’You are the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin’: hundreds offer support at ’Moving Forward, Welcoming All’ celebration
Hundreds of people—from as far south as San Diego and as far north as Seattle—packed the historic Church of the Saviour in Hanford January 26 in joyous celebration and support for remaining Episcopalians who are “Moving Forward, Welcoming All” and claiming their status as the official Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin.
“You are the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin,” House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson told more than 350 people amid sustained applause and a standing ovation. The Saturday gathering was organized by Remain Episcopal, a group of Episcopalians who are reconstituting the diocese after 42 of 47 congregations voted to leave The Episcopal Church (TEC) at a December 8 convention.
Cindy Smith, president of Remain Episcopal, said the organization has received generous financial, liturgical and emotional support from all over the country, including from clergy from across the nation who willing to serve congregations on an interim or permanent basis.
Organized in 2003, Remain Episcopal is “planning for the day we cease to exist, a day the renewed leadership of the Fresno-based Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin can once again continue the reconciliation, work and mission of the church,” said Smith, who called for patience as the way forward as communities of faith continue to form and grow and the future of the Central Valley churches continues to unfold.
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori sent both written and videotaped greetings to the gathering. “We expect to work next to clarify the status of members of the clergy in the Diocese of San Joaquin, and the status of any former diocesan leaders who wish to remain in The Episcopal Church,” she wrote in a letter read by the Rev. Canon Bob Moore, the designated interim pastoral presence for the diocese.
Jefferts Schori added that financial and other support is forthcoming. “We are already working to ensure continued salary for mission clergy who were recently removed from their posts by John-David Schofield,” she wrote. “We will similarly work to continue diocesan functions such as ensuring insurance coverage for congregations and clergy.”
Focused on the way forward
Jefferts Schori and others focused on the future, sessions available to online viewers through streaming video coverage, at: www.episcopalchurch.org/elife
“Once the ultimate status of John-David Schofield is adjudicated by the House of Bishops, and if he is deposed, I will seek to gather the remaining members of the Diocese in a special convention to elect new leadership and make provision for an interim bishop. I will work with diocesan leaders to clarify ownership of the personal and real assets of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin,” the Presiding Bishop’s letter said.
On January 11, Jefferts Schori inhibited Bishop John-David Schofield of San Joaquin from continuing to serve after a Title IV review committee determined he had abandoned the communion. He has the options of recanting his position, renouncing his orders or declaring that the Title IV assertions are false.
If a majority of bishops concur with the Title IV review committee’s findings during the March 7-13 House of Bishops meeting at Camp Allen in Navasota, Texas, the Presiding Bishop will depose Schofield and declare the episcopate of the San Joaquin diocese vacant.
While acknowledging that there may be “bumps in the road” Jefferts Schori declared that TEC seeks “the continued functioning, new growth, and renewed flourishing of the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of San Joaquin.”
House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson also advised the gathering to work for reconciliation while exercising humility and reaching out to others, adding: “It’s not going to be real easy for the next little while.”
“This process of reconciliation will take courage,” she reminded participants. "People will need to truly reach out to each other in the name of Christ. I encourage those present to reach out to others in the diocese who are struggling with their decision. Be open and encouraging, including everyone. Some people will need to let go of newly-found power. Some people will need to let go of long-held power.
“Safe places for conversations and safe ways of talking together will need to be developed. Everyone must be committed to this work.”
Remaining Episcopalians face complexity and chaos, she said. Some are willing to litigate to keep church property while others aren’t. Still others “voted to remove the Episcopal Church from the diocesan constitution but have now indicated they are willing to stay, and some who are simply on the fence, … some have disavowed themselves and no longer consider themselves Episcopalian. A fifth group of people simply want things to get back to normal so they can worship without all this disagreement.”
Anderson’s remarks followed a rousing worship service during which the Rev. Canon Robert Moore, who was appointed as the interim pastoral presence for remaining Episcopalians, presided and served as homilist.
“It is wonderful to look out here and see so many faces,” said Moore who told the gathering they are in the process of recreating and reforming a “new and wondrous” church. “It’s happening as we speak,” he said amid hearty applause.
“We are not establishing a new Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, we are celebrating, worshipping and working for the continuing Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin. You are the Episcopal Church in this part of the world,” he said.
National, provincial leaders help to ’sing a new church’
The theme of inclusion and joyous celebration extended throughout the Eucharist and subsequent morning program. Michael Gardner, director of Music Ministries for the Remain Episcopal Bakersfield Faith Community, offered hymns such as “All Are Welcome” and “Sing a New Church.”
National and provincial representatives also attended the gathering. Executive Council members Dottie Fuller of the Diocese of El Camino Real and Hisako Beasley, of Seattle, were on hand to offer support.
“It’s important to be here, to offer support,” said Fuller, who added that she spent the night in a motor home in the church parking lot.
The Rev. Charles Ramsden and Holly McAlpen of the Church Insurance Corp. fielded property and other questions. San Rafael attorney Michael O. Glass, who represents several local congregations and individuals, was also a featured speaker during an afternoon question and answer session to which the media was not invited.
Province VIII President, the Rev. Dr. Jack Eastwood, along with provincial coordinator Patricia Erskine, offered information about network ministries and resources available to assist in the rebuilding.
Jane Chynoweth, 87, a parishioner at Christ the King, Riverbank said she was a parishioner at St. Dunstan’s Church in Modesto before it was closed and sold by Schofield in 2005. “I still have questions about what happened to the money he got for it,” she said.
Bill Knutson, a parishioner at St. Paul’s Church in Ventura, in the Diocese of Los Angeles, said he felt it was important to attend the gathering, despite battling snow and inclement weather.
“I represent dozens of people who wanted to be here today,” said Knutson, noting that winter storms had closed roads and that another storm was expected on Saturday afternoon.
Leslie Watson said she had been unchurched since moving from San Jose five years ago, until she discovered the Remain Episcopal Bakersfield Faith Community.
“We were affiliated with St. Philip’s, San Jose, and when we moved to Bakersfield we visited churches there but discovered at the very first meeting it wasn’t anything like what we were used to,” she said.
Joining the Bakersfield faith community changed all that, said Watson, enthusiastic about the gathering’s strong turnout and future prospects. “What we’re doing is historic, avant garde,” she said. "We’re meeting in hidden places like the first century Christians, it’s like Luther nailing the theses to the door.
Meanwhile, the way forward includes organizing donated liturgical and worship resources for developing faith communities and an upcoming March 1-2 workshop on growing the church will feature the Rev. Dr. Dennis Maynard, author of “Those Episkopols.”
Nancy Key, a co-founder of Remain Episcopal, said she’s excited to be part “of rebuilding.” She said the group’s original intention was to prevent a split in the diocese. But, she added, “today represents the beginning of healing between the Diocese of San Joaquin and the national Episcopal Church.”
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