Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Rise and Fall of The Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin

In December of 2007 a large part of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin did the unthinkable.  Having spent almost 20 years preparing for a bone-chilling move the then Bishop of San Joaquin, John David Mercer Schofield and about 70 other clergy grabbed as much property and people as they could and headed south, to the province of the Southern Cone.  This made news and horrified everyone, especially the Presiding Bishop of Episcopal Church in the United States and most if not all of the national leaders.  Much like today, no one thought that could possibly happen, but it did.

From December 2007 until March of 2008 several parishes, most notably St. Anne's in Stockton, St. John's in Lodi, Church of the Savior in Hanford, Holy Family in Fresno and Christ the King in Riverbank (along with "faith communities throughout the Valley) were left "hanging".  To quote a Roger Miller song "no phone, no pool, no pets". TEC from December, January and some of February was frozen into a state of immobility.  During this time, in large part due to Remain Episcopal, those left in the Episcopal Diocese continued to be strong in their Episcopal Presence and in the presence of nothing less than a withering attack by people like John David Schofield,  Bill Gandenberger and Van McAlister.  John David had conditioned the newspapers in the valley to assume that the bad guys were those left behind, not those who absconded with the property. 

In March, much to everyone's surprise (except those in the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin) the diocese of San Joaquin was rediscovered by the national church and an interim Bishop was appointed/elected.  While the presiding bishop and several national figures including Bonnie Anderson have visited and become aware of the strong faith-filled Episcopalians still here, little if anything has been done to reinvigorate the diocese. 

The real focus of the diocese has been twofold: 1, recover the stolen property and 2, depose/get rid of those clergy that no longer want to be part of the Episcopal presence.  The one clear exception to that basic mode of operation has been Father Terry Martin and his Red Tent "ministry".

Interestingly enough, remember when the Presiding Bishop appointed someone to do something for the diocese to help them restore things?  Wonder what happened to that?

We are now to a point where the glaring error of our ways is upon us.  Not a dime has been spent on reconstituting the Diocese of San Joaquin and it shows!  The first parish, St. Paul's is (at least in property) due back to the diocese on July 1, 2009.  We as a diocese, that is, parish by parish have an incredible problem.  No one has figured out what to do with these returning parishes.  It is entirely likely that by the end of the summer those Incorporated parishes that left to the So. Cone will be back and by the end of the year those parishes that were "corporate sole" parishes will be back and no one has figured out what to do.  In fact no one is even working on a realistic plan to reconstitute the diocese.  We are "playing everything by ear".  What does this mean?  Specifically Christ the King has struggled to maintain an Episcopal presence here in the community.  St. Paul's will return and St. Paul's is a stones throw from Christ the King.  One other incorporated parish, St. Matthias, also a stone's throw from St. Paul's and Christ the King will return later this year.  There is no way, at this time, that two parishes could really survive let alone all three.  [There is a little more history to this but I will leave that to your  missionary imaginations].  So, what happens, other than the first celebration service back nothing has been planned.  Oh, but get this, the Bishop has asked several members of Christ the King who have some ties to St. Paul's to go back and be vestry members, the organist and generally repopulate St. Paul's.  For you numbers folks, Christ the King ASA is about 95.  Get the picture yet?  Just what do you suppose is going on?  Is this the plan?  Holy crap on a cracker!  For those of you who are still in a quandary, we are rewarding Christ the King for remaining Episcopal by killing it.
This is not just rewarding the prodigal son with a feast.  It is giving the balance of the inheritance to him again.  He squandered it the first time so let's see if he does better this time?  What the heck is that?!

And, is this a unique set of circumstances?  No, there is a similar situation in Fresno and in Bakersfield.  In essence, we have poured our heart and soul into getting our property back and now that it is coming back we have done -  EXACTLY NOTHING!  We have not put one dime into reconstructing the diocese. I guess everybody thought, "we'll take care of it later."  Later is here.

Here is at least one idea.  There is a really good corporate type in Fresno (this priest works for the national church already and would be a facilitator not a chairperson) who could lead groups (primarily lay since clergy once again have a stake in parishes that stay open and parishes that close) of deanery appointed ad hoc committees in establishing norms and setting up strategic plans to reconstitute the diocese upon the return of the various parishes.  Yes, it would take some amount of time, precious as that is, and some money (815 are you listening?) and once the plans were set and approved by the deaneries the plans could come to the convention for "ratification".  Until such time as these plans re completed those parishes that return must stay closed. Sorry, the price one pays for stupidity.  Once the plans are in place then the deaneries would implement those plans as parishes return to the Episcopal Church.  This plan is relatively cheap, it is locally based and it is locally executed and yet can become a role model for the other diocese that will eventually have to face the same issues. Let it be known that without some form of a plan that recognizes and deals with the various issues within the current Episcopal diocese of San Joaquin within a few short years, maybe as little as 18 months we will no longer exist.

I leave you all with this thought: "Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody care?"