Category Archives: Clergy & Congregations

Ecumenical Good Friday service celebrates the Easter mystery

By Tracy Simmons

Tenebrae "herse" (candelabrum)/Wikipedia

On Friday evening, the sanctuary at Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral will slowly get darker and darker, symbolizing the crucifixion of Jesus and the suspense of his resurrection.

It’s the second year the church has hosted the Ecumenical Tenebrae Prayer Service, which will be celebrated by five of Spokane’s Christian leaders.

“It darkens as Christ moves further and further away from us,” said the Rev. Jeff Lewis, parochial vicar of the cathedral, adding that only a single candle will remain at the end of the service, signifying the unconquerable light of Christ.

The Tenebrae service is a long-time tradition at Our Lady of Lourdes, but in an effort to be more inclusive Bishop Blase Cupich, of the Catholic Diocese of Spokane, changed it last year to be an ecumenical service.

About 150 people attended the 2011 program.

This year the service will be led by the Rev. Sheryl Kinder Pyle, transitional executive presbyter of the Presbytery of the Inland Northwest, Bishop James E. Waggoner, Episcopal bishop of the Diocese of Spokane, Bishop Martin Wells, of the  Evangelical Lutheran Church of Eastern Washington – Idaho, the Rev. Dale Cockrum, the inland district superintendent of the Pacific Northwest Conference United Methodist Church, and Cupich.

Kinder Pyle will deliver the sermon and the other faith leaders will read the accompanying scriptures and Good Friday texts. The Cathedral singers will lead the congregation in traditional chants and songs.

“One of the ways we can really celebrate our commonalities is through these kinds of things,” Lewis said. “It’s really a very subtle, but very unique and prayerful opportunity to reflect upon the Paschal mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ.”

The service will begin at 7 p.m.

Also on Good Friday, at noon, the cathedral will celebrate the Lord’s Passion with the veneration of the cross.

When are your Holy Week services?

By Tracy Simmons

Flickr photo by katybate

Many Christians will walk out of church on Sunday with a palm leaf folded into a small cross. The palm is a reminder of John 12:12-23, when a crowd used them to welcome Jesus to Jerusalem.

Later, many in that crowd urged for his execution.

Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week, which is the week leading to Easter.

Holy Week includes Maundy Thursday, when Christians remember Jesus’ last supper. And on Friday, Good Friday, Christians will reflect upon his crucifixion.

Many churches will hold Easter vigils on Saturday night (Holy Saturday) where the Easter, or Paschal, candle is lit.

Holy Week will conclude on Easter Sunday, April 8.

SpokaneFAVS will publish local Holy Week listings very soon. If you’d like your church included email services times to

Worshipping the Celtic way

By Tracy Simmons

An estimated 122 million Americans celebrated St. Patrick’s Day this year, according to The National Retail Federation — mostly be wearing green and going to parties.

St. David’s Episcopal Church in Spokane celebrated too, but not with Irish food and booze. Parishioners honored him by forming a circle and singing to the tone of djembe and bodhran drums, by discussing Patrick’s life and receiving communion.

They venerated him with their weekly Celtic worship service.

“He had 28 years of active ministry (in Ireland), founded 700 churches. In Ireland there were 150 tribes, at least 40 of those tribes became Christian … and if you look at the landscape of Ireland you’ll see that Celtic cross dotting the landscape of all the places where the mission of Patrick went,” the Rev. Elaine Breckenridge said.

During Celtic worship parishioners sit in a circle at the front of the church/Tracy Simmons -

A quilt with a Celtic cross hangs at the front of St. David’s worship hall. Every Sunday at 11 a.m. the church hosts a Celtic Eucharist service — a practice the church formally adopted in 2010. About 40 people regularly attend.

Breckenridge said she became interested in Celtic spirituality about eight years ago when she learned more about it from her then spiritual director. She became so interested she traveled to Ireland (twice) and Scotland (once) to experience the worship style and bring it back to St. David’s.

“I think people are hungry for an experience of God,” she said, noting an interest in the Celtic program has grown throughout the years.

She said people are tired of hearing doctrine, and want a worship style they can carry with them in their daily lives.

Celtic worship is ecumenical and celebrates creation, the Gospel of Jesus and the spirit, “being above, below, among and within us.”

Rev. Elaine Breckenridge leads a Celtic dance at St. David's/Tracy Simmons -

According to St. David’s, “We honor our own experience and the insights and struggles of seekers, so the breaking-open of the Word is a task we share with the preacher. We honor beauty, the arts and imagination and storytelling in our liturgy. We believe worship should engage all the senses including our bodies, and so movement is an element of the worship…”

“What’s important for me is worshipping with the whole body,” Breckendridge said.

On the fourth Thursday of the month the church hosts another Celtic Eucharist at 7 p.m. Breckenridge said people of various faiths attend and more dance is included than in the Sunday service.

Jim Grady, who has been going to St. David’s for 13 years, said the “creation theology” of Celtic spirituality is one of the main things that attracted him to Celtic spirituality, but not the only thing.

St. David's hosts a Celtic Eucharist each Sunday/Tracy Simmons -

“It’s the music, the physical setup, the circle. It’s the whole package,” he said.

St. David’s will celebrate a Celtic Easter at 7 p.m. on April 7. More information can be found on the church website.

Additional photos can be found in our Flickr album.

Colville churches repent for their sins

By Tracy Simmons

COLVILLE — On Sunday two Colville congregations came together to profess that they, as part of the common Christian church, have at times been destructive.

“…We confess that we have sinned in communal ways in accepting and perpetuating the prejudices and injustices that persist in our culture and our world,” more than 125 voices together recited at St. Paul Lutheran Church.

Two Colville congregations worshiped together on the first Sunday of Lent/Tracy Simmons -

St. Paul Lutheran and 1st Congregational UCC churches are journeying through Lent together, apologizing for the sins of the Christian church. Rev. Eric Ohrtman, rector of St. Paul, explained that the congregations will repent for how they’ve harmed everyone from the Native Americans hundreds of years ago, to today’s gay and lesbian community, to the times the church has been silent when it should have been a prophetic voice.

Rev. Jim CastroLang, of 1st Congregational, said the confessions are a step toward restoring the church “to its wholeness,” particularly as Christians recognize their iniquities and begin to live more consciously.

Rev. Michael Denton, conference minister for the Pacific Northwest Conference of the United Church of Christ and Bishop Martin Wells, of the Eastern Washington-Idaho Synod, helped the congregations begin their journey by delivering a sermon together on Sunday (which was the first Sunday of Lent).

Rev. Mike Denton speaks in Colville/Tracy Simmons -

“Institutions are one of the ways human beings help organize themselves. As such, they can also be one of the ways we express some of our worst characteristics and behaviors as well as one of the ways we benefit from the harmful acts of others. Institutions can be used as walls and weapons as well as a tool to help rationalize some actions, that when it comes down to it, can only be described as sins,” Denton said. “It takes honest, faithful conversations just like this to change the world.”

Both Wells and Denton urged the congregations to own and confess the sins they may not have been directly involved in — like slavery — noting all Christians are a part of the body of Christ.

Two Colville congregations come together during Lent/Tracy Simmons -

“I’m anxious for you because I think the work you have in front of you during this Lenten period of confession is difficult.  You are going to be leading the larger church into a territory that we usually avoid,” Wells said. “I’m wonderfully stimulated and grateful to you and I’m eager to know how it goes for you, I’m eager to learn from you and from these good pastors who will lead you.”

St. Paul and 1st Congregational are the only two churches in the area that have teamed up, as separate denominations, to spend Lent together.

Ohrtman explained the congregations will explore a different sin each Sunday during Lent.

View a photo gallery of the communal service here.

What sins do you think the church needs to confess?

Parting the sea of 2 faiths, the language that separates Messianic Jews

By Contributor Lace Williams-Tinajero

Lace Williams-Tinajero

One day Rabbi David D’Auria found a red Nazi swastika painted on the sign of his synagogue. Regardless, he answers with a firm “no” when asked if he has ever been targeted or persecuted for being a Messianic Jew. The leader of Kehilat HaMashiach, a Messianic congregation in Spokane Valley, says that anti-Semites, people who hate Jews, target all Jews. Even some of his fellows Jews are suspicious of him. For Christians the rabbi has to prove himself a true follower of Jesus. For Jews he has to prove he’s still Jewish.

At times, such “gross display of ignorance” makes living in Spokane difficult, D’Auria said. Larger metropolitan areas like Philadelphia, Miami and Fort Lauderdale have higher populations of Jews and Messianic Jews. Not so in Spokane, which is mostly homogeneous.

“Spokane is not this international community with many different cultures,” D’Auria said. “When you have interactions between different cultural groups, you have more openness. Spokane feels resistant and non-accepting of different groups.”

One word sets all Messianic Jews apart, Yeshua (Hebrew for Jesus). The call for Messianic Jews is obedience to Yeshua while maintaining their Jewish identity. Yeshua is the center of their worship. Yeshua is also the eye of a storm of controversy that swirls around them.

“We are not part of what is traditionally considered Christian or Jewish because of our unique call; yet, we desire the unity in both groups of people — Christians and Jews,” said D’Auria.

As with any religious journey, it is difficult to walk a straight path. The difficulty for Messianic Jews is, “staying to the center of the road when there are two sides pulling you apart, Jews pulling you to be non-Yeshua, and Gentiles pulling you to be less Jewish,” he added.

Yeshua is the most descriptive word for Messianic Jews. It evokes hatred from some non-Yeshua believing Jews. D’Auria indicates for nearly 1,000 years, some ultra-Orthodox and Orthodox Jews refuse to utter the name Yeshua. Instead, they spit on the ground and shorten it to Yeshu, interpreted as false one or traitor. Non-Messianic Jews regard Yeshua as a blasphemous word. They disregard Yeshua because of the harm that has come to Jews in the name of Jesus. In defense of Yeshua, D’Auria rejects this conclusion as sinat hinam (hatred without cause), stemming not from theological reflection but from emotional reaction.

To move forward, more open dialogue in place of emotionally charged reactions is needed. D’Auria answers “yes” to the question of whether it is possible to understand one another’s beliefs based on language.

“From a Messianic Jewish standpoint, belief in Yeshua breaks down some points of compatibility,” he said.

He stands firmly in his belief that Yeshua is God’s promised Messiah to the Jewish people. His sincerity and courage give insight into his character and why he continues on a path that others find so suspicious, even if it comes in the form of a red swastika.

Buddhist abbey now home to 5 U.S.- born fully ordained nuns

By Tracy Simmons
Religion News Spokane

Vens. Jigme and Chonyi in their Chinese bhikshuni robes. Contributed Photo

NEWPORT, Wash. – There aren’t a lot of Buddhists in America —around 3 million or so, according to the Pluralism Project. And if the denomination is a minority then it makes sense that there isn’t exactly an abundance of monasteries here either, let alone Buddhist clergy.

Because there’s no central administrative office for Buddhists to report to, the demographics of the faith remain unclear.

Here’s what we do know. Just outside of Newport, Wash., a town of about 2,1000 people, is Sravasti Abbey. It’s one of the only monastic communities in the west for Americans to study the Buddha’s teachings. What’s even more unique is that as of December, the abbey now has five U.S.-born, fully ordained nuns, called bhikshunis. With five ordained nuns at the abbey, official sanghakarmas [Sangha ceremonies] can be held there, including the twice-monthly Posadha [ceremony of confession and restoration of precepts]. These particular ceremonies are private. To have the special rites, the abbey only needed four bhikshunis. By this summer, the abbey expects to have six.

“When we first set up the abbey there were three residents, myself and two cats. Now we have two cats and 12 human residents, five of them bhikshunis,” said Abbess Ven. Thubten Chodron. “I think this is a big thing because this isn’t a Buddhist country.”

Chodron founded the abbey in 2003, fulfilling her lifelong dream of creating a Tibetan Buddhist community in the states. For a decade she served as resident teacher at Dharma Friendship Foundation in Seattle, but she had no monastic community to call her own.

Originally from Los Angeles, Chodron became a bhikshuni in 1986. Like most Buddhist women, she had to travel to Taiwan to receive her ordination.

Precept receivers, guiding teachers, and the ordaining masters line up in front of the Non-Duality Gate after the First Platform Ordination. Contributed Photo

For full ordination a quorum of 10 fully ordained monks and 10 fully ordained nuns must be present and the ordaining sangha must have at least 10 years experience as fully ordained monastics, according to Chinese tradition. There aren’t enough fully ordained monastics in the U.S. or Indonesia, but there are enough in Taiwan and Vietnam, Chodron explained. That was the case 26 years ago and it’s still the case today. Full ordination was never established in Tibet because of the difficulty of traveling over mountain ranges from India.

“Our goal is, hopefully, that sometime in the future we’ll have enough monks and nuns at the abbey to give the ordination ourselves,” she said.

Ven. Thubten Jigme, 60, and Ven. Thubten Chonyi, 58, traveled together to Taiwan at the end of October to partake in the Triple Platform Ceremony, or full ordination where  they received the sramanerika, bhikshuni, and bodhisattva vows. Both women gave up their careers and possessions to become first-generation, home-grown monastics. They remain in touch with their families.

Jigme dropped out of high school as a teenager, later earned her G.E.D. and eventually earned nursing degrees. She’s worked at hospitals, clinics and classrooms, and before moving to the abbey she worked as a psychiatric nurse practitioner in Seattle.

Jigme met Chodron at a retreat in 1998 and said she knew immediately that she found her spiritual path.

“It has been a very organic journey,” Jigme said. “I grew up in a family that had little spiritual interest, and I really didn’t pursue spiritual practice but put my effort into my career. Over the years, however, I realized I had a spiritual longing and began a search.”

Almost eight years after she met Chodron she decided to attend a retreat at the abbey. There, Jigme said, she experienced the power of Buddha’s teachings and began to see a difference in her thoughts and actions.

“I realized I would need the support of likeminded people to develop these qualities,” she said.

She moved to the abbey in 2008 and took her novice vows in 2009. Saying goodbye to her friends, colleagues and patients wasn’t easy, but Jigme said the transition was good for her.

“Saying goodbye to them … was another peeling away of worldly involvement. Then, finally, the process of letting go of all the belongings I had accumulated for 56 years was another huge process. But the interesting thing was as I sold and gave away my belongings, I got happier and happier,” she said. “Giving up my worldly identities left me feeling, ‘Okay, now who am I and what is my role?’ I’m still defining this question as I try to embody the teachings of the Buddha and let go of the strong identity of I.”

Chonyi has been a student of Chodron for more than 15 years. She met her at the Dharma Friendship Foundation. At the time Chonyi  was working as the co-owner of Reiki Healing Arts Center.

She supported Chodron and became a lay founder of the abbey. For several years she toyed with the idea of becoming a monastic and in 2007, finally committed, Chonyi said.

Buddhist shrine in Taiwan. Contributed Photo

She and Jigme have been training for full ordination since they arrived at the abbey, but the final lessons took place in Taiwan. Chonyi explained that the intense training included everything from lessons on meditation and Buddhist history to classes on standing, sitting and eating properly. There are 348 precepts a bhikshuni must follow.

“When you have a calm body that’s focused and at ease, it has an influence on everybody around you,” she said.

Though exhausting and overwhelming at times, Chonyi said the training strengthened her faith and brought her closer to her fellow residents.

“I got a sense of what my responsibility is for helping to hold the value of the community,” she said. “I feel a very strong responsibility for establishing something that will be here, hopefully, for hundreds of years after us. We’re creating a space for the people behind us.”

The novice and fully ordained nuns at the abbey teach classes in Spokane and the surrounding areas and host events and retreats on their property. Because interest in the abbey is growing, the residents are currently fundraising and hope to build a new building that can accommodate more people.

For information visit

In new book Spong attacks worshippers, misunderstands scripture

By Contributor Rev. Bill Ellis

Rev. Bill Ellis

Bishop John Shelby Spong has spent most of his life struggling against biblical literalism and modern fundamentalism which sprang from it.  He continues that fight in his most recent work “Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World.”  In this book he repeats a number of things that are, well, worth repeating.  The Bible isn’t history, and it isn’t science, two disciplines that had not been developed in the modern sense when scripture was written.  It is rather the product of pre-scientific cultures (note the use of the plural) whose basic assumptions were foreign to the positivism that has come to dominate modern thought.  Therefore we are bound to misunderstand scripture if we read it through the lens of our worldview. Indeed, only when we seek to understand the cultures out of which it came can we hope to grasp what it is saying to us now.  He also wonders out loud why these basic facts, long taught in mainline seminaries, are not more widely proclaimed in the mainline churches. It’s a good question. He is correct as well when he ascribes at least part of the decline of the institutional church to the increasingly common conviction that since we can’t take the bible literally it isn’t relevant and therefore the only way to restore the importance of scripture is to rediscover how to read it and to appreciate the truth it tells us from a different perspective. Spong’s expressed desire is to reacquaint an increasingly secular society with the power and truth of scripture and in this light he summarizes his perspective, and the purpose of this book this way, “I am not the enemy of the Bible.  I am the enemy of the way the Bible has been used….I want to take my readers into this Bible in a new way.  I want to plumb its depths, scale its heights and free its insights from the debilitating power of literalism.” A laudable goal, even if stated with some bombast.

Sadly, this book suffers from the same defect as most of his other work — Spong’s need to launch attacks on a wide variety of people whose only offense is to find value in the forms of worship and kind of theology he no longer sees as helpful.  Three examples will have to suffice for the multitude that chokes this book nearly to death.  Early in the book he describes the procession of the gospel found in many churches of the catholic tradition as “folderol.”  In his chapter on Micah he can’t resist a gratuitous slap at the common custom of having a time for announcements in church.  “Sometimes these announcements are overt,” he tells us, “while at other times they are camouflaged under the guise of prayer.”  “Camouflaged?”  What is that about?  Not content with this insult, he goes on to assure us that, “These public displays serve to remind people that they are not forgotten and to massage delicate egos.” Really?  Is there no other reason for announcements than this? He also demonstrates a mastery of the Ad Hominem argument.  In his chapter on “The Prophetic Principle,” Spong reminds us that Martin Luther King Jr. was wiretapped by ,“none less than J. Edgar Hoover, Federal Bureau of Investigation head, who we now know as a deeply closeted and self-denigrating homosexual.”  Yes, we do now know that Hoover was gay, but why the psychologizing, and what does that have to do with anything?  What he conveys by all this is not a clear, convincing and courageous argument, but a smug self-righteousness that by the end of the book becomes intolerable.

The bulk of “Re-Claiming the Bible is a survey of the biblical books.  It is dotted with poor and outdated scholarship.  He is certain Daniel belongs in the Apocrypha, which  demonstrates a misunderstanding of how the Apocrypha came to be, and also ignores the value ascribed to this book by Judaism, which placed it in the wisdom literature of the Hebrew Bible, where it belongs, rather than among the prophetic books, where it doesn’t.  He is also surprisingly conservative – remarkable in itself – and shows no knowledge of the work of Thomas Thompson and the Copenhagen school, nor of John Van Seter, both of whom as early as the 1970s destroyed the thesis that the patriarchal narratives have any history in them at all.  The effect is embarrassing; he presents as settled facts theories that were largely debunked more than 30 years ago in the very scholarly circles he wants more widely advertised.

When he comes to the New Testament he can’t resist repeating his oft stated conviction that the theology of St. Paul is best understood only after we realize that he was — evidently like J. Edgar Hoover — a “self-denigrating homosexual.”  Again, it isn’t enough to know that Paul was gay; it is the psychology of Paul that is crucial, for according to Spong the apostle hated himself.  This tendentious thesis depends upon a truly remarkable discussion of Paul’s use of the term member, and an often repeated and certainly mistaken understanding of the seventh chapter of Romans.  The result is a complete misunderstanding of Paul’s theology.  Paul’s argument is not that he tried to be good and couldn’t.  Paul’s argument is that he tried to be good and succeeded, but it didn’t get him what he wanted, life with God.  Paul’s theology does not dwell on how we feel about ourselves subjectively, whether we harbor good or bad feelings about ourselves.  Paul is concerned about how we actually stand before God, regardless of our personal feelings about ourselves.  Spong and many others seem not to understand that Paul is arguing that the cross wakes us up to our true position before God and thus destroys our subjective sense of righteousness and supplants it with the true righteousness that is ours as a gift of grace.  As a matter of fact Paul’s own personal testimony is that he felt plenty good about himself, all the time, and that he discovered in light of the cross that this personal sense of righteousness was driving him away from, rather than toward, the God he so longed to serve.  It is fine to feel good about yourself, by the way, just don’t imagine your subjective feelings describe your true position.   I disagree with the critics of Spong who declare that the “Paul was gay” thesis is preposterous.  It isn’t preposterous, though I too don’t believe it.   It is rather that it cannot be proven, depends upon a misreading of a crucial text, has nothing to do with Paul’s gospel and therefore distorts altogether what Paul is saying.  Yet Spong hangs on to this notion for dear life, much to the detriment of this book.

In the end the book is not unrelievedly terrible, but unless you are ideologically wedded to his perspective, or hate him enough to search his books for more ammunition against him, this one isn’t worth reading.

Celebrating Epiphany by bringing light to West Central

By Tracy Simmons

Rev. Liv Larson Andrews speaks at Epiphany Celebration in West Central/Tracy Simmons - Religion News Spokane

Many residents may think West Central Neighborhood is disadvantaged.

A 46-year-old man was shot to death there a month ago. Neighborhood Scout labeled it as low-income, and there are 19 registered sex offenders living within a 5-block radius of Salem Lutheran Church.

Rev. Liv Larson Andrews, however, doesn’t see it as destitute. She sees God’s light in the neighborhood, she said. And on Friday night her church, Salem Lutheran, hosted an Epiphany celebration designed to remind the West Central community of just that.

“Today is the Feast of Epiphany, when we celebrate that God’s light is manifested in every place, and especially in any location that’s struggled with darkness or dimness,” she said. “Every location has its darkness.”

Through a bonfire and lantern ceremony about 25 people gathered in the church courtyard, formed a circle around a small campfire and sang songs to conclude the Christmas season.

Homemade lanterns held at Epiphany ceremony/Tracy Simmons - Religion News Spokane

“We have lit this fire because Jesus Christ is the light of the world, a light no darkness can overcome,” she said to the crowd. “We’re here to give thanks that the light is returning to the world. We have gathered around this light and we will very soon carry our light to be a witness that God’s love is present in Spokane, in West Central and Browne’s Addition and all the neighborhoods that we live and work.”

With that she lead the group on a short march through the neighborhood, together singing songs and holding handmade lanterns.

Group sings while marching in West Central Neighborhood/Tracy Simmons - Religion News Spokane

Larson Andrews said she wants the neighborhood to know that no matter its reputation, God is still there.

“God loves West Central and all that lives here, the people, the critters, the land itself,” she said.

Several members from All Saints Lutheran, a nearby church, also attended the ceremony.

Rev. Alan B. Eschenbacher said Epiphany is too often overlooked. It’s a time to reflect on God’s presence and the interconnectedness that all people share, he said.

“Sometimes we need to stop and recognize the light that’s there to shine,” he said. “Plus, who doesn’t like to gather around a fire?”

View more images in our Epiphany Celebration photo album.

Gays welcome: local church becomes open and affirming

By Tracy Simmons

It’s been a long and difficult conversation.

For two decades the Pacific Northwest Conference United Church of Christ tabled the gay issue. Should homosexuals be welcomed into the church? Should they be allowed to marry? Participate? Be ordained?

Until last year no one could agree.

Rev. Linda Crowe, of Veradale United Church of Christ, has been rooting for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT), rights the whole time.  It’s no wonder her voice rings with excitement when talking about her congregation’s recent decision to become open and affirming.

“I recognized as we were going through this process that it was sacred work,” she said. “And I was aware that what we were doing was historic in the life of the church.”

For 17 years she’s served as the pastor the Spokane Valley church and said in that time she’s watched the 100-member congregation evolve into a social justice machine.

At a leadership retreat last year church members agreed on a new mission statement for Veradale UCC, “Worshiping God in Christ, welcoming all, working for justice and peace.”

Members noted, however, the mission statement would only work if the church officially became open and affirming.

For years Veradale UCC has had gay members in its pews. Last year it adopted several people from Emmanuel Metropolitan Community Church, a gay church that had to close its doors.

“Why do we have to do this if we’re already welcoming?,” some Veradale members asked.

Crowe said the church’s LGBT members have learned the hard way that some churches aren’t as welcoming as they seem.

“A lot of churches don’t mean it. Their welcome is limited,” she said, adding that some churches won’t allow homosexuals to teach classes, serve on the vestry, etc.

Rev. Mike Denton, conference minister, said going through the open and affirming process makes a loud statement.

“There are several churches that are essentially open and affirming but haven’t gone through the process and I’ve come to recognize the importance of doing it in a public way.”

Carol Ehrhart, president of the Inland Northwest LGBT Center, agreed with Denton.

“Many people in the gay community feel, or have felt, victimized by their church,” she said. “Many people, 20 or 30 years after they left the church, still feel very torn about their beliefs, who they are and how they were created … so when churches do open and up say, ‘Hey we’re affirming, you’re welcome here, we understand you’re God’s creation, you’re the way you’re supposed to be and we accept that,’ it’s a very powerful statement.”

In the UCC decisions come from the ground-up. Denton said major verdicts are up to the congregation, but added that he’s always happy to hear about church voting to open its doors to the gay community.

“Anyone who knows me knows I’m supportive when churches make this decision,” he said.

The open and affirming process, organized by the UCC Coalition for GLBT Concerns, includes several months of discussion groups, workshops and forums. Crowe said her church also studied UCC history.

“We looked at antislavery issues and other social justice issues that the church has been involved in to help frame the conversation about why becoming open and affirming is a social justice issue,” she said.

Though opening its doors to gays and lesbians was the main issue, the congregation took it further by adopting a statement that included people of all ages, genders, gender identities, races, national origins, faith backgrounds, marital statuses, family structures, mental or physical conditions, economic statuses and educational backgrounds.

“Jesus openly affirmed diversity and so do we,” it reads, “We believe all people are created in God’s image and all people are loved equally by God.”

Crowe said Veradale is starting its 101st year as a fresh, new church.

“We’re not wringing our hands worrying how to survive,” she said. “We’re gung-ho about the future.”

In the past year the church has gained 25 new members and didn’t lose any during its open and affirming process. Crowe said some church shoppers are looking for a welcoming church; others may walk out the door when they learn about its progressive stance.

“There are plenty of conservative churches here, plenty of choices for them,” she said.

According to the Affirming Christian Church Directory there are less than a dozen open and affirming churches in Spokane.

The last United Church of Christ congregation in the immediate area to become open and affirming was Westminster UCC in 2005. Rev. Andrea CastroLang, pastor of Westminster, said the process was unnerving. She wasn’t sure if there would be picketers and, just to be safe, the police gave the area some extra attention.

Thankfully, CastroLang said, the church only received some “nasty emails.” She said Spokane has changed since then.

“I think that Spokane’s insular community identity is really changing,” she said. “A lot of folks from other parts of the country are moving to Spokane and it’s changing our demographics in a good way. So now we’ve got a better chance of being an open and affirming city.”

Denton said several UCC churches in the conference are currently going through the open and affirming process.

“The conversation has changed a lot just in the past 10 years,” he said.

Sravasti Abbey welcome home two ordained nuns

By Tracy Simmons
Religion News Spokane

The Sravasti Abbey community in Newport is now home to five official bhikshunis, or ordained nuns.

Ven. Chonyi and Ven. Jigme recently returned from Taiwan, where they participated in the International Triple Platform Full Ordination training and ceremony, making them the fourth and fifth bhikshunis at the abbey.

According to the monastic ethical code (the Vinaya), a community with four or more ordained nuns is authorized to hold special sangha activities. The abbey is now able to host a bi-monthly confession and precept ceremony, known as posadha.

More photos of the sisters’ trip can be seen on the abbey website.