I catch some flak for continuing to bring up issues related to the Diocese of San Joaquin (in any of its 2.5 current incarnations). I can understand why. I'm getting rather tired of the subject myself. And while I am arguably a more-knowledgeable-than-average observer, I am certainly not disinterested. I have friends and former colleagues and former parishioners all over the map there (both literally and metaphorically), not abstractions, but real people whom I know and care about. Looking at it from afar, what has transpired still seems incredibly surreal, and I am in no small amount of grief over the dissolution of what, until a few months ago, was the fabric of my non-domestic life. It hurts. I have dreams about it.
Enough maudlin self-disclosure. How unbecoming. The serious reason why I continue to engage events emanating from what once was "the Episcopal Church in the central third of California" is that they are operate in a microcosm--a model, a laboratory--of the meta-conflict in North American and worldwide Anglicanism. What happens in San Joaquin, and what happens in the wake of what happens in San Joaquin, has wide ramifications, and eventually affects Anglicans everywhere.
The great majority of the diocese, including the Bishop and his staff, contend (and I mean here to pass no judgment on this contention, one way or the other) that they have seceded from the Episcopal Church and been joined to the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone. For the time being, at least, they have taken the real estate, buildings, and financial assets of the diocese and all but nine or ten of its congregations (eight that have remained with TEC, one gone to the AMiA, and one to this point undecided, as far as I know) with them.
In response, the Presiding Bishop has purported to depose Bishop John-David Schofield (declining to accept his resignation), but the deposition was (with no malice aforethought on anyone's part, I believe) thoroughly botched, and there is widespread question as to its canonical validity. In the process, she spurned the good faith overtures of the legitimately elected Standing Committee of the diocese and proceeded to call a special convention, which re-organized the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, electing an interim Bishop, as well as a completely new Standing Committee and Diocesan Council, and rejecting out of hand the complaint of the one real member of the Standing Committee who attended the convention that he had never resigned his office nor acted in any way to abrogate his duties as a presbyter in the Episcopal Church.
All the while, Bishop Jefferts Schori, along with the entire 815 bureaucracy and many bishops, have cloaked themselves in the mantra that "individuals can leave the Episcopal Church, but dioceses and parishes cannot do so." What, then, do they contend happened on December 8, 2007? By their own rhetoric, one would have to surmise that what happened was that the great majority of the clergy of the diocese and the great majority of the elected lay delegates acted at the same time to leave the Episcopal Church ... as individuals, of course.
Leaving aside the obvious problems with such a claim, let us, for the sake of discussion, simply grant it. One would think that--simply for the sake of appearances, to say nothing of legal strategy--it would then be in 815's best interests to establish as much continuity as possible between the "new" DSJ--i.e. the one configured at the Lodi convention of March 29 of this year--and the "old" DSJ, that is, the one that was spun off as a Missionary District from the Diocese of California 97 years ago. One would think that it would be in the best interest of the Presiding Bishop and her counsel to be able to credibly say, "Several individuals have left, but the diocese remains. Look: We have retained eleven congregations, including the three largest ones, representing over half of the average Sunday attendance of the diocese. We have retained the most senior clergy, and six of the eight members of the Standing Committee, who have assured us that once Bishop Schofield resigns or is lawfully deposed, they will step in and perform their canonical duty. The Diocese of San Joaquin is still vital, diverse, and financially viable without any outside help."
The ability to say all of this was within 815's grasp. But, for reasons that I could only speculate about, they looked a Public Relations gift horse in the mouth and sent it packing. They rejected continuity, and chose instead to confect a new DSJ out of whole cloth, with only a little decorative embroidery from had come before. The fact that there is not the shred of a canonical basis for doing what they have done seems to count for nothing; what's new is new and what's done is done. The rule of law has been thrown under the bus of expediency.
The irony in all of this, and the actual point of this post, is that, in rejecting the path of maximum continuity, maximum numerical strength, and maximum credibility in the eyes a watching Anglican world, 815 has undercut its own Prime Directive that "only individuals can leave." By their actions in electing to start over from scratch, they have tacitly admitted that the Diocese of San Joaquin did, in fact, leave the Episcopal Church. Why else would they have taken such pains to invent a new one--a new one that is every bit as ideologically monochrome as they accuse the old one of being, a new one that has retained not even a vestige of institutional or administrative continuity with the old one, and a new one that is wholly dependent on 815's financial largesse and will, in effect, be a client diocese for as long as it is allowed to exist?
Apparently, dioceses can leave the Episcopal Church. One just did, and they made a new one to replace it.