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Notebook Religion

Anglican challenges

Justin Welby (Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images)


New City Church in Springfield, Mass.


Jack Schaap


Anglican challenges

New leader faces a changing church riven by controversy

Justin Welby has become the new archbishop of Canterbury, the clerical head of the Anglican Church, a global Christian communion with approximately 77 million adherents. His appointment followed the naming of Pope Francis to lead the Roman Catholic Church, and Welby faces some similar challenges to Francis, including theological controversies, declining membership in areas of historic strength, and strong growth in places such as sub-Saharan Africa.

Church officials symbolically acknowledged the Anglicans’ new realities during the inauguration at Canterbury Cathedral. For the first time, a woman participated directly in the installation: The archdeacon of Canterbury, Sheila Watson, seated Welby in the cathedral’s diocesan throne. The Anglican Church has struggled to negotiate demands in American and English branches of the church to ordain women and gays, but late last year the Church of England voted against ordaining female bishops, in spite of Welby’s support.

African Anglicans also played a prominent role at the installation, with Ghanaian dancers leading the procession down the cathedral’s aisle. The archbishop of Burundi, a small African nation where about one-sixth of 6 million residents are Anglicans, prayed in French for Welby during the service. 

Branching out

Americans typically see the South as the nation’s Bible Belt and the Northeast as the country’s most secular area. According to a recent Gallup poll, the stereotypes are basically true: nine of the top 10 most religious states are in the South, while the least religious are five New England states, with Vermont the least religious of all. But the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), the country’s largest Protestant denomination, is not allowing the Northeast’s apathy to stand unchallenged. In the past 10 years, the SBC has invested $5 million in church startups in New England, setting aside $800,000 for this year alone. The SBC planted 133 New England churches during the past decade, which represents a 70 percent increase in the number of SBC-affiliated congregations in the region.

Most of these churches do not include “Southern Baptist” in their names. (The desire for a more national appeal led the SBC to permit the use of “Great Commission Baptist” as an alternative church title beginning last summer.) Shaun Pillay, a native of South Africa, pastors Cornerstone International Church in Norwich, Conn., a congregation he and his wife started in 2007. While the church’s name does not carry the SBC label, Cornerstone International openly states on its website that it partners with the SBC and its North American Mission Board. —T.K.

Pastor as predator

A U.S. District Court has sentenced Jack Schaap, 55, former pastor of the 15,000-member First Baptist Church of Hammond, Ind., to 12 years in prison for engaging in a sexual relationship with an underage girl. Schaap pleaded guilty in September and had hoped to receive a lighter sentence. Even if eventually released, Schaap will always have to register as a sex offender.

While admitting that the relationship was inappropriate, Schaap tried to account for his behavior by citing stress and health problems. Prosecutors filed a sentencing document that painted Schaap as actively pursuing the victim, who was 16 when the relationship started. The document states that Schaap had a church member bring the girl to retreats in Illinois and Michigan, where the two met alone, and that in the month prior to the discovery of the relationship, Schaap and the girl texted or phoned one another almost 700 times. At sentencing, Schaap reportedly said that he had convinced himself that he was helping the victim, but that “in trying to be a hero, I became a fool.” —T.K.