Saturday, December 29, 2007

Recent Events in San Joaquin

A few of us are avid readers of the Episcopal blogs and websites, but many of our readers are not. For those in the latter group, we offer this background.

For a good summary, visit Father Jake's site. Over in the right-hand sidebar, he has a roundup of news and commentaries on events in the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin; go to the sidebar on the right, scroll down past "Recent Comments" to the section entitled "Previous Posts," and there is a subsection: "The Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin." Or … continue reading below for our attempt to summarize events of the past three weeks.

The people meeting in the diocesan convention of the Diocese of San Joaquin voted this month to leave the Episcopal Church and affiliate, instead, with the Province of the Southern Cone (which encompasses some far-flung parishes in southern and eastern South America). In the lead-up to this convention, Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori warned then-Episcopal Bishop John-David Schofield that an affirmative vote would constitute an actionable breach from the Episcopal Church.

Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori has consistently made it clear what will happen to dioceses that pretend to leave the Episcopal Church. In letters she has written to Bishops Schofield, Duncan, and Iker, she has explained the process clearly: For bishops like Schofield (and Duncan and Iker, who seem to be following shortly behind) who pretend to remove their dioceses from the Episcopal Church:
the Presiding Bishop could ask the Title IV Review Committee to consider whether the bishops who have proposed and supported them have abandoned the communion of the Episcopal Church.
Current members of the Title IV Review Committee are Bishop Dorsey Henderson of Upper South Carolina (president), Bishop Suffragan Bavi E. Rivera of Olympia, Bishop Suffragan David C. Jones of Virginia, Bishop C. Wallis Ohl Jr. of Northwest Texas, the Rev. Carolyn Kuhr of Montana, the Very Rev. Scott Kirby of Eau Claire, J.P. Causey Jr. of Virginia and Deborah J. Stokes of Southern Ohio.

The letter continues:

If the Presiding Bishop presented materials to the Review Committee regarding potential abandonment by those bishops, and if the Committee agreed that abandonment had taken place, the bishops would have two months to recant. If they failed to do so, the matter would go to the full House of Bishops. There is no appeal and no right of formal trial outside of a hearing before the House of Bishops.

If the House concurred, the Presiding Bishop could depose the bishops and declare the episcopates of those dioceses vacant. Members of congregations in the diocese remaining in the Episcopal Church would be gathered to organize a new diocesan convention and elect a replacement Standing Committee, if necessary.

An assisting bishop would be appointed to provide episcopal ministry until a new diocesan bishop search process could be initiated and a new bishop elected and consecrated.

A lawsuit would be filed against the departed leadership and a representative sample of departing congregations if they attempted to retain Episcopal Church property.

The San Joaquin convention nonetheless voted on December 8 to secede from the Episcopal Church and become members of the Province of the Southern Cone. The Episcopal Church responded here.

Many of us continue to scratch our heads, wondering how a region that is so obviously within the borders of the U.S. could suddenly pretend that is now within South America. TEM's Tom Woodward highlighted the incongruity of this move in his "Plastic Man" essay.

Shortly after that convention, ENS reported that former bishop Schofield was threatening to close any missions that didn't support him – or whose vicars didn't support him – at the diocesan convention. In a December 11 story, ENS reported that mission congregations were being threatened by Schofield. That story is here, and Father Jake added commentary here.

Meanwhile, on December 14, Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori wrote to Schofield, asking him to clarify his status, and to declare whether he was or wasn't still a member of the Episcopal Church. Schofield's rather strange response was posted here. Having spoken boldly about the apostasy of the Episcopal Church, Schofield suddenly began mincing words in his official response. Mark Harris analyzed the response.

It didn't take long for former Episcopal bishop Schofield to begin taking action. The vicar of St. Nicholas Episcopal Church (Atwater, CA) had failed to "vote with" the bishop at convention. On December 20, the former Episcopal bishop had threatened the mission church of St. Nicholas with closure, and the vicar wrote to Southern Cone Bishop Schofield, asking him to clarify his intentions. Episcopal Life and Father Jake carried the story. At The Episcopal Majority, we declared Father Risard our hero of the month.

Southern Cone Bishop Schofield did visit St. Nicholas on Advent IV, December 23. Father Risard allowed him to preach and to celebrate the Eucharist on December 23, in an act that strikes us as generous, given that Schofield had taken himself outside the Episcopal Church. No summary can capture the events that occurred during that service. Read the first-hand reports at Father Jake's site here and here. Southern Cone bishop Schofield addressed the congregation after the Eucharist and just before the recessional. He said he had not come to fire Father Risard nor to close the mission, then he announced Father Risard would no longer be paid to serve the mission. Father Risard responded, providing his perspective on events. The most detailed and dispassionate report is available here.

Events escalated on Christmas morning, when Southern Cone Bishop Schofield's Canon to the Ordinary sent an e-mail to St. Nicholas' deacon and senior warden, announcing that Father Risard was fired, that locks were to be changed, that financial control was to be ceded to the diocese of San Joaquin (Southern Cone), and that all records were to be turned over to the diocese. Again, Father Jake provides the best one-stop summary of those events. Several wags have commented on the irony that the priest of St. Nicholas was fired on Christmas day. [Photo at right is courtesy Debbie Noda, The Modesto Bee.]

The deacon of St. Nicholas complied with Schofield's request. Other members of the mission plan to meet offsite tomorrow. It remains to be seen what will happen next. [Edited 12/31, as the senior warden was not involved with the lock-changing et al.]

So far, there has been no official comment or news announcement from the Episcopal Church. It is likely that the church leadership is consulting and working carefully behind the scenes to ensure that our constitution and canons are followed. According to an ENS story on December 11, Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori already has appointed Canon Robert Moore "to provide an ongoing pastoral presence to the continuing Episcopalians in the Diocese of San Joaquin." By all accounts, he was present with the people of St. Nicholas last Sunday.

Father Jake has provided this compendium of sites that have reported or reflected on the San Joaquin developments. As he observes, so far, most sites on the "right side of the aisle" have been strangely silent on this story.

Since the secession vote was taken in San Joaquin, Father Jake has been the "one-stop" source for news and information about developments there. We encourage you to visit there for up-to-date information.

What can Episcopalians do in the light of all this?

With all that is occurring within San Joaquin, this much is clear: It's going to take a great deal to support the Episcopal Church in this region. One organization is taking the lead in working with the leadership of the Episcopal Church, and that is Remain Episcopal.

First and foremost, pray for the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin. Episcopalians there will need comfort, strength, discernment, and wisdom.

Second, send a tangible note of support via their website, as The Episcopal Majority – like many other individuals and organizations – have done.

Finally, the tasks facing the diocese will require considerable financial support. You can make contributions (via their 501(c)(3) organization) to Remain Episcopal at:

Remain Episcopal
2067 W. Alluvial
Fresno, CA 93711


Blogger SUSAN RUSSELL said...

Well done, Lisa! Great summary!

12/30/2007 9:51 AM  
Blogger Kirstin said...

Great job, Lisa! Thank you.

12/30/2007 9:19 PM  
Anonymous member of st. nicks said...

Lisa, PLEASE make a note:
The senior warden did **not** comply with the request to change the locks in Atwater. She did not know of the action until after it had already been done. The deacon acted alone in this matter.
We can see how one would be confused, since Schofield addressed the letter to the deacon and senior warden. A deliberate move on his part, I'm sure.
The rest of the story seems to be in order.
Thanks for a great story.

12/31/2007 1:25 AM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Thanks for the correction. I'm changing the text, and apologize for the imprecise story.

12/31/2007 9:05 AM  
Blogger Tobias Haller said...

Keep up the great work on keeping this in the public eye.

12/31/2007 5:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As best as I can understand it:

The diocesan convention of San Joaquin followed its own constitution and canons when it voted – in two successive annual meetings, the last by a 90 per cent majority – to withdraw from the authority of the General Convention.

The convention thinks that the diocese is the basic unit of the church and that each diocese is free to join or leave any association of dioceses.

The authority of the bishop is based on the diocesan constitution and canons.

Acting under that authority Bishop Schofield determined to end diocesan support of St. Nicholas’ mission. The basic decision was made in the spring and was communicated to the vicar and lay leaders of the congregation at that time. At their request the time was extended to the end of 2007, and at that time action was taken.

The vicar and part of the congregation are now meeting in a different place and have rejected the authority of the diocese. They are in formal schism, a situation similar to those in Connecticut, Virginia, Florida, and other parts of California.

I wish success in following Christ’s call to all the clergy and congregations involved in all these places. While I am not personally convinced that the failure of the General Conventions of 2003 and 2006 to take the good advice offered by the Lambeth Conference of 1998 is of necessity church-dividing, I also recognize that others may in good conscience disagree.

Tom Rightmyer in Asheville, NC

1/02/2008 11:19 AM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Tom Rightmyer, there is (I think) a basic flaw in your reasoning. It is simply impossible for a diocese to get kerfluffled and decide to leave its provincial church. Thus, all your other arguments fail.

Alas, today there is no Episcopal bishop in the Diocese of San Joaquin. The see is vacant, its former inhabitant having flown to the Province of the Southern Cone. We shall see what steps the Episcopal Church takes to establish a new bishop in that diocese.

The man who vacated the see had no authority to exercise any authority at St. Nicholas on Christmas Day. His firing of Father Risard has about as much authority as if I had flown in there to fire a priest on Christmas.

You are repeating the "spin" from StandFirm (where you most often comment) when you recount your take on the events at St. Nicholas. I do not believe the facts will back you up. But you have been very, very busy on the progressive Episcopal blogs in the last couple of weeks, and I suppose you think you have some sort of mission.

No, the people of St. Nicholas are not in schism. They are trying to stay within the Episcopal Church, while their bishop is flying off to (and attempting to wrench them into) the Southern Cone and trying to snag them en route. This makes their situation very different from the dissidents in Connecticut, Virginia, etc. The people of St. Nicholas simply want to remain in the Episcopal Church; the people you mention in Connecticut and Virginia are attempting to steal parishes to affiliate with some other part of the Anglican Communion. The difference is vast.

Kindly spare us your crocodile tears. Your postings on other sites make it clear what you believe and where your sympathies lie. Your pretense here is quite transparent.

1/02/2008 9:48 PM  

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