Executive Council just finished meeting in Stockton, California, in the Diocese of San Joaquin - the real and continuing Diocese of San Joaquin of The Episcopal Church.
The weather was wonderful - cold at night and warm (by Easterner standards) by day. The land is strange, mountains and hills envelope a a giant valley that spreads to the south, the womb of California.
Reports are that the Mexicans are indeed winning the Mexican-American war after all, although the valley is so big and the water so scarce that people see an odd addition to what is otherwise an astonishing work of Nature. The satellite picture gives a sense of this. It's huge. More its is challenging as a place for ministry.
It is here that The Episcopal Church formed a diocese in 1961. It is here that the bishop and a majority of clergy and diocesan delegates determined in 2007 to leave The Episcopal Church. It is here that the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin continues and is experiencing new life.
In the course of his 20 years as bishop of San Joaquin John David Schofield, ne David Mcercer Schofield, succeeded in molding a diocese that was increasingly dysfunctional, paternalistic and disconnected from The Episcopal Church. Following the 2003 General Convention it became clear to some in the Diocese that Schofield was intent on leaving TEC. They formed Remain Episcopal which has worked continue the Diocese as a part of The Episcopal Church. They have succeeded.
The members of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin that I met at Executive Council were alive with the joy of finding a way to be church that was involving of both lay and clergy people, guided by a bishop (Bishop Lamb) whose steady and caring presence was affirming rather than condemning of their efforts to be bishop and people together, and open to the abundance of Grace possible in a sometimes confusing and difficult situation. It is not over yet, but they have moved over onto the road to recovering a sense of being The Episcopal Church in the Diocese of San Joaquin.
Much of what the people continuing the Episcopal Church presence in the Valley had to do was in uncharted territory, both for them and for The Episcopal Church. The canons, the structure of the church on a church-wide level, the possibilities for action by Remain Episcopal and other concerned lay and clergy people, by other bishops or by the Presiding Bishop was not clearly understood.
For a while it seemed they were alone, but then Remain Episcopal began to develop relationships with other groups in dioceses experiencing similar difficulties. Bloggers brought increased attention to the implications of the activities of some dioceses and bishops in the Anglican Communion Network and to the difficulties faced by those wishing to remain in The Episcopal Church. They were not, after all, alone.
In 2006 new leadership in The Episcopal Church joined more actively with them in the effort to continue The Episcopal Church's presence in San Joaquin. The actions of the Diocesan Convention to revise the canons concerning accession to the canons of The Episcopal Church were contested. Schofield was finally deposed in 2008, but not until he had laid claim on all church property in the Diocese and on the funds of the Diocese. A special convention of the Diocese was called to reaffirm the Diocese as part of the Episcopal Church, to provide for episcopal oversight, and to call those who remain as part of The Episcopal Church to new vision and life.
I was delighted to meet a number of the leaders of the Diocese. I also had a chance to meet with a good friend from the blogsphere. They all confirm that the process of remaining Episcopal has both been difficult and a sort of resurrection to new life and hope. That sense of renewal and life was very much present in both their witness and their presence.
On my last morning in Stockton I looked out the window to fog. The valley is often given to fog, and sometimes to smog, but the sun shines through and the fog lifts, and there will be peace in the valley again. Thanks be to God and the good people of the Diocese of San Joaquin.