 40-50 people.  Nine hundred attended the Beyonce' mass.  The clergy person from the cathedral staff responsible for "Innovative Worship" including The Vine has defended the service here.  The Episcopal Cafe covered several of the positive news stories following the service.  Conservative critics had another view.  Anglican.ink posted this description by Jeff Walton (who is Communication Director for the ultra-conservative Institute on Religion and Democracy),  gave a less positive description.

Scholarships for Bishops Attending Lambeth 2020

The Compass Rose Society has announced a million dollar scholarship program to help bishops from impoverished areas attend the 2020 Lambeth Conference. The Archbishop of Canterbury delayed the Lambeth Conference for two years and has had a special committee working on how to frame the activities at the meeting in a way that will avoid conflict while dealing with sensitive subjects.  Bishop Doyle of Texas is the current head of the 400 member Compass Rose Society,  most of whom are in the U.S., Canada, or Hong Kong. The scholarships will offer a way for bishops to come without any ideological strings attached.

Give Feedback on Proposal for TEC Anti-Racism Curriculum 

Among the many General Convention reports is one that looks at the required anti-racism training provided by the Episcopal Church and suggests a number of reorganizing steps intended to get wider participation in the training.  The committee is soliciting comments on the proposal with a deadline for comment of May 10.  The Living Church article has embedded the entire report.