2/02/2009

Good Hope In the Valley of the San Joaquin

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.

5 comments:

  1. Womb of CA: I like that. With its Tule Fogs and rich farmland -- dropping over the Tejon Pass in the Tehachapi Mtns down into the immense, fertile valley -- flanked on either side by the Most Beautiful range of the Sierra and the deceptively gentle coast range --- and then at the North end narrowing down as it merges into the Cascades and passes into the volcanoes of Lassen and Shasta: lots of rockin and rollin.

    I love my state.

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  2. Wow, I love this tribute to the valley of the continuing Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin. The satellite picture is not one I have seen before, and it is quite remarkable. I am glad we shared some of our beautiful winter weather while you were here. (I have to acknowledge that the fog can be treacherous, and can hang in for days.)

    As a continuing Episcopalian in the Diocese of San Joaquin, I will say that our journey has been long and difficult and we know that it continues. It is about differing ideology and who would have thought that would be so important that we would have schism. I joined this church oh, so many years ago because I believed that we were allowed to think; if fact, I believed we were encouraged to think. I knew there were many differing views among those of us who came together at the Communion Table, and I celebrated those very differences.
    The fog is a wonderful metaphor for the recent San Joaquin Episcopal experience. There are a number of us who have taken many steps off and away from the well known path, away from our loved and familiar buildings, into an unknown future, dimly perceived in the beginning. We had no certainty of what was out there, off in the distance. There were familiar lines in the road, the well known prayers of the prayer book that we found in neighboring churches an hour away. There were reassuring lights that appeared along the way, letters of support from other dioceses, bloggers who saw our experience, leaders from the national church who appeared, spread some light, and withdrew to handle other matters. The fog can be treacherous, and can hang in there for days. But it lifts, and we always know that it will. But in the midst of the darkness, it is about knowing there is no other way to go but to continue on in faith.

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  3. Father Mark, what is being done to prevent these types of bishops in the future? The damage is certainly not worth having another elected and approved. Preventing a mess is better than cleaning one up.

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  4. In paragraph 3 you call the area the Episcopal Diocese of California. That diocese is in the San Francisco area, not the San Joaquin valley area.

    Aileen

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  5. Alleen....oops, I got it. Thanks.

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