A reason to unite

Most people don’t even have shoes in Bishop Anthony Poggo’s Anglican diocese in southern Sudan. His people in the Diocese of Kajo Keji struggle with hunger, malaria and the aftermath of a half-century of war. But in a living example of Jesus’ teaching that the way to gain one’s life is to lose it, Episcopal Bishop Paul V. Marshall of Bethlehem, and with the 16,000-member diocese in Pennsylvania are finding their lives saved by the people of Kajo Keji.

Michael Duck of the Morning Call in Allentown, Pennsylvania, writes in a Sunday front page story:

While other parts of the Episcopal Church have fractured over questions about ministering to homosexuals, Marshall’s mission to help Poggo’s diocese has unified the Diocese of Bethlehem, which includes 14 counties in eastern and northeast Pennsylvania.

Instead of focusing on controversies or on pricey construction projects, Marshall’s diocese has come together to raise more than $2 million in pledges in just a few months to help its sister diocese of Kajo Keji.

Marshall also has led by example, saying experiences in Sudan inspired him to delay his retirement, downgrade his car, and live more simply so his family could pledge $53,000 to the campaign.

“What you are doing is giving us hope,” Poggo told the hundreds of delegates Friday at Bethlehem’s 136th Diocesan convention. ”Thank you very much for your sacrifices to your brothers and sisters, [bringing] hope to a people who have known nothing but war, poverty and disease.”

“I don’t know where our diocese would be without Kajo Keji,” Marshall said. “We have been changed and mobilized by that connection.”

The Morning Call contrasts this relationship to the usual stuff that makes headlines about the Episcopal Church and African Anglicans.

Poggo and Marshall’s dioceses are both part of the Anglican Communion, a confederation of churches that grew out of the Church of England.

Other African bishops in the worldwide group have denounced the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Communion’s American branch, for consecrating an openly gay bishop in 2003. Some African bishops have allied themselves with breakaway conservative American parishes that agree the Bible forbids homosexual relationships.

On Sept. 25, Episcopal bishops responded to an ultimatum from Anglican leaders by saying the church wouldn’t consecrate more gay bishops or bless any same-sex unions. Marshall, who supports a larger role for gays in the church, didn’t vote for the statement.

But those tensions don’t affect the friendship between Poggo and Marshall, who acknowledge the conflict in the world church but see other issues as more pressing.

”When a person is dying because of lack of food,” Poggo said, the American branch’s stance on homosexuality ”is not really a concern.”

Marshall and his wife, Diana, first visited Kajo Keji in 2005, when a peace agreement halted the decades of civil wars that followed the country’s independence in 1956. The fighting pitted Arab Muslims from the north of Sudan against blacks from the south, including many Christians.

”We had the privilege of being with refugees [from Kajo Keji] on the day the peace treaty was signed,” Marshall said, ”and that is a celebration I shall not ever forget.”

”To us, when we pray, ‘Give us this day our daily bread,’ we mean it!” Poggo said during his sermon at the Bethlehem convention’s worship service Saturday. ”You cannot preach to a person who is dying and does not have food.”

Read: The Morning Call: A Reason to Unite

See a photo of Bishop Anthony and Bishop Paul at the altar together in Bethlehem, PA, here.

This is what Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori wrote to the Diocese of Bethlehem.

I believe that New Hope is representative of the bountiful harvest that comes from global relationships. It is the end result of a longstanding partnership between the Diocese of Bethlehem and the Diocese of Kajo Keji in the Sudan. Such dynamic relationships have the power to transform our priorities and renew our sense of mission. Indeed, they have the power to reawaken that spirit of generosity and compassion that characterizes new life in Christ.

I give thanks for the caring individuals and communities who have already contributed to New Hope’s capital campaign …

Find out more about A New Hope Campaign here.

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