FACT 2008: On September 9, the Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership (CCSP) released a first look at the new Faith Communities Today 2008 (FACT2008) survey of American congregations.
Faith Communities Today (FACT) is an interfaith research study that provides information on all aspects of congregational life – worship, conflict, leadership, growth, finances, technology, and more. The FACT series of national surveys of American congregations was launched in 2000 with the largest survey of congregations ever conducted in the United States with information from 14,301 local churches, synagogues, parishes, temples and mosques. The 2010 survey will be similar in size. The intermediate surveys of 2005 and 2008 have been more modest in size: the FACT 2008 survey is based on responses from 2527 congregations.
FACT 2008 does not offer an encouraging picture of religion in the United States:
The clear and consistent short-term direction is negative – including worship attendance growth, spiritual vitality and sense of mission and purpose. And as suggested by the eight-year decline in financial health, it is a likely that the broader erosion of vitality dates to at least 2000. What makes this even more sobering is the fact that this pattern of decline, here shown for American congregations as a whole, also holds within each of FACT’s four primary faith families -- oldine Protestantism, Evangelical Protestantism, Catholic and Orthodox, and Other World Religions with few exceptions.
Complete results from FACT 2008 will be released October 15.

Monkey or Messiah: The Fall, 2009 Lay Bible Institute at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis will present Mankind's Origin: Monkey or Messiah (Implications for Christian Witness in the 21st Century).
The course will explore Darwinism, its relationship to biomedical research, and its implications for the biblical foundation of creation, family, procreation, and the stewardship of the universe.
The course will also examine political issues that have emerged around the teaching of Darwinian evolution in schools. Other theories of the origin of mankind such as Panspermia and Theistic Evolution will be introduced.
The presenter is Concordia faculty member Dr. Robert Weise, professor of practical theology and The Lutheran Foundation of St. Louis Chair in Pastoral Ministry and the Life Sciences.
Designed for laypeople, the institute sessions meet 7 to 9 p.m. on four consecutive Wednesdays in October: 7, 14, 21, and 28, on the seminary's campus in St. Louis.
Registration for the Lay Bible Institute is $30 and includes materials and refreshments. For more information, or to register, call the seminary at 314-505-7486 or send an e-mail to ce@csl.edu.

The Oakland Four: A reader sent us this link to a 2-part video interview on Youtube featuring Pr. Jack Cascione of Redeemer Lutheran Church

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Pr. Sophie is all a-Twitter. Again.
Pr. Sophie's Tweets:

    Hot Dish Hotline: "We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard." What have you seen or heard that other people really need to know about? Use the Hot Dish Hotline to submit your item online.

    in St. Clair Shores, Michigan and four women from Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Oakland California.
    The subject of the interview is a crisis in the Oakland congregation that has resulted in a law suit: at issue is the question of who has the right to decide the fate of the congregation and the disposition of its property. The four women interviewed by Pr. Cascione are named as defendants in the suit: Sharon Bowles, Mary-Ann Hill, Portia Ridgeway, and Celia Moyer. Plaintiffs in the suit are: Ron Lee, Naomi Gatzke, Joseph Thompson, Jr., Miriam Thompson, Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, and The California-Nevada-Hawaii District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.
    We have not heard all the parties involved, and the circumstances surrounding the law suit are complicated: we will not attempt to summarize them.
    Asked to visit the congregation for worship on September 13, our far-flung reporter noted that there were fifteen people in attendance (including two visitors). The small congregation gathered near the front of a sanctuary that could seat 500. A lay minister presided over a service of the Word and delivered an honest, heart-felt sermon. Following the service, greetings and introductions were shared among all present. All of the defendants were present. To the best of our reporter's knowledge, none of the plaintiffs was in attendance.

    October Equality March: On July 9, 1868, the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified and granted citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States." The 14th amendment also forbids states from denying "any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of its laws." By directly mentioning the role of the states, the 14th Amendment greatly expanded the protection of civil rights to all Americans and is cited in more litigation than any other amendment.
    On October 10-11, 2009, the National Equality March will be held in Washington, D.C. to make the statement that now is the time for full equal rights for LGBT people in all matters governed by civil law in all 50 states. Participants are encouraged to register with and connect with local organizers.

    The Flying Saint: September 18, The Catholic News Agency reminds us, is the day the church honors St. Joseph of Cupertino (1603-1663), the patron saint of both air travelers and students taking exams.
    At the age of seven, Joseph began having mystical visions which were a constant distraction throughout his childhood. As he grew, it became evident that he was a poor student, but he was admitted to the priesthood after the examiner happened to question him on the one topic he knew well.
    Assisting with a procession in honor of St. Francis on October 4, 1630, Joseph suddenly became airborne and hovered above the crowd. When he eventually descended, he ran away and hid.
    Joseph's flying episodes became more frequent, and it became evident that he could not control them: hearing the names of Jesus or Mary or praying at Mass, he would go into dazed state and soar into the air, remaining there until a superior commanded him under obedience to return to earth.
    In 1638 he was investigated by the inquisition in Naples, and though cleared, spent the rest of his life in seclusion. He was canonized in 1767 by Pope Clement XIII.

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