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Nuns back Obama on carbon rules

Written by Peter Smith on .

Organizations of women religious sisters, including one that's active in Pittsburgh, are backing new, stricter rules on carbon emissions under a plan released by President Obama this week.

The statement by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an umbrella group for most orders of nuns, says in part:

"Climate is a common good given to all and meant for all. Each of us has a responsibility to cooperate with God to protect our common home and to care for all of creation."

 

Both the nuns and President Obama cited Pope Francis' recent encyclical, Laudate Si, calling for urgent action on climate change.

Also endorsing the plan are the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, a Kentucky-based order that has sisters in Pittsburgh from the former Vincentian Sisters of Charity. The orders merged in 2008: 

 

"We acknowledge that for Pennsylvania, which is experiencing much concern around fracking for natural gas, that these regulations pose large challenges for the health of our people," the statement said. "Our hope is that we can all work together to face these challenges for the sake of future generations and our beloved planet."

 

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RIP Nicholas Winton, Holocaust hero

Written by Peter Smith on .

WINTON 1A remarkable era came to an end Wednesday with the death of Nicholas Winton, who rescued hundreds of Czechoslovak Jewish children from death at Nazi hands in the late 1930s and lived long enough to be an enduring witness to what one person can do to resist evil.

Mr. Winton died at 106 in his native Britain. Many had signed petitions asking that this last living "Schindler" be honored with the Nobel Peace Prize, but alas, as the award only goes to living persons, that chance has now passed.

"I did it merely because it had to be done and nobody else was doing it," Mr. Winton told me in 1998 in Prague, when I was working as a freelancer and covered a reunion with many of the graying "children" he had rescued.

He is credited with rescuing 669 children, most of them Jewish, by arranging transports to Britain and Sweden. 

At the time a young stockbroker, Mr. Winton went to Prague at the request of friends who were working with refugees as Czechoslovakia was coming under Nazi occupation. He bent rules, falsified papers and did whatever else he could to enable the escape of children whose parents couldn't or wouldn't leave themselves. He always said he was most haunted by the failure to get the last and largest transport out of the country; the train trip was canceled due to the September 1939 outbreak of World War II.

But to see some of those he rescued, click here for one of the most powerful pieces of television you will ever see (hint: after the 40 second mark).

 

 

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Methodist bishop cites highs, lows

Written by Peter Smith on .

photo 8In his second-to-last address as spiritual leader of Western Pennsylvania's 170,000 United Methodists, Bishop Thomas Bickerton offered a best-of-times/worst-of-times portrait of the denomination's status here.

There are "amazing stories of growth" in some churches, with some new ministries being launched. But at the same time, there are a "growing number of churches that are ending their ministry," he said. "These once vital and independently driven churches can no longer sustain a ministry and maintain a building and are closing their doors."

Some, he said, are closing gracefully, looking for a way to pass the torch to other ministries in their community. Others "can only see their immediate future and are unwilling to discuss how God might use them to usher in a new chapter of what it means to be church in that region."

Bishop Bickerton made the comments in his annual state of the church address before the annual meeting of the Western Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church, taking place this week in Grove City. The denomination has about 800 churches in 23 counties, and it's the largest Protestant body in the seven-county Pittsburgh metropolitan statistical area.

Bishop Bickerton, who was first elected to the position in 2004, is ending his tenure here next year.

He lamented there are cases in some churches of racism and opposition to women clergy, but he took heart that some of them are trying to do better.

He ended with a note of hope, saying he's seen "place after place that, on paper, don't look like they stand a chance. ... Yet they press on, you press on to be the church of Jesus Christ."

 

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Presbyterian membership down 5% again

Written by Peter Smith on .

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) lost 5 percent of its members and more than 100 of its churches to other denominations in 2014, matching both of those figures from each of the previous two years.

Newly released statistics by the church show a membership of 1,667,767, down 5.25 percent from 2013 and 15 percent since 2011. Some 101 churches were dismissed to other denominations, bringing to 359 the number since 2012 with a growing wave of departures.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has well under half the 4.2 million in the mid-1960s when its two predecessor denominations were at its peak, as were several other historic Protestant denominations that have since been in numerical decline. 

Many of the congregations have left to join more conservative Presbyterian bodies in reaction to liberal trends in theology and sexuality, such as the approval of the ordination non-celibate gays and lesbians in 2011. Earlier this year, the denomination also authorized same-sex weddings in its churches nationwide, and the Pittsburgh Presbytery added its assent to that move on Thursday.

While there are plenty of anecdotes of people joining Presbyterian congregations because of their progressive stances, the net result has been in the red.

The membership loss has also been compounded by the denomination's aging membership and low birth rate. 

The statistical report was underscored separately by a survey by the Pew Research Center released on Tuesday that found the denomination dropping to 0.9 percent of the American population in 2014 from 1.1 percent of the population in 2007.

 

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