LOS ALTOS, Calif. (AP) – A meeting of leaders of Christian Churches Together, which seeks to create a wider coalition than existing church alliances, decided to cancel the launch of the new organization that was planned for September in Washington, D.C.

The group said the delay would allow further “productive and positive conversation with churches and organizations actively considering joining.”

The chief concern is the lack of participation from major black Protestant denominations, said the Rev. Larry Pickens, ecumenical executive with the United Methodist Church. Pickens said this was one reason his church’s bishops approved only provisional membership in May.

Christian Churches Together has worked since 2001 toward an alliance that for the first time would involve evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholicism in a U.S. ecumenical organization. The alliance also involves white “mainline,” black and Orthodox denominations that are affiliated with the National Council of Churches.

The U.S. Catholic bishops approved membership in the new body last November. To date, 31 denominations and national Christian organizations are committed to the plan and others are considering participation.

Watchdog panel members named

WASHINGTON (AP) – The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has named a new chairwoman and new members to the National Review Board, which the hierarchy established in 2002 to monitor its implementation of reforms to stem priestly molestation.

Bishop William Skylstad appointed as chairwoman Patricia O’Donnell Ewers, a board member who is an educational consultant and was the first woman president of New York’s Pace University. She was previously an administrator at DePaul University in Chicago. Ewers succeeds Nicholas Cafardi, dean of the Duquesne University law school, who is leaving the board.

Skylstad named four new board members for terms running till 2008:

-Thomas DeStefano, formerly executive director of Brooklyn (N.Y.) Catholic Charities and interim president of Catholic Charities USA.

-William McGarry, president of Anna Maria College in Paxton, Mass., and formerly an administrator at Springfield College, Albright College and Rider University.

-Joseph Rhode, a physician in Midland, Texas, who serves on the parallel review board in the San Angelo Diocese.

-Milann Siegfried, a Tulsa, Okla., philanthropist married to industrialist Ray Siegfried, an outgoing board member.

Leaving the board in addition to Ray Siegfried and Cafardi are Alice Bourke Hayes, former president of the University of San Diego, and New York City attorney Pamela Hayes.


Feds say New York village discriminates against Hasidic Jews

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) – The federal government has again sued the Rockland County village of Airmont, alleging that its zoning code violates the religious freedom of Hasidic Jews by prohibiting boarding schools.

The government contends that Congregation Mischknois Lavier Jakov uses boarding schools “minimize outside influences and to intensify the religious learning experience” so the rule prevents something “their faith mandates.”

In 1991, a government lawsuit alleged that Airmont excluded Orthodox Jews by prohibiting prayer services in homes, and the village was forced to amend its zoning code.

U.S. Attorney David Kelley said Monday “zoning regulations that burden religious exercise and discriminate on the basis of religion cannot be tolerated.”

The government is requesting that the ban on boarding schools be declared a violation of the Fair Housing Act and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act; that the zoning code be amended; and that the village be assessed an unspecified financial penalty.

Church that displayed anti-Quran sign quits the Southern Baptists

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) – A congregation whose pastor was criticized last month for displaying a sign calling for the Quran to be “flushed” has left the Southern Baptist Convention.

A phone message at the church in Forest City identified it as “Danieltown Independent Baptist Church” rather than Danieltown Baptist Church.

Lovelace told the Biblical Recorder, journal of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, that criticism from fellow Southern Baptists over the Quran sign was one reason the 55-member church voted to withdraw from the state and Southern conventions.

Lovelace posted a sign reading “The Koran needs to be flushed” in late May, following a report that interrogators at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, desecrated the Quran, including flushing one down a toilet. Newsweek magazine later retracted that story and apologized for errors.

After being criticized by Muslim-American groups as well as Baptists and others, Lovelace changed the sign May 25, saying he didn’t realize how offensive it would be to Muslims. “I apologize and deeply regret that it offended so many in the Muslim community,” he said.

Officials at Nashville, Tenn., offices of the Southern Baptist Convention had no comment on the departure. There is no formal process by which congregations leave; they simply stop contributing.

Russian president congratulates patriarch on 15 years as Orthodox leader

MOSCOW (AP) – Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II celebrated 15 years as leader of the nation’s dominant church, leading a service in a Kremlin cathedral and receiving high praise from President Vladimir Putin.

Alexy, elected by a 1990 church assembly, led a service in Assumption Cathedral, where his predecessors are buried.

In a face-to-face meeting shown on state-run television, Putin thanked the 76-year-old Alexy for “everything you and the Russian Orthodox Church are doing for interfaith harmony and for the spiritual rebirth of our country.”

He said Alexy, whose stint as patriarch began as the officially atheist Soviet Union was collapsing, led the church through tough years when “it was emerging from the ruins.”

Putin also said he would never forget conversations he had with Alexy focusing on “the situation of ordinary citizens of our country.”

Alexy said that “the 15 years that have passed really were not easy, because to revive what was destroyed is not so easy. But we have found the common tasks that we have with the state, with society.” He said that “the church is separate from the state, but not from the people.”

The Russian Orthodox Church claims two-thirds of Russia’s 144 million people.

Church of England hits six-year high in clergy candidates

LONDON (AP) – The number of men and women recommended to train for ordination rose to a six-year high last year, the Church of England announced last week.

The 564 candidates recommended for training last year compared with 505 the previous year.

The church said last year’s total, which included 284 men and 280 women, had been exceeded only twice in the previous two decades, in 1986 and 1998.

The church began ordaining women in 1994, but the number of women selected for training has not yet exceeded the number of men in any year.

Most of those chosen for training do go on to ordination, the church said.

Because of the large number of older clergy, the church still is not ordaining enough candidates to replace all those retiring each year.

“Attracting young people to ordained ministry is key for the church’s present and future mission and ministry,” said Bishop John Gladwin of Chelmsford, who chairs the ministry division. “What young people may sometimes lack in terms of experience they more than make up for in terms of energy and potential.”

World Evangelical Alliance names new chief, sets Canada headquarters

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) – Geoff Tunnicliffe, president of International Teams Canada, was announced as new chief executive officer of the World Evangelical Alliance during the organization’s “global issues summit” here.

Tunnicliffe, formerly resident in Vancouver, British Columbia, is moving alliance headquarters to the Markham, Ontario, offices of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, which is affiliated with the world alliance.

The World Evangelical Alliance is a network of 233 conservative Protestant church groups and ministries in 121 nations.


AP-ES-06-15-05 1218EDT

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