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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Some Surprising Statistics

 From time to time I plan to share some pieces from the book I am working with now about rescued animals.  Today's blog is one part of my findings about shelters across the country.  I'll be adding to this in later blogs.

What About Animal Shelters?

Many of the stories in my book describe rescued animals who at some point in their rescue were cared for at animal shelters.  A few statistics gathered by the ASPCA and the Humane Society of the United States will provide some grasp of how many shelters now operate in this country.  At this time, however, there is no official set of statistics on animal rescues or other efforts to protect animals.  Estimates are considered to be in general an accurate reflection of what is being done to rescue and protect animals. 

Of the approximately 5000 animal shelters in communities across the United States, somewhere between five and seven million companion animals are in these shelters each year.  Of these, three to four million, or 60% of the dogs and 70% of the cats, end up being euthanized because of space limits, incurable health issues, and limited adoptions.  How did the animals end up in shelters?  About half were picked up by an animal control unit and half were relinquished by their owners.  Only a very small number, about 2%, were returned to owners, mostly because of IDs of some sort.  An interesting fact is that over 20% of those who leave their dogs in a shelter had previously adopted them from a shelter.  Various reasons caused them to return the dogs.

As far as other ways that pets find homes, it is estimated that most pet owners received their animals from family members and friends as gifts.  About 15-20% of pet owners purchased their pets from breeders.  Rescue adoptions of cats and dogs make up some 10-20%.  These animals as a whole are found in about 63% of American households, constituting around 75 million dogs and about 85 million cats.  Of these, about 75% are neutered, in contrast to only 10% of the animals in shelters.    These figures indicate that there is an overpopulation of stray   pets in this country, with an estimated 70 million stray cats.  Estimates are not as clear about how many stray dogs there are.  Most of these, unfortunately, have not been neutered.  The unfortunate result, of course, is that we now have a large overpopulation of animals without owners.  They for the most part now live miserable lives, unwanted, often abused, ill fed and with many health problems.  We cannot ignore the importance of correcting such situations.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

An Agent of the State of North Carolina?

With the current news stories about the proposed amendment to the North Carolina constitution, in main determining that the only marriages recognized in this state will be those between one man and one woman, I see some problems that such an amendment would cause.  There already is a state law to that effect, but to include it in our constitution brings about some real questions.

For one thing, once something is in the constitution, it is nearly impossible to remove it.  The argument in favor of the amendment alludes to just that fact, because of the fear that having only a state law prohibiting other forms of marriage leaves it vulnerable to change and removal. But the effort to make such an amendment effective is a time-consuming effort, and by the time such an amendment would be included in the constitution the whole public understanding of marriage could have shifted course and we would be stuck with a piece of  concrete blocking our way to better legislation on the matter.  We must be wary of of legislating social order.

Other problems bubble up in this issue.  There would be unintended consequences, related to various domestic arrangements which provide for health care, welfare assistance, and legal matters related to conflictive domestic situations. 

As an ordained minister, I see problems with our whole concept of marriage partnerships which already exist. We needn't add more to the list.  Am I an agent of the state?  Marriages where I was the officiant early in my ministry included a term I don't see now in the Presbyterian ceremony.  It was worded something like this: "by my power as an ordained minister, and with the authority invested in me by the State of North Carolina, I now pronounce you husband and wife."  The words may not have been exactly that, but the meaning was there.  Now, I think: what did the State have to do with my power to officiate in weddings?  If the only authority I had to marry a couple came through my presence as an ordained minister, what business is it of the state?  If on the other hand, the state must be able to recognize me as duly ordained in order to validate that marriage, what role does a religious body play in the marriage vows?  On whose authority is a marriage valid?  That of the State or of the religious tradition?  And what about a non-religious wedding?  Whose authority is active?

Is marriage between two people, in this case a man and a woman in our state, a matter for civil records or for
the religious body if there is one?  Can a civil marriage take place in someone's back yard or must it be in the courthouse?  Why would location matter?  I officiated at one wedding in a hospital room.  Whose authority was active in that setting?

One question that is now added to the conundrums above: is marriage only for one male and one female of a certain age or older?  What, other than societal values, determines that standard?  Is there a hidden agenda here for legalizing only particular forms for a wedding and particular players in the act?  And what legalities are present when two adults are living as married without the ceremony and proper papers issued by the governing authority?  Common law marriage has been an accepted relationship in the past.  Would the marriage amendment outlaw that standard?

When I was ordained, I was ordained to a particular service in my Presbyterian denomination, to promise to uphold the standards of ministry with all people.  Nowhere in those ordination vows was there one about presiding at wedding ceremonies of anyone.  That service was left to my discretion as to my performing it or not.  The State was not the authority for that situation.  What happens to my authority to officiate at weddings if the State regulates just who may partake of that ceremony?

I realize I'm raising a lot of questions here, and many can't fully be answered as yet. On the other hand, I do believe that I am ordained not by the State but by those acting in the name of the Church, the Body of Christ.  For other religions those faith leaders are recognized in the name of their own belief systems.  But I am not an agent of the State in officiating in weddings any more than I would be when I preach, serve Holy Communion, or provide other ministerial services.  The one thing I can say in favor of this matter of an amendment to our constitution about what is legally acceptable for those entering marriage is that it brings to light all the many many questions that relate to the tension between Church and State, or religion and State.  We've just begun this investigation into the whole concept of authority -- whether it be a matter of the authority of the individual
or of the State.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Call

Miss Briggs was my first grade teacher in Hot Springs, Arkansas.  In those days reading bible stories in the public schools was permitted.  She would begin each day with a story from a book of bible stories for children. One of them was the story of Samuel's call in the Temple when he served the old priest Eli.  At that time Samuel was a young boy, and one night he was awakened three times by a voice calling his name.  The first two times he went to the old man to see why he had called.  But Eli denied having done so and sent the boy back to bed.  The third time it happened, however, Eli realized the call to Samuel was coming from God.  He instructed Samuel on what to say should he hear the call again.  He was to respond, "Speak Lord, for thy servant hears."  (This wording dates back to the version as I first heard it.)

Well, for some reason that story hit a chord with me.  I don't remember any of the other stories Miss Briggs read to us that year.  That afternoon after school I was playing in our great big (to me) back yard and thinking about the story.  I heard something that sounded like "Jean! Jean!"  and I immediately answered in what I had learned young Samuel said,  "Speak Lord, for thy servant hears."  But I soon realized it was the sound of a car going by somewhere in the neighborhood.  I kept listening.  Again, I heard what sounded like my name being called and gave the same response, "Speak Lord, for thy servant hears."  This time it was only tree branches rubbing against each other.  One more time I heard my name, and one more time I gave my answer, only to realize it was a shutter on the neighbor's house moving in the wind.  By that time I decided God wasn't going to call me that day, and soon the whole incident was forgotten. . . until I heard the story in my adult years.  It may have been during my Hebrew studies at Duke Divinity School.

So when I was ready at last to be ordained, one requirement at that time was to preach a sermon about my sense of call.  I preached to the congregation in Madison, where we were members. The example I worked with of course was that story Miss Briggs had read to us.   My brother Bill, who was with the Institute of Government in Chapel Hill, came with his wife for the occasion.  He was known for his quick wit, and after the service he turned to me and said, "Jean, I was sitting there in the church and I heard, 'Jean!'  'Jean!'  and I looked around wondering if it was God, but I found out it was Miss Briggs."

Fortunately, the sermon met the requirements, and with the rest of the credentials necessary for ordination I was ordained September 7, 1980 at Hillview Chapel, a Presbyterian chapel under the care of First Presbyterian Church in Reidsville, NC.  I served there two years and then went on for a variety of ministries until my retirement in 1998.  Miss Briggs will remain in my roster of stories about ministry to remind me of the connection between the old old stories and the ones that still take place.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Times Are A'Changin'

It appears that the Vatican is being by-passed by a movement in the Catholic Church led by those who support ordination of women as bishops,priests and deacons, and also ordination of married men.  Despite efforts by the Catholic hierarchy to prohibit such measures, the numbers of women priests continue to rise.  They of course are not part of the Vatican-led Church, but are part of the Roman Catholic Women Priest (RCWP) movement.  The effort to put an end to mandatory celibacy for male priests is also strengthening, along with that for ordaining Catholic women.

Articles in the current issue of The Woman's Pulpit, a publication of The International Association of Women Ministers, of which I am a member, indicate steady increases in the numbers of ordained women in the Catholic Church, via the RCWP.  The initial moment for such action took place June 29, 2002.  Seven women were ordained to the priesthood on a boat in the Danube River, by bishops with authentic credentials and in good standing.  Later ordinations also took place on the St. Lawrence waterway.  Apparently rivers are in a different and neutral category where the strictures of church dogma do not apply.

Today the count runs to around 90 women, ordained in Europe, North and South America, and South Africa. Three of these are now deceased, but their sisters grow in number.  In addition, a number of women have now been ordained as bishops in the RCWP, able to ordain priests.  There are at least 12 women bishops today, serving in several different countries.  They are supported by a number of male priests and bishops who in addition favor allowing clergy to marry.

How does the Vatican deal with this powerful ongoing movement?  Not well.  Last October in Rome representatives of Catholic organizations from around the world called for full and equal participation in the Church by women deacons, priests and bishops.  A vigil led by Father Roy Bourgeois took place in St. Peter's Square, following presentation of a petition signed by 15,000 supporters of the movement.  (Fr. Bourgeois is also known for founding the School of the Americas Watch, and faces dismissal from his Maryknoll order for his support of women's ordination.)  Behind the visible supports in this country we find that 63% of Catholics here also support women's ordination.  That along with removing the celibacy requirement for priests would address in very practical terms the shortage of priests world-wide.  But the Vatican is having none of this.  Their opposition remains in spite of historical documents showing that the early Christian bodies included women deacons, priests and bishops.  Even so, the Rome leadership stands by Canon 1024, prohibiting women's ordination.

It would seem that despite such opposition to the ordination of women and married priests, Catholics around the world are finding ways to by-pass such archaic rules and making it possible for that very large body of Christians to be even more effective.  Life will go on, and if the old order refuses to budge, it will be left behind in the coming decades.

It may appear to some that as a Protestant clergywoman, I don't really have a reason for engaging in and supporting this growing movement.  But as a member of the Body of Christ, which must not be divided in spite of the many different traditions within it, what affects one part of that body affects me.  I remember the difficulties I went through when actively serving in ministry as a woman.  It was always a struggle to be recognized and accepted by some as fully equal in my ordination.  I survived by involvement with communities of ministers, lay and ordained, male and female, who knew that change could not be prevented.  We grew because we had support systems.  And that is how the Catholic women are making their ministries accepted and received with thanksgiving.  The objections, which are extremely strong and vicious, cannot prevail against them.  As a Benedictine Oblate, I have many friends among that community who demonstrate by their gifts that women are strong leaders and believe in ministry as a communal effort.  We wait for the inevitable with great joy and anticipation.