Father Fred Risard, vicar of St. Nicholas Episcopal Church here, received an unwelcome e-mail on Christmas morning from the Diocese of San Joaquin. It said that the holy day was Risard's last day of service at the mission church and that arrangements would be made for him to pick up his personal things...The article also includes a link to part of the letter from Bp.Schofield to Fr. Risard (there you go, 360). Here's part of that letter:
...when Schofield arrived at the church Sunday to help celebrate the Eucharist and give the message, he said before the concluding blessing that, contrary to speculation among parishioners, he wasn't there to close the church or to fire the priest. Then he added that the priest had to go simply because of dwindling funds from dwindling worshippers.
The irony: Instead of the usual 20 people at worship, nearly 100 had shown up that morning.
Schofield said that 20 people couldn't possibly support a full-time vicar beyond the end of the year. As it turned out, Risard's job was cut just two days later.
Schofield didn't mention that Risard had abstained from an overwhelmingly victorious vote earlier this month to switch the diocese from the Episcopal Church USA to the oversight of the Anglican Church in South America (called the Southern Cone). Nor did he point to the fact that most conservative believers have left St. Nicholas over the past two years during Risard's tenure, coinciding with a growth of the liberal faction.
But there's no doubt in Risard's mind or in the opinions of other members of the Remain Episcopal faction within the diocese that the timing of the layoff is related to the changes...
...Despite the loss of his church, Risard isn't bitter.
"The bishop hasn't defrocked me. He's just asked me to go away and leave him alone. He's the one who priested me and tried to form me in his way, so I still have some affection for him.
"I believe as a priest that Christ calls us to love one another as friends. I sign my letters to the bishop 'faithfully, your friend in Christ.' He really is a Christian, maybe operating in a particular way these days, but he truly means well"...
..."If I can't get into that building, I'll go to their homes. We'll find another place to worship. I'm a priest here in Atwater for those who want to remain Episcopal.
"I feel that we're kind of back to our basics as a mission, to planting a mission without property or buildings. We'll continue to seek transformation as we worship together."
Risard will lead a service at 10 a.m. Sunday at Castle Vista's meeting hall, 2300 Cascade Drive, Atwater. To contact him, call 658-9832 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
As the Bishop of the Diocese of San Joaquin I grant your request that you be allowed to remain a Priest within the Episcopal Church. Up until the end of the Eucharist on Advent IV, December 23, 2007, I had hoped there might be a way for us to arrive at some form of reconciliation. Your statement made so vividly in front of the congregation at that Eucharist left no doubt that you would not want to represent me as vicar in any church in this diocese. It is plain that you do not wish to be part of this Diocese. Please notify me to which Episcopal Diocese I am to forward your letters dimissory. Despite compensation extending to December 31st your final day of service is to be December 25, 2007. Arrangements will be made for you to remove personal effects from your office and the sacristy of St. Nicholas' Church...The remainder of the letter is an attempt to justify the facade that the dismissal is all about declining numbers.
In the segment of the letter made public, there is no mention of the decline happening to coincide with the Bishop's recent public pronouncements of his extreme positions. The Bishop refuses to acknowledge his role in the divisions he has caused within his diocese, which,as one would expect, impact the smaller congregations the most.
No mention of Fr. Risard being among the few clergy left in that diocese who do not support the Bishop's schismatic actions.
No mention of priests who agree with the Bishop, and who are also in struggling missions, being allowed to remain in their cures.
No mention of the fact that, regardless of the reasons, this Bishop, who has chosen to abandon the Episcopal Church, no longer has the authority to remove Episcopal clergy.
One would think that even those who might agree with Bp. Schofield on some matters would at least acknowledge that the way he handled the December 23 confrontation (fighting over the altar and announcing the dismissal of Fr. Risard during the liturgy and then leaving by the back door) and his decision to have this letter, and the accompanying directions to change the locks and confiscate documents, arrive on Christmas Day, reveals at best very poor judgment, and at worst a leader who is consumed by his own need to punish those who oppose him.
NOTE: For previous commentaries on events in the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, go to the sidebar on the right, scroll down past "Recent Comments" to the section entitled "Previous Posts." There you will find a new sub-section: "The Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin." Click on any of the links to access those discussions.