Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Two Tales of a City

It is perhaps not the worst of times, but it is certainly not the best of times.

I first encountered Stockton, California in 1972, when the woman I would later marry brought me home to meet the parents. (“Home” at the time was actually Lodi, which is effectively a Stockton suburb, and she had lived in Stockton until her mid-teens.) For the next 22 years, it was on my personal radar screen as a place we visited (or at least drove through) regularly as we lived first in Santa Barbara, then in the Salem, Oregon area, then in Wisconsin and Louisiana. In 1994, I accepted a call to become Rector of St John the Evangelist, the historic downtown Stockton parish, and the city became my home for the next 13 years. My mother-in-law still lives there, as do other members of my extended family-by-marriage, to say nothing of a host of friends and former parishioners. It’s still very much on my personal map.

Stockton is part of the “unknown California.” In the Midwest, where I live now, people tend to carry the visceral impression of California as one big beach town, where you can catch rays 365 days a year. The vast central valley—larger than all of New England, draining the San Joaquin River from the south and the Sacramento River from the north—tends to fly under the radar, even to many coastal Californians. Only a few days ago I had a conversation with a resident of Orange County who referred to Stockton as the “armpit of California,” assuming, from its name, that it was a center of the cattle business, imbued with fetid slaughterhouse odors. In fact, Stockton, with its environs, is a population center housing more than 350,000 people. In my now home state of Indiana, it would be the second largest city. There is a highly-acclaimed private university there, a fine symphony orchestra, and a bunch of other cultural amenities. Yes, lately, it’s also been Foreclosures R Us, but that’s a passing factoid.

St John’s Church is (was?—that’s kind of what this post is about) the third-oldest Episcopal congregation on the west coast, founded in 1850. In 1911, the San Joaquin Valley was spun off by the Diocese of California (centered in San Francisco, 80 miles to the west) and became the Missionary District of San Joaquin. Some fifty years later, San Joaquin became a full-fledged diocese of the Episcopal Church, and St John’s was long its northern anchor (St John the Baptist, Lodi being the actual northernmost congregation), which stretches 200 miles south to Bakersfield and then over the Sierras to the Nevada border, encompassing such isolated communities as Bishop, Lone Pine, and Mammoth Lakes.

In the arena of secular politics, the San Joaquin Valley has tended to swim against the larger California tide. California may be solidly a “blue” state, but there are a great many “red” counties in the interior (though San Joaquin County, with its seat in Stockton, went narrowly for Obama in the 2008 election). This general agrarian cultural conservatism has been generally reflected in the life of the Episcopal Church there. Bishop Victor Rivera, who served from 1968 until 1988, was in harmony with the critical mass of his diocese, which tended to stay the course theologically as the much larger coastal dioceses moved steadily to the left. Bishop Rivera’s successor, John-David Schofield, continued this direction and gave it a steroid shot. The majority of clergy and laity within the diocese grew steadily more disenchanted with the general direction of the Episcopal Church during the 1990s and into the new century, a rising tide of discontent that was not caused by the bishop’s leadership, but was certainly fueled by it.

Nonetheless, for most of this time, clergy of varying theological and ideological perspectives managed to maintain cordial and cooperative relationships with one another in pursuing local ministry and mission. In my own deanery, the eight (at the time) congregations pooled resources (from each according to its abilities) in 1997 and called a full-time youth minister, an arrangement that had some marked success during the years it lasted. I met regularly for lunch with my colleagues, the Rectors of St Anne’s, Stockton and St John the Baptist, Lodi. We were friends. We respected and liked one another. The youth of our congregations began to form relationships across parish lines. 

Of course, there was always thunder rumbling in the distance. I distinctly remember calling attention to this thunder at one of our lunch meetings eleven or twelve years ago. In one of those makes-the-blood-run-cold moments of prescience, I compared that moment to a shared repast between young U.S. Army officers in, say, the late 1840s, some being from New Jersey and Massachusetts, and some being from Virginia and South Carolina. You can see where I was going with that, although the analogy doesn’t play out with complete accuracy, because, by the time of the actual split in December of 2007, all three of us had moved away from the diocese. Yet, both of their parishes are today connected to the Episcopal Church, while mine stayed with Bishop Schofield and is now a parish in the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, en route, no doubt, to becoming part of the emerging Anglican Church of North America.

So, today, there are two Anglican congregations in the city of Stockton. One is the mother of the other; St Anne’s on the north side was begun in 1950 as a parochial mission of St John’s downtown. Over the decades, parishioners have moved between the two of them at various times for various reasons—some noble and some petty. Divergent cultures evolved in each parish, but that was seen largely as a good thing, providing a sort of safety valve for those who felt stifled by the predominant conservatism of St John’s or insecure in the predominant liberalism of St Anne’s. Until the most recent unpleasantness, both wore the label “Episcopal” comfortably, even proudly.

But St John’s and St Anne’s are now, using the idiom of this era, walking apart. The differences don’t seem huge at first. Both buildings look the same as they did before the 2007 convention, save for a new sign at St John’s striking “Episcopal” and replacing it with “Anglican.” Both use the 1979 Book of Common Prayer in their worship—as far as I know still, Rite I early on Sundays and Rite II late—and both still sing from the Hymnal 1982, supplemented by more contemporary sources. Both retain a corporate memory of being linked to one another—sometimes joyfully and sometimes uneasily—cooperating in diocesan camping programs, sharing services (and choirs) on Ascension or All Saints, being part of the same extended family.

But no more. Last month, the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church elected to hold its regular winter meeting in Stockton, for the express purpose of demonstrating solidarity with those congregations that chose not to follow the majority to the Southern Cone. Some, at least—and I would suspect most if not all—of its members worshiped at St Anne’s over the Sunday of the meeting. It was a decision rich with irony, since, until the split, one of the members of the Executive Council was a resident of Stockton and a member of St John’s. Yet, before the split, it would never have occurred to the Presiding Bishop or the President of the House of Deputies to schedule a meeting in Stockton, or anywhere else in the Diocese of San Joaquin. That was considered “enemy territory.” Yet now, members of Executive Council have blogged about their discovery of Stockton, what a wonderful place the San Joaquin Valley is, and how excited they are about the continuing ministry of the Episcopal Church in that area. One wonders whether such a visit—say, ten years ago—not with the intent of intimidating but with the intent of listening, might have contributed to an atmosphere of trust that could have forestalled the secession of a diocese. I’m glad the leadership of the Episcopal Church has discovered Stockton. But I’m afraid their visit was an exercise in shutting the barn door long after the horses are nowhere in sight.

Last Saturday, my successor was installed at St John’s. He shares the theologically and morally conservative views of his parishioners, but lest anyone think these are in any way generational issues, it is worth pointing out that he’s 29 years old, and, trust me, there are a lot more young Anglicans where he came from, so to speak. The preacher on the occasion was the Bishop of Fort Worth—not the newly rehabilitated entity that continues in union with General Convention, but the ongoing entity that is also now part of the Southern Cone.

So the “walking” continues, and the “apart” is now a whole lot further.

These two tales of one city are, I believe, microcosmic. They are part of the same narrative that we can find all over the ruins and remains of what was once a united Anglican presence in this country. We seem to be able to interminably parse the meaning of schism—what it is and what it isn’t, exactly, and whether or not it’s worse than heresy. I don’t have any additional wisdom today on those questions. What I do have is a heavy heart about the damage that has already been done in the last several months—damage done for very principled reasons by both sides, I realize, but real damage nonetheless, damage that was accomplished as quickly as “calling the question” at a convention, or signing a deposition notice or a legal complaint.

And I suppose I also have a hope—not a visceral hope, but an intentional hope, in the sense of affirmatively cultivating a virtue—that, as we try to figure out the way ahead for Anglican Christianity, people on both sides of the divide might endeavor to do as little damage as possible to the institutional infrastructure of our common life, that, if we must walk apart, that we try to walk apart a little closer together, not so far apart that we have to shout to be heard, and occasionally, perhaps, close enough on parallel paths that we are still able to join hands as we walk. As the ACNA emerges, may its members foster a culture of generosity toward their Episcopalian neighbors. It now matters more how we walk apart than that we walk apart. And in the light of the latest communique from the Primates, and the report of the Windsor Continuation Group, may a similar generosity of spirit emerge in the Episcopal Church—at 815, and especially at General Convention this summer.  

If we can do that much, it will be a far, far better thing that we do than we have ever done.

11 comments:

Dr.D said...

I read somewhere recently that Bp. Schofield and his group had filed a countersuit against TEC. Other than that, I have not heard of any suits filed by any of those leaving TEC against TEC; have you?

The instinctive TEC reaction to file a property suit in civil court has made it extremely difficult to realize any civil walking apart as you have asked for. It would appear that TEC seems to simply want to resolve into a large real estate holding company so that it may fund the MDGs.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Dan,
"And in the light of the latest communique from the Primates, and the report of the Windsor Continuation Group, may a similar generosity of spirit emerge in the Episcopal Church—at 815, and especially at General Convention this summer."
What do you mean 'generosity of spirit' from the Primates and the WCG ? I think I missed that part. I think the P.B. also missed that part. Dcn Dale

Anonymous said...

Fort Worth's loss is Stockton's gain. Fr. Nelson is a great young priest.

BTW, are we gonna get further reports on the Big Green Egg?

BigTex AC

Dan Martins said...

Dale,
I can see how my language was confusing. With respect to "generosity of spirit," I did not mean "similar to the Primates/WCG report," but "similar to the generosity of spirit that I called for from the Southern Cone Anglicans."

BigTex,
The Green Egg is still in a box in my garage! Must wait for permanent Spring to set it up (we had a foretaste over the weekend, but back to winter now).

Matt Gunter said...

Dan,

This is sad indeed. If the current situation had existed when I was living in Stockton from 1985-1993, I do not know which of these churches I could have felt good about joining. Or if I would have been as interested in becoming an Episcopalian/Anglican as I was. I might likely have stayed with the Lutherans.

Matt

Anonymous said...

Okay.

I know this could cause Yet Another Outraged Firestorm from revisionist readers, but I need to ask Dan something that I can't understand when I read this.

You said in the post that St. John's was basically a conservative Episcopal parish at one time [before it left TEC] and St. Anne's was basically liberal.

Then you say this: "And I suppose I also have a hope—not a visceral hope, but an intentional hope, in the sense of affirmatively cultivating a virtue—that, as we try to figure out the way ahead for Anglican Christianity, people on both sides of the divide might endeavor to do as little damage as possible to the institutional infrastructure of our common life, that, if we must walk apart, that we try to walk apart a little closer together, not so far apart that we have to shout to be heard, and occasionally, perhaps, close enough on parallel paths that we are still able to join hands as we walk. As the ACNA emerges, may its members foster a culture of generosity toward their Episcopalian neighbors. It now matters more how we walk apart than that we walk apart."

Now -- given that one side of the divide believes that the other side doesn't believe or promote the gospel, and in fact is promoting a false gospel -- why would that side choose to "walk apart a little closer together" or "join hands as we walk"?

I grant that liberal Episcopalians obviously don't believe they are promoting a new and false gospel -- [although many of them will grant privately that they do have a different gospel entirely, see Bishop Robinson's remarks about a "different God"].

But obviously the departing conservative Episcopalians really do believe that. Otherwise, they wouldn't leave.

So why on earth would they wish to hold hands with people who don't promote or believe the gospel [at least, according to the departed conservatives]?

I could see, perhaps, interfaith events -- maybe Hindus and Buddhists and Jews and conservative Anglicans and revisionist TECans working together to feed the poor at a soup kitchen.

Is that what you are talking about?

I know that you know that people really really believe that revisionists are promoting a false gospel -- and they are leaving because they simply don't want to be tied to that gospel or 815s promotion of it.

So what gives?

I'm genuinely curious about this issue.

How does one faith "hold hands" with another, other than through, perhaps, some interfaith stuff?


Sarah

PS: I ask this as a genuine concern -- I'm sincerely interested in Dan's answer. I'm not really interested in having a spitting match about how awful it is that people believe that TEC revisionist leaders have departed from the gospel -- I think we need to accept that as a belief by the departed that is a "given" and then move on from there in practical questions like the one I just asked.

Dan Martins said...

Sarah,
I appreciate your questions, and can understand, given what I have learned about your viewpoints over the months and years,how they are compelling for you. Indeed, if I believed that everyone who has departed TEC thinks that everyone who remains within TEC preaches "another gospel," I would not have bothered to write what I did. But I don't share that presupposition. Of course, those who believe orthodox "stayers" are just deluding themselves and abetting the enemy in the process, are not going to help realize my hope that we might "walk apart" on parallel paths not that widely separated. And the entrenched TEC leadership certainly isn't interested in doing so. I'm not even talking about some spirit of charity between what have been described as "communion liberals" and "communion conservatives" (though I do believe there are some seeds of promise in the relationship between those two categories). I'm talking about some mutual respect and forbearance between "communion conservatives," most of whom perdure in
TEC, and "federal conservatives," most of whom find themselves in the emerging ACNA. Sooner or later this dust is going to settle (there will be new dust), of course, but it won't be this dust. When that happens, and there is an opportunity, perhaps, for some institutional reconciliation between those who walked apart, not over core theology, but over differing ecclesiologies, strategic visions, and tactical considerations, my hope (against hope) is that there will be no unnecessary impediments--structural complications, divergent cultures, and the like--that will prevent that from happening. Here's a crude parallel from our Lutheran cousins: Non-Lutherans tend to look at the ELCA and see a single denomination. At one level, that's accurate. But under the surface, even more than 20 years into the merger that brought it about, many Lutherans still hold strong ALC or LCA or "Missouri Synod exile" identities, and these differences continue to complicate the life of that church, and they prevented the reconciliation from happening much sooner than it did. So I guess you could say I'm trying to sow the seeds for the post-war environment, because while the war may last longer than I live (I'm 57), it will not last forever.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dan,

Thanks for responding.

You said: " Indeed, if I believed that everyone who has departed TEC thinks that everyone who remains within TEC preaches 'another gospel,' I would not have bothered to write what I did. But I don't share that presupposition."

And neither do I.

After all, I am happily in a diocese in a parish in TEC.

But then . . . neither do the Episcopalians who departed from the Diocese of San Joaquin, either. They certainly don't believe that "everyone who remains within TEC preaches "another gospel", although, as I said in my original question, they do believe that the progressive leaders of TEC do.

So.

Back to my question, which was: "Now -- given that one side of the divide believes that the other side doesn't believe or promote the gospel, and in fact is promoting a false gospel -- why would that side choose to "walk apart a little closer together" or "join hands as we walk"?"

The "divide" appears to me to be between the progressives and the conservatives -- not between those conservatives who stayed and those who left. And when you said in your post that one parish was a liberal parish, the other a conservative parish, now departed from TEC, that divide appeared to be what you were talking about.

It appears that instead of liberals and conservatives, you were speaking of communion conservatives and federal conservatives?

But isn't that already accomplished? I don't sense the great divide that you do.

I had a long phone conversation with a departed-from-TEC federal conservative just a week ago. I helped her, she helped me. My relationships with many of the Dearly Departed are warm and friendly. Any time I've reached out to the departed in San Joaquin via email, they've been thrilled to respond and help in anything that I've asked. They understand what I'm doing and why I'm doing it. They honor it. And I honor their choices. I don't see there being any difficulties at conservatives in TEC and conservative Anglicans outside of TEC working together.

But I didn't get that from your post. It seemed -- at the time -- that your discussion was concerning progressive Episcopalians and conservative Episcopalians, and you illustrated that with your talke of two parishes in the city of Stockton.

I think what we'll see over the years -- in the case of the communion conservatives and the federal conservatives -- is an easy friendship and working together with the two conservative sides, the one on the inside and the other on the outside residing in the ACNA.


Sarah

Anonymous said...

Fr.Dan,
"as we try to figure out the way ahead for Anglican Christianity,"
Fr. Dan this is an interesting phrase but betrays a misplaced focus. How do you suppose you will in any way help shape Anglican Christianity if TEC is not a part of it? You and many others in TEC are counting on being able to sign onto the Covenant as a Diocese. The Presiding Bishop has flatly stated that an individual Diocese will not be allowed to do this. Are you prepared to keep her statement from being codified? Dcn Dale

The young fogey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The young fogey said...

I'm reminded a bit of the split in the Catholic world as it's lived in the Middle East where the Arab Orthodox and the Melkite (descendants of former Orthodox who are under Rome) laity intermarry and intercommune all the time. A wife always joins her husband's church and one side doesn't say she's 'leaving the church'; Melkites are baptised at Orthodox churches and vice versa. Families do identify as one or the other but in fact the laity form one church. The only division really is the clergy, who are friendly with each other, don't concelebrate (as is done in the Byzantine Rite). (Of course being a minority in a Muslim country partly explains that solidarity.)

That said...

Lately I've been saying as both sides in the Anglican row commune all baptised Christians, although the current Controversial Issues™ about sex are a communion deal-breaker atop the heap of other presenting symptoms of the big Catholic/Protestant divide (infallible or fallible thus fungible church?) - so again the clergy don't serve in each other's churches - ISTM that naturally most laity don't care about this split. Why ought they?

Believe it or not, regarding 'walking apart but not that far apart, in parallel'... I believe in it. For example there are lots of people on the other side of the Catholic/Protestant divide including on the other side of Controversial Issues™ who though we are out of communion and are honest about that share much in common with me including a lot of Anglican cultural/corporate memory. (There is more than one young Episcopal priest who disagrees on the hot-button stuff but shares with me the creeds and even worships a lot like me.)

We may be out of communion but it is good to talk to each other. The Internet of course is good for that.