As I long as I've got Creedence Clearwater on the radar screen (see two posts down), I may has well lift another of their song titles for a catchy blog post title.
Today (Saturday) there was an unusual event at the Episcopal Church of St John the Baptist, in Lodi, CA--the northernmost parish of the Diocese of San Joaquin. It began with a celebration of the Eucharist at which the preacher was Bonnie Anderson, President of the House of Deputies. After lunch, the program continued with an address by Mrs Anderson, a moderated panel discussion with questions and comments from the audience, a time of "Sharing the Good News from the Diocese of San Joaquin," and closing devotions.
I was present for the afternoon activities. The event was publicized as "a celebration for the whole diocese." However, it was not planned or executed in consultation with any of the official leadership bodies of the diocese, and the Bishop received personal word of it only after the general publicity had gone out. Interestingly, this "celebration for the whole diocese" conflicted with a diocesan choir festival at the cathedral in Fresno. Nonetheless, Bishop Schofield was in Lodi from start to finish, taking his place as a member of the audience, and saying nothing publicly. There also seemed to be a number of members of the media present, including a representative of Episcopal News Service. I would estimate that there were around 200 people in the room, but I could be off on that. Most seemed to be from the host parish, and the two other parishes in the dioceses that are affiliated with Remain Episcopal (connected with Via Media), the organizer of the gathering.
First, I need to say that nothing in this post is intended to be personally critical of Bonnie Anderson. I have high regard for her dedication, her faith, and her skill as a leader. She is winsome and really quite charming. I like Bonnie Anderson.
In her afternoon address, she began her remarks with "My name is Bonnie Anderson, and I am an Episcopalian!" A long (though not totally unanimous) standing ovation ensued. So much for the gathering being non-political, as I had been assured by one of its organizers. Then she laid out a vision for a church in which all the baptized take their ministry seriously, whether lay or ordained. She offered a brief account of the founding of the Episcopal Church. It was inaccurate in several details, but we can cut her some slack--it was a long day. I found it noteworthy that she made not the scantest mention in this context of the Church of England and the strong deference that is given to the Church of England in the founding formularies of our church. Maybe I'm hypersensitive, given that our relationship to the C of E and the other churches derived from it is a matter of some discussion these days. She then proceeded to explain how General Convention is organized and how it functions. She reminded the group that social ministry is not an option, but a mandate flowing from the commandment to "Love your neighbor as yourself." All well and good.
Before she was finished, though, the PHOD found an opportunity to express her disappointment at the action the San Joaquin convention took last December in approving the first reading of a constitutional change that removed all reference to the Episcopal Church. (Remember, +John-David is not only in the room, but in the first row of seats, just a few feet away from Bonnie.) In this context, she reiterated what can only be described as the "party line," to wit: People can leave and return to TEC as they see fit; dioceses and parishes cannot.
Next came the panel discussion. Bonnie, of course, was on the panel, as was the host rector, Father Rick Matters. Also serving were Michael Glass, a Bay Area attorney who works with the House of Bishops' Task Force on Property Disputes, Cindy Smith of St Paul's, Bakersfield (yes, Mark Lawrence's parish) and President of Remain Episcopal, and Nancy Key of Holy Family, Fresno, representing Via Media USA. There was no actual "discussion" between the panel members, all of whom represented the same point of view; rather, the floor was immediately opened to questions from the audience.
I won't attempt to give a comprehensive account. Suffice it to say that it was an exercise in the politics of demagoguery, by which I mean that complex questions were consistently given simple polarizing answers. For example, Q: "What will happen to ECCO [our diocesan conference center, including an outdoor columbarium] in the event the diocese leaves TEC?" A: (from lawyer Glass) "Don't worry. Since dioceses can't leave TEC, ECCO will stay with TEC." That may or may not happen. But an awful lot of billable hours will be rung up before anything happens, and California court decisions so far should be causing heartburn at 815 Second Avenue. Presuming Mr Glass is not stupid, one can only conclude that he was being intentionally misleading. He was protecting the interests of his client, as he should, but the questioner was ill-served.
Someone else asked, "When will the litigation begin and how much will it cost?" Fr Matters prevented this one from even getting to the attorney, who would have been obliged to dodge it anyway. "Let's just pray it doesn't come to that." Well...yeah. Let's do that. But was he suggesting that we pray that there is some sort of amicable non-litigious settlement? A nice thought, but not one that seems realistic in view of recent events in Virginia and slightly less recent events in southern California. Or perhaps my friend and colleague was suggesting that we pray for San Joaquin to step away from the briefcase containing the launch codes. That would be a worthy petition, one that, personally, is my prayerful hope. But it's difficult to reconcile such an intention with the fact that within the same booklet that contained the texts and music for the morning liturgy (for this non-political event), there is a page dedicated to Remain Episcopal's "Vision and Goals for 2007." One of the objectives stated there is to "preserve all congregations and their properties in the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin" (read, the continuing post-Schofield Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin). Another is to "lay the groundwork to plant at least one new congregation in 2008." Since when are para-church groups like Remain Episcopal in the church-planting business? Is that not rather outside their portfolio? What happened to the discipline of the Episcopal Church, which assigns this activity to dioceses and parishes? Elsewhere is a reprinting of a letter from Fr Matters to his parish in which he makes mention of preparing for a "smooth transition to a new bishop." I don't think he means "when Bishop Schofield retires."
My point is this: It sounds like Remain Episcopal, with the implicit endorsement of the "national church" (an amalgam that includes the Presiding Bishop, the Church Center staff, the PHOD, the Executive Council, and the CCABs (committees, commissions, and boards) is pretty much assuming that the split is a done deal. It's their privilege to do so and they may be right. But, if that's the case, let's not have any patronizing talk about reconciliation and it not coming to "that." It is difficult to escape the impression at times that they want things to "come to that." If so, then they are in the same dubious moral boat as those "conservative" bishops who--I have it on good authority--voted for Katharine Jefferts Schori for Presiding Bishop in the hope that her election would speed the process of Anglican realignment on its way. The rabid secessionists in San Joaquin and the Episcopalian corporatists of RE will have made common cause. Politics does indeed make strange bedfellows.
I've made no secret of the fact that I've got serious qualms about the proposed constitutional amendment. We are letting our viscera rather than our brains control our behavior. In my ideal world, we would, as a diocese, step back from the brink, develop a little godly patience, and let events take their course in an organic manner. We will eventually get what we want, but we will have come by it honestly. Speaking realistically, I don't think there's much chance of that happening, but I continue to hope. In any case, events like today will not make my work, and the work of those who stand with me in this place, any easier. We need the rhetoric to cool down on all sides.