Monday, December 31, 2007

Time for Due Process and Care and Clarity

From Tobias:

...Progressives are taking up the cry for agitation, with questions as to why the Presiding Bishop and President of the House of Deputies aren't doing more, or doing more publicly.

It appears to me that the "problem" of San Joaquin and its erstwhile Bishop has not yet fallen to the Presiding Bishop for response, but rather into the lap of the Review Committee charged with making a determination and recommendation. It appears to many observers (including observers with little or no stake in the outcome) that +JDS has renounced the Discipline of The Episcopal Church in no uncertain terms (why, after all, should he seek to place himself "under" another Primate and remove his diocese, contrary to the discipline of The Episcopal Church?) and has thereby abandoned communion with it. I take it as evident, his asseveration that this may only be "temporary" notwithstanding, that he has no interest in being or remaining in communion with a church he has recently described in such a negative light, as "an apostate institution that has minted a new religion irreconcilable with the Anglican faith."

The Review Committee consists of Bishops Henderson (USC), Ohl (NwTx), Jones (VA), Rivera (Oly) and Waggoner (Spo), The Rev. H. Scott Kirby (EauC), The Rev. Carolyn S. Kuhr (MT), Mr. J. P. Causey (VA), and Mrs. Deborah J. Stokes (SoOH). (See page 33 of the Journal of Convention 2006). Their action, described under Canon IV.9.1 as a "duty" is now expected. I hope they may already have begun to carry this duty out, so that the Presiding Bishop can move the process to the next step, which will require the consent of the three most senior bishops with jurisdiction.

Those are the rules, folks. This is no time for guerrilla actions, but for due process and care and clarity. In the meantime, we can also do all in our power to encourage the faithful Episcopalians of the central valley of California, the remaining members of the real live Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin.
Thanks for this reminder, Tobias.

To clarify the process, here is Title IV, Canon 9:

CANON 9: Of Abandonment of the Communion of This Church by a Bishop

Sec. 1. If a Bishop abandons the communion of this Church (i) by an open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline, or Worship of this Church, or (ii) by formal admission into any religious body not in communion with the same, or (iii) by exercising episcopal acts in and for a religious body other than this Church or another Church in communion with this Church, so as to extend to such body Holy Orders as this Church holds them, or to administer on behalf of such religious body Confirmation without the express consent and commission of the proper authority in this Church; it shall be the duty of the Review Committee, by a majority vote of All the Members, to certify the fact to the Presiding Bishop and with the certificate to send a statement of the acts or declarations which show such abandonment, which certificate and statement shall be recorded by the Presiding Bishop. The Presiding Bishop, with the consent of the three senior Bishops having jurisdiction in this Church, shall then inhibit the said Bishop until such time as the House of Bishops shall investigate the matter and act thereon. During the period of Inhibition, the Bishop shall not perform any episcopal, ministerial or canonical acts, except as relate to the administration of the temporal affairs of the Diocese of which the Bishop holds jurisdiction or in which the Bishop is then serving.

Sec. 2. The Presiding Bishop, or the presiding officer, shall forthwith give notice to the Bishop of the certification and Inhibition. Unless the inhibited Bishop, within two months, makes declaration by a Verified written statement to the Presiding Bishop, that the facts alleged in the certificate are false or utilizes the provisions of Canon IV.8 or Canon III.12.7, as applicable, the Bishop will be liable to Deposition. If the Presiding Bishop is reasonably satisfied that the statement constitutes (i) a good faith retraction of the declarations or acts relied upon in the certification to the Presiding Bishop or (ii) a good faith denial that the Bishop made the declarations or committed the acts relied upon in the certificate, the Presiding Bishop, with the advice and consent of a majority of the three senior Bishops consenting to Inhibition, terminate the Inhibition. Otherwise, it shall be the duty of the Presiding Bishop to present the matter to the House of Bishops at the next regular or special meeting of the House. If the House, by a majority of the whole number of Bishops entitled to vote, shall give its consent, the Presiding Bishop shall depose the Bishop from the Ministry, and pronounce and record in the presence of two or more Bishops that the Bishop has been so deposed.
So, the process will be as follows:

1. The Review Committee certifies that there is evidence of abandonment.
2. The Presiding Bishop, with the consent of the three senior Bishops, will then inhibit the Bishop (note that this does not restrain him from running the temporal affairs of the diocese).
3. Two months are given for the charged bishop to issue a retraction or denial.
4. With the consent of the House of Bishops, the Presiding Bishop will then depose the Bishop.


Saturday, December 29, 2007

Sunday Worship in Atwater, California

Worship begins at 10:00 a.m.

Directions to St. Nicholas in Exile are here.

The address:

Castle Vista Rec Center
2300 Cascade Dr
Atwater, CA 95301

Enter the gated community at Sierra Madre. Pass code at gate: #1234

Those in the neighborhood are encouraged to join the people of St. Nicholas as a sign of support.

The Rev. Fred Risard can be contacted at:

frisard (at) mac (dot) com

Those wanting to express their support for all the faithful Episcopalians in the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin are encouraged to visit the website of Remain Episcopal.

I've been contacted by one person who plans to be present for services at the property seized by the Southern Cone, and will be informing us as to what occurs there. I appreciate that effort, but feel it is most important that those who are able be present at 10:00 a.m. to support the members of St. Nicholas in Exile.


From The Modesto Bee: "Bp. Schofield Removes Episcopal Vicar"

Here is the article. Here's part of it:

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...

...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
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:

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.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Reactions to the Southern Cone's Seizure of St. Nicholas Episcopal Church, Atwater

Bishop John-David Schofield, who abandoned the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin and joined the Province of the Southern Cone, made a visit to St. Nicholas Church, Atwater on December 23. The Vicar, Fred Risard, had made it clear in a letter to his former bishop that since St. Nicholas was remaining Episcopalian, it was inappropriate for Bp. Schofield to visit in the capacity of their diocesan bishop. On December 23, Bp. Schofield showed up anyway, with bodyguards. In what is being reported as an "unpleasant scene" before worship, Bp. Schofield apparently insisted that St. Nicholas was his church, and demanded the right to celebrate and preach. What occurred during worship has been described well here and here. Essentially, Bp. Schofield stated that he was not there to fire Fred, and then he fired Fred. Fred then gave the bishop a piece of his mind. The bishop left by a back door.

Two days later, on Christmas morning, the people of St. Nicholas were informed by letter that Fr. Risard had been removed, and the locks were to be changed and all important documents confiscated.

Bishops changing allegiance to a fairly unknown foreign Primate, Vicars issuing challenges, fights over the altar, bodyguards, an emotional exchange during the liturgy, locks being changed...sounds like high drama, doesn't it? Irresistible to those following the current unpleasantness within the Episcopal Church, one would think.

Quite a few folks simply could not resist responding to this drama:

From Elizabeth Kaeton - Ho, Ho, Ho? Oh, Oh, NO!

From Susan Russell - What's Worse Than a Lump of Coal in Your Stocking on Christmas Day?

From Tobias Haller - Do You Know the Way to San Joaquin.

From Mark Harris - Bishop Schofield in Denial

From the Anglican Scotist - On the Diocese of San Joaquin.

From Kirstin - My Head is Still Shaking and Between Atwater and San Francisco.

From Jared Cramer - Foreign Bishop Attempts to Close Episcopal Mission.

From Aghaveagh - How the Grinch Stole San Joaquin, part 3.

From The Episcopal Majority - Plastic Man and His Evil Brother Struggle for the Church.

From the Episcopal Cafe - St. Nicholas on Christmas Morning and Update on Reactions.

From Thinking Anglicans - San Joaquin Developments and San Joaquin Saga Continues.

From RFSJ - The Cost of Schism.

From Anglocat - On Christmas Day in the Morning.

From Brother Causticus - From the Blackberry of Deacon Thorndike Andrewes.

From MadPriest - Monstrance Inc.

From Katie Sherrod - Christmastide, San Joaquin and the Power of Lay People.

From Kendall Harmon - Modesto Bee: Bishop Removes Episcopal Vicar.

From Josh Indiana - Shocking Events in San Joaquin; or, The Empress and the Queen.

From the Robbinsdale Radical - Christmas Hero in the Diocese of San Joaquin.

From Jane Ellen - Reality Distortion Fields.

From ePiscOpalOoza - Former Bishop Schofield Visits Old St. Nick.

From the Byzigenous Buddhapalian - Wolves in Shepherd's Clothing.

I'm sure there are more, but that's a quick round up. If you find others, I'll add them to the list.

What I find curious is that there is not a word about this story over on Kendall Harmon's site. It can't be because he hasn't heard about it, as it was mentioned by a commenter on this thread. (Note: Kendall has now broken silence. See the second update and the link added to the list.)

And Stand Firm is also strangely silent. Those who have tried to inform them about this situation have been deleted, and in some cases banned, for being "off topic".

I suppose they must be commended for having the will power to avoid such a juicy story full of drama and intrigue. But, it does cause one to wonder why they are going to such lengths to attempt to bury it.

I have heard comparisons made to this story and the one about Bp. Andrew Smith seizing St. John's Church, Bristol, Connecticut and changing the locks. Other than the role of a locksmith, the stories are not really comparable, it seems to me. Bp. Smith is indeed the Bishop of Conneticut, regardless of what you think of his actions. But Bp. Schofield is no longer the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaqiun. An important difference. Another difference is that there was no attempt on anyone's part to try to bury that story. It was discussed in a variety of places, including here. As a matter of fact, at the time I disagreed with Bp. Smith's actions.

What troubles me even more is that we have also yet to have any reporting from Episcopal Life on this matter, other than an article on the letter to the bishop from Fr. Risard.

I can understand that Kendall and the Stand Firm folks might be a bit embarrassed by Bp. Schofield's actions, and so reticent to comment on them, but why the silence from Episcopal Life?

On another related matter, I understand the priest serving St. Mark's in Tracy has also been removed by Bp. Schofield. If anyone has more information on that incident, please let me know.


UPDATE: I've been informed that the Episcopal Life team are taking a well-deserved break until January 2. Mystery solved regarding that bit of silence.

SECOND UPDATE: Kendall Harmon has now posted on the Modesto Bee story. That entry has been added to the list.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Sunday Worship for St. Nicholas Episcopal Church in Exile, Atwater

Since John-David Schofield of the Southern Cone has illegally claimed the former facilities of St. Nicholas Episcopal Church in Atwater, California, and changed the locks, they will be worshipping in a new location this Sunday at 10:00 a.m.

Directions to St. Nicholas in Exile are here.

The address:

Castle Vista Rec Center
2300 Cascade Dr
Atwater, CA 95301

Enter the gated community at Sierra Madre. Pass code at gate: #1234

Those in the neighborhood are encouraged to join the people of St. Nicholas as a sign of support.

The Rev. Fred Risard can be contacted at:

frisard (at) mac (dot) com

Those wanting to express their support for all the faithful Episcopalians in the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin are encouraged to visit the website of Remain Episcopal.


Southern Cone Attempts to Remove Episcopal Vicar

You can read about the recent events at St. Nicholas Episcopal Church in Atwater, California on December 23 here and here.

The following was received by St. Nicholas Episcopal Church on Christmas morning:

Dear Jo and Deacon Buck,

The attached document is the letter notifying Fr. Risard that his deployment at St. Nicholas is now over. We wish you to know that the Bishop and the Diocese are fully behind the continuation of your church in Atwater and will do all that we are able to support you during this transition.

There are many details to take care of, and many questions which you probably have for the Bishop or me.

The most important Directions from the Bishop to accomplish immediately include:

Change the exterior locks immediately, including the interior lock to the priest's offices and any file cabinets.

Retrieve the bank statements of any accounts that Fr. Risard had signature authority to: the discretionary account, and any other accounts.

Notify me of any minutes from past Bishop's Committee meetings for the past three months and forward them to me. This is especially important if there are commitments made to Mr. Michael Glass, an attorney referenced in the letter of Fr. Risard to the Bishop.

We will assume that the Deacon will be able to lead worship for a short period of time, especially this next Sunday. Reserved sacrament will be provided by the Rural Dean, Fr. Ron Parry, or by me if necessary.

Our prayers are with you during this time of transition.

Yours faithfully,
The Rev. Canon Bill Gandenberger
Mark has provided us with some additional information:

Fr. Fred has removed himself from the church building, but is reorganizing the mission to meet in another location. This will match what is happening in Turlock, Bakersfield, and other places. We who are loyal to the Episcopal Church will continue to support Fr. Fred and his congregation.
On Christmas morning. They are using the season of "Peace on Earth" as a cover for their most nefarious actions.

What are the stories of events in Turlock, Bakersfield and Tracy? We need those reports. And we need a team in there now to stop this blatant pillaging by the Southern Cone.


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Our Discussions of San Joaquin

For those seeking more background information regarding what is happening in the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, I've created a new section in the side bar to the right of this page.

If you scroll down past "Recent Comments," you will find a section entitled "Previous Posts." The first subsection is now "The Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin." That list is of all of our previous discussions on this topic over the last year, with the most recent appearing first. Click on any of the links to access those discussions.

Also, note the red "Remain Episcopal" button near the top of the side bar. Clicking on it will take you to a site which will give you more information about supporting faithful Episcopalians in San Joaquin.


Another Report From St. Nicholas, Atwater

I recieved the following email yesterday.



The personal observations of
the Rev’d Michael A. Backlund, PhD
on the occasion of a visitation of
Bishop John-David Schofield of La Iglesia Anglicana Del Cono Sur De America
to St. Nicholas Church (Mission) of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin
on December 23, 2007,
the fourth Sunday of Advent.

1. I am a priest of The Episcopal Church, canonically resident in the Episcopal Diocese of California and licensed to officiate in the Episcopal Diocese of Northern California. My home residence is in Angels Camp, California – within the borders of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin. I am not licensed to officiate in the latter diocese, nor have I ever sought to be licensed during the tenure of former Episcopal Bishop John-David Schofield. The outcome of such a request on my part being so predictable as to deter me from ever even approaching the subject with him. I am a non-stipendiary priest, working as a licensed psychologist (clinical specialty) within the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

2. Following the release of Vicar Fred Risard’s letter to former Episcopal Bishop Schofield requesting clarification of what the purpose was for the former bishop to visit the mission, I decided I would go and see for myself what would transpire, and offer whatever support I could. Truth requires that I say I did express my dismay at what appeared to be occurring at St. Nicholas Church to both my bishop, Episcopal Bishop Marc Andrus of California, to the bishop in whose diocese I regularly officiate (St. Paul Episcopal Church, Sacramento, California), Episcopal Bishop Barry Beisner of Northern California, and to the Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. I spoke by phone to Bishop Beisner on December 22, the day before. This was a private, confidential conversation between the bishop and me. He encouraged me, however, to convey to anyone I should speak with in the Diocese of San Joaquin who asked about him that he sent them his prayers, his concerns, and his love. This applied to everyone, no matter their stance on any particular matter or conflict.

3. I arrived at St. Nicholas Church roughly 10-15 minutes prior to the beginning of the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, Rite II. I observed Bishop Schofield dressed in white cope, white miter, and holding a diocesan’s crosier. He was occupied, and we did not greet each other, but that was entirely understandable. In the parish hall I met Fr. Fred Risard for the first time. He greeted me warmly, asked my name, and asked if I was there to support the church. I replied that I was indeed. His father, Fr. Martin Risard, retired Vicar of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church (Mission) near Sonora, California (I believe), was scheduled to be the preacher that Sunday, and we talked together briefly as well.

4. Fred Risard told me that John-David had arrived and had insisted that he be the celebrant and preacher. John-David had not replied to Fred’s earlier public letter requesting clarification as to the reason for John-David’s visit or in what capacity John-David considered himself to be acting. I did not witness any of that conversation between Fred and John-David and/or any others present. Fred told me that John-David was very insistent, and that Fred felt disinclined to make a scene or make an unseemly “fight over the altar.” Fred told me that John-David did allow that Fred should co-celebrate.

5. The appearance of Bishop Schofield in cope and miter carrying the crosier of the diocesan bishop processing at the end of the ministers clearly indicated in what capacity John-David considered himself to be acting. That is, he represented himself liturgically as the present Bishop of the Church of St. Nicholas, and it being a mission, its rector.

6. According to my admittedly incomplete understanding of the canons of The Episcopal Church, Bishop Schofield, as a bishop in a “foreign church” (IACSA) in communion with The Episcopal Church (and the Archbishop of Canterbury), is allowed to act in the capacity of a bishop in an Episcopal Church diocese only with the permission of the proper authorities and according to the canons of The Episcopal Church. Whether or not he obtained such permission or was allowed to so function according to the canons is unclear and unknown to me. In any case he clearly understood himself to be the bishop of that church on that Sunday, and by implication understood St. Nicholas to be a mission church under the authority of himself, La Iglesia Anglicana Del Cono Sur De America, and its Archbishop, Gregory Venables.

7. John-David had said publicly in the press question-and-answer session on the occasion of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin’s Convention (at which the Diocesan Convention whether rightly or not by canon law determined itself to be no longer a constituent member of The Episcopal Church, but of the Anglican Communion in the Province of the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone of America) under the authority of Archbishop Venables, who as an Archbishop, was “a bishop of bishops.” John-David said he was happy to submit to the Archbishop’s authority.

8. I observed that St. Nicholas was nicely attended for that Sunday’s service. I imagine there were about 90 people or so in attendance, though I did not count the number specifically. St. Nicholas Church has a surprisingly well-appointed facility considering the numbers of congregants. There is a beautiful little gem of a pipe organ (freestanding in the west end of the church – I’ll go out on a limb and say I think it is a tracker organ). Congregational singing and responsiveness was hearty and inspiring. In attendance were people of a wide diversity in ages and ethnicity from outward appearance. There were some wearing red shirts on which “Remain Episcopal” was printed. There was Canon Robert Moore, representing the pastoral care of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. Michael Glass, attorney-at-law was present. Sitting next to me in the last pew was Canon William Gandenberger, canon to Bishop Schofield (and presumably now a Canon in the IACSA). Canon Gandenberger has a nice singing voice, was pleasant to sit next to, prayed sincerely, greeted me warmly during the Peace and was in every way I could discern a perfect gentleman.

9. John-David’s celebrational style was notable for including many, many minor prayers (I remember them being called something like sub-voce prayers from my early Roman Catholic days). Other small prayers for washing his hands, the “I am not worthy to come under thy roof” prayer, various conglomerations of offertory prayers, were all said with the same volume and intensity as the Eucharistic Prayer. He did not chant. John-David celebrated using a very sincere sounding voice, though a tad on the breathy side – and to my ears, a bit syrupy sweet, with elongation of the word “God” into something sounding like “Gaaaaawd,” reminiscent of fervent televangelists.

10. John-David celebrated from behind the altar facing the congregation, and preached standing at the open altar rail gate. He preached without notes for at least 20 minutes, though I admit I forgot to notice the time. He went on longer than a well-trained preacher would have, not because of time constraints, but because of repetition and over elaboration of minor points. There were a few – maybe four? – people who left at various times during the sermon, but did so quietly (often after genuflecting). I thought nothing of it, actually, since it appeared to me just the usual goings and comings of people doing chores in preparation for the coffee hour, or attending to personal business. I didn’t see myself any expressions that I would have construed as anger, or disgust, or something like, “I can’t listen to any more of this.” Perhaps (as I have read from others) there were people who had those feelings and did leave on account of them. At least I, as one not knowing the people personally, did not witness anything obvious.

11. I took notes of what seemed like his main sermon points. Obviously that’s subjective, but here’s what I took from it:

a. The nativity scene portrays the warm fatherly presence of Joseph, who quietly watches over his wife and son.
b. St. Francis of Assisi designed the Crèche in order that there be a concrete and visual means to convey to the people of his time the wonder of God’s coming into particular circumstances (The Incarnation).
c. God stands with all of us. Christ comes to all of us out of the very heart of the Father.
d. God grieves with all of us and is saddened by all that tears us apart. Jesus is coming into the world as Healer.
e. God knows what we’re going through in all our lives. And, God is there with us, and with his coming he brings a blessing.
f. There are so many conflicts and upsets in the world: Conflicts in our families with upsets and scenes at homes during the holidays; conflicts of large import such as the gassings of World War I and the bombings of World War II. [He illustrates an example of a break in hostilities by recounting the event of the suspension of fighting between opposing soldiers in the trenches of World War I to celebrate all together (Germans, French, etc.) Christmas. John-David unfortunately took away from that heartwarming story, by noting that at the stroke of midnight “they started killing one another again.”]
g. Bottom-line: “The world is always in a mess.” “But God is with always with us.”
h. Conclusion: “So be open to God. Be open so that he can bring you his blessing.”

12. Worship continued, and I at least felt a sigh of relief escape me that it looked like we were actually going to have a rather unexpected, but most welcome, warm, friendly, and most Episcopal-like fellowship, and that perhaps no unpleasantness at all would occur. I really felt a good bit of tension leave me. I thought to myself, “This is all going to be okay. He’s just given an okay sermon; nothing controversial, nothing overly inspiring, but certainly well within normal limits for preaching at this time of year.” I actually smiled!

13. The Prayers of the People were Form III, so we avoided any possible unpleasantness about what bishops to pray for. What an absurd situation, when one thinks about it. I heard no spontaneous prayers that could have been understood as prayer-bashing. All was well. Confession, absolution, and an enthusiastic and prolonged passing of the Peace.

14. Birthdays, anniversaries, and thanksgiving period followed.

15. Then Fred gave the announcements followed by a commentary on the particular events of this day. In this regard, Fred told us that the service today was not following the service leaflet as printed because John-David insisted he be celebrant and preacher. Fred said that it wasn’t his or the lay leadership’s desire that John-David pre-empt worship like that, but that there was no will to make an issue of it particularly, and most particularly, there was a desire to avoid “fighting over the altar.” Furthermore, Fred said St. Nicholas was welcoming to ALL “spelled capital A. L. L.” who wanted to come to worship there. He noted that on this Sunday, during this worship, in this holy season and just prior to Christmas, there appears to be a desire on everyone’s part that there be a “recess” in the conflicts existing between John-David, the now newly named Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin in the IACSA, and St. Nicholas Church and its vicar.

16. The Holy Eucharist continued (Rite II, Prayer A). Communion was distributed by Fred and ministers of St. Nicholas. John-David sat in the bishop’s chair.

17. At the usual time, John-David put on his miter, carried his crosier, and came to the gate of the altar rail to give his blessing. The congregation was standing, having just finished the “collect for mission.”

18. Prior to the blessing, John-David began what started the explosive ending to what appeared to have been up to that point a rather reconciling and healing Eucharist.

19. John-David spoke for several minutes, and oddly never asked people to be seated. So, at least I, and a short time later, Canon Gandenberger sat down. Others stood, and as time went on, some few others sat down. During the presentation, a few people got up, seemed agitated, and left the church proper. Fred was in the sanctuary, standing, and was from all appearances sincerely astonished at what was happening.

20. John-David, holding his crosier in both hands in front of him, began by saying he had received a letter from their Vicar, Fr. Fred. He said that there were lots of rumors flying about, and he wanted everyone to hear the truth from “the horse’s mouth” (some chuckles). First, he said, there was a rumor that he was closing St. Nicholas. He said that was absolutely not true. Second, he said there was a rumor that he had or was going to “fire Fr. Fred.” Again, he said that was simply not true at all. He said that he had no intention of closing this church or firing their Vicar.

BUT…and there it was, that fateful pause.

John-David said he could not understand how anyone could think that this church could continue because of its failing finances. He said that the membership numbers and pledges had been sinking and now only “20 people” remain as members. “No congregation can be financially viable with only 20 members.” “I told this to Fr. Fred on at least six previous occasions in talking with him about this congregation.” “I said, Fr. Fred, Fr. Fred you only have 20 people. What are you going to do?” “I told him that there just wasn’t a financial basis here capable of supporting a full-time priest.” John-David used a tone of voice that clearly was designed to sound resigned and saddened by the unfortunate realities he was forced to speak of, and the sad and unfortunate truth of the matter. He said that it was simply a financial decision and he would wish it to be otherwise. It certainly had nothing whatsoever to do with Fred’s position or the congregation’s position vis-à-vis the “realignment.” It was completely, totally, and only a financial decision. So, sadly, “I have to say that this church does not have the financial means to continue as it is.” We will do all we can to make sure this congregation continues somehow and in some fashion. We will send “a priest on occasion, as we are able.” “The blessing of …..” John-David stepped back toward his chair in preparation for Fred or another of the ministers to come forward (as they had done during the rest of the service) to announce the hymn number.

21. Instead, Fred came forward. He was clearly shocked. He had no prepared notes, and as a psychologist I would say he looked emotionally stunned with anger and grief alternating amidst genuine stress-induced psychological trauma. Fred began speaking with quaking voice, almost choked with emotion. He voice firmed up in a few seconds as he went along, and his remarks reflected increasing thought coherence despite his clear emotional shock.

22. I admit that I too felt shocked. I had to get up out of my pew and go stand in the back of the church. I just couldn’t sit there any longer with the emotional whipsaw of first feeling like all was going to be okay, then to hear such incredible things said by a bishop to a congregation, and then the intensity of anguish from that congregation’s vicar.

23. Fred said that he had hoped that the “recess” in tensions he had spoken of earlier had lasted at least a little longer than obviously it had. He pointed at John-David and said to him that his statements reflected a kind of spiritual violence – and Fred referenced there John-David’s numerous examples during his sermon of “fighting,” of “bombing,” of “war.” The war language, the violence language, was repellent to Fred. He went on to say that John-David knew very well that the congregation had been growing and prospering right up to the time that the Diocesan Convention began the process of separating itself from the Episcopal Church. He remarked that John-David knew very well why the congregation had grown smaller lately, precisely because of the divisive language and behavior of John-David himself. Fred noted the string of actions taken by John-David in the recent past that were clearly designed to intimidate if not force into resignation other more moderate or outright dissenting clergy. With what to all of us Episcopalians who are far more comfortable with quiet and gentle discourse in the church, at least, Fred let loose all his passion for the ministry of St. Nicholas and for his and their rock solid commitment to the mission of the Church in promoting justice for the poor and the outcast and everyone that God calls his people. Sure, it was uncomfortable – and many people walked out (Some other observers said these persons were John-David’s “bodyguard,” though I myself naturally had no knowledge whatsoever of any bodyguards and did not know who the people were who walked out while Fred was speaking.) Fred was passionate and emotional, but logical, in control of himself, and clearly speaking from a highly uncomfortable position of a priest who never thought he’d ever be in such a situation to have to respond in such a manner to a bishop – even if that bishop were no longer his own.

When Fred began speaking, I myself thought, “Oh, Fred, don’t go there. John-David has set this whole thing up to ambush you; don’t give him the satisfaction.” But quickly I realized this is not a time to be demure. Some times in one’s life demand one rise to a point of personal proclamation of faith regardless of how un-nice it would seem. Fred was at such a point, a point pushed on him by John-David.

I was emotionally shaken by the poisonous remarks of John-David and by the intensity, but rightness, of the response by Fred.

John-David sat with what appeared to me to be a good deal of serenity during Fred’s remarks. He made no verbal response, and made no sign that he was going to say anything more about the situation.

Fred’s remarks came to an end with a ringing pledge that no matter what John-David did or said, or what Canon Gandenberger did or said either, he at least would remain faithful to his call to serve as a priest in the in the Episcopal Church and to his ministry at St. Nicholas so long as God gave him life. A loud, standing ovation with many tears ensued for several minutes.

24. Fred then asked Nancy Key, president of Remain Episcopal, to say a few words. She came forward and, like Bonnie Anderson had when in the Diocese last February, introduced herself as “I am an Episcopalian.” There was light applause. She offered her support and prayers and those of Remain Episcopal, other parishes and missions, and clergy and people from all over the world. Her comments were short, non-confrontational, but firm in the assertion that St Nicholas and other congregations like it were not going to be left on their own and would continue to be congregations of The Episcopal Church in the Diocese of San Joaquin.

25. The closing hymn was announced. Singing commenced, though less robust than I’m sure it would otherwise have been. John-David did not process out of the church. I at least did not see him or William Gandenberger speak with Fred before leaving. I did not see them come out through the main door of the church.

26. A very few after Eucharist, in the “coffee hour,” observations on my part: The congregation had wonderful coffee-hour hospitality for such a small congregation. Since I had not known their membership had fallen so low in numbers, I was truly astonished at the outpouring of help others came to give them in this situation.

I spoke at length with Fred, Fred’s father (who would have preached that day), Fred’s mother, and also with members of Remain Episcopal. I was happy to have the opportunity to speak with Canon Moore informally – always in a group surrounding him, never privately. I told those who asked who I was and where I was from, and that I was a priest canonically resident in California, but living in the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin who served as an associate priest liturgically at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Sacramento. I told anyone who asked that support and prayers and love came their way from the congregation at St. Paul’s and from Bishop Beisner. I suspect that is how it was misrepresented that I somehow was “representing” Bishop Beisner. (Many Episcopal self-lashes to be delivered as I bow my head humbly and beg his forgiveness should I have involved him in such a way that he clearly is not involved.)

--Finally, thank you all for your indulgence in reading all this. Any errors or omissions or misconstructions, in short anything here that is found amiss, is entirely my own fault.

I will be eager to discuss, clarify, retract, or edit anything I’ve written here as appropriate.

My bottom line:

Fred, you were magnificent, and I ache to imagine how anguished you have been during this Christmas when joy should abound. John-David, you were a disgrace, but go in peace where “[you will] be happy to be with like-minded people under a Man of God [Archbishop Venables].” God bless us all, even when we don’t deserve it.

- The Rev’d Michael A. Backlund

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Our Savior is Born

One more sermon, once again prepared for a specific audience that happens to not be the crowd here at Jake's place. I'm not very happy with how this one turned out; the "theological kernel" got buried. I added some extemporaneous comments in the delivery, and left out some others, which I think improved it somewhat. It needs some work. But, it's the only text I have to offer at the moment, so here it is.

Merry Christmas!

Tonight, we are celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of the world.

It is an amazing event, this birth of Jesus. But to recapture some of the awe and wonder that those first witnesses experienced, we have to set aside what we know of the rest of Jesus’ story. It is not because of his teachings and healings, or even his death and resurrection, that this night is so wondrous. Those are indeed important parts of the story of Jesus. But they come later.

Tonight, we have the birth of a child in a most humble setting. He is born in a barn. Those in attendance are his parents, Mary and Joseph, a few shepherds with their flocks of sheep, and maybe an ox or a donkey or two. We also have a choir of angels, who proclaim that this child is the Savior, the Messiah, the Lord.

And that, all by itself, is enough to cause us to be filled with wonder and great joy. Jesus doesn’t have to do anything to be a reason for us to rejoice. Just being born is enough.

We sometimes refer to the birth of Jesus as “the Incarnation” – the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. For me, this is the reason I’m a Christian. Actually, it’s the only reason I even pay any attention to organized religion.

The whole idea of God seems to me to be at best an interesting philosophical concept, and at worst not much more than wishful thinking. I’m a creature who has been destined to dwell in this world; the world of physical laws, with real life consequences if those laws are not respected. It is through hard work and sheer determination that we who trod this earth have made ourselves into the masters of this physical realm. Talk of a God who dwells some place in heaven doesn’t really have much impact on the real world, from my perspective. Let God rule heaven. But down here on earth, we’ve got work to do, and this God stuff is just a distraction, and maybe even a waste of time.

But, when God chooses to enter the physical realm, to walk among us, work alongside us, to share the joy and the pain of being a creature trapped in this world, now that gets my attention.

What is even more amazing to me is the way we are told that God chose to enter this world. If I were writing the story, I’d have made Jesus appearance a little more dramatic. He’d swoop in at the last minute and smite all the bad guys in the name of truth, justice and the American way. Wait a minute. That’s Superman, isn’t it?

Well, I want my Savior to be like Superman! And so did the Jews in Jesus time. The Messiah was supposed to show up and drive the Romans out of their land. We want a hero.

But what do we get? A helpless baby, that must be cared for, that must be held and cuddled and loved. This is the Savior of the world?

That story doesn’t make much sense to me. Unless….

Unless it’s not just a story. Unless there is deeper truth to be found within this story that the Superman version completely misses.

In describing the Incarnation, one of the early church fathers said, “What has not been assumed has not been redeemed.” When God chose to take on human form, he wasn’t just pretending. He wasn’t acting out some role in a divine drama. Almighty God, Creator of Heaven and Earth, chose to completely surrender his power and glory to be born like any other baby, with the same needs and limits as any other newborn child. Wow.

That means that God knows what it means to be hungry and helpless, knows how it feels to be held when confused and afraid, knows what it means to be fully dependent on others for every aspect of existence.

This is a real flesh and blood baby we’re talking about, not some manifestation of wishful thinking. This is not an indifferent God dwelling somewhere up and heaven. Heaven and earth have been joined. There is no longer any separation between us and God. That is the source of our wonder and awe on this holy night.

There is another implication that is important for us to notice in this story. If God was willing to take on human form, then maybe we aren't the horrible depraved species that we think we are. When God completed the first act of creation, God saw that it was very good. We have been created by God, and we are very good. Otherwise, how could God have taken on humanity? We have always been intended to be good, to be holy. It is our nature, because we are created in the image of God, and goodness, holiness, is the nature of God.

With the birth of the Christ child, and the division between heaven and earth being bridged, all of creation is now given the opportunity to be made new. As the people of God, we are now invited to become members of this new Kingdom of God, and be the God’s agents in bringing heaven to earth; to continue the ministry of Jesus in the world today by proclaiming that the wall between heaven and earth has been torn down.

So, what do we do with this new reality of heaven and earth being joined? Let’s return to the manger.

The true miracle of Christmas is that God incarnate, God made man, was a real, live, baby. And just as with all babies, one of his greatest needs was to be held in human arms, touched by human hands, and soothed by human words of love and reassurance.

At Christmas we are all called to treat others as we would Christ. As we long to cuddle and soothe the Christ child, so we find our arms wrapping around others who need to know of the love of God revealed through Christ in their lives.

Preacher Donald J. Shelby tells this story about how we can be changed by reflecting on thisholy night:

A soldier was concluding sentry duty on Christmas morning. It had been his custom in other years to attend worship in his home church on Christmas Day, but here in the outlying areas of London, it was not possible. And so, with some of his buddies, the soldier walked down the road that led into the city just as dawn was breaking. Soon the soldiers came upon an old graystone building over whose main entrance were carved the words, "Queen Anne's Orphanage." They decided to knock and see what kind of celebration was taking place inside. In response to their knock, a matron came and explained that the children were war orphans whose parents had been killed in the bombings.

The soldiers went inside just as the children were tumbling out of their beds. There was no Christmas tree in the corner and no presents. The soldiers moved around the room, wishing the children a Merry Christmas and giving as gifts whatever they had in their pockets: a stick of chewing gum, a Life Saver, a nickel or a dime, a pencil, a knife, a good luck charm. The soldier noticed a little fellow standing alone in the corner. He looked a lot like his own nephew back home, so he approached and asked, "And you, little guy, what do you want for Christmas?" The lad replied, "Will you hold me?" The soldier, with tears brimming his eyes, picked up the boy, nestled him in his arms, and held him close.

One of the names for Jesus is Emmanuel, which means "God with us. Emmanuel means God no longer hides in heaven. God is with us, with open arms.

May Christ be born within our hearts this Christmas. And then, may we love and nurture the Christ child within one another, that together we might reach out with open arms to those in need, proclaiming through our actions the good news;

To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.
Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!


Sunday, December 23, 2007

Early Reports from St. Nicholas, Atwater

The Rev. Fred Risard, Vicar of St. Nicholas Episcopal Church in Atwater, California, wrote a letter on December 20 to John-David Schofield, the former Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin. The letter asked for clarification regarding the purpose of Bp. Schofield's visit to St. Nicholas on December 23. Among the concerns voiced by Fr. Risard were that Schofield intended to attempt remove him as Vicar or possibly even announce the closure of the mission church.

Part of our discussion of this situation included encouraging those who were able to join the people of St. Nicholas as a sign of support. A few of the group that gathers here at Jake's place were there, and have offered us some early glimpses of what happened at St. Nicholas this morning.

From Mark:

Well, the Bishop showed up -- along with tons of supporters for Fr. Risard. The Bishop presided over the Eucharist, and preached the sermon. I'd report on what he said, but I just couldn't sit there and listen to him, so I got up and walked out and waited in the hallway (with about 7 other people) until the sermon was over. The Bishop did not join in passing the peace, or give out communion, preventing another possible personal crisis on my part.

At the end of the service, the Bishop stood up and said he had not come to St. Nicholas to fire Fr. Risard or close down St. Nicholas, and then he proceeded to do just that. He said that because of declining attendance at St. Nicholas, he could only afford to send them a supply priest "occasionally". What will happen to Fr. Risard was left unspecified. Fr. Risard then stood up and gave an eloquent denunciation of John David and his policies. I hope that Fr. Risard finds someplace on the internet to post his remarks, because it was truly inspiring. Fr. Risard, you really know how to speak truth to power -- thank you. Fr. Risard received a standing ovation, and the bishop slipped out the back door during the closing hymn.

Continue to keep Fr. Risard and St. Nicholas in your prayers -- they need them now more than ever.
From Leslie:

...I thought it was interesting that he (Bp. Schofield) brought body guards with him. I also thought it interesting that he sneaked out the back door and did not process down the isle. One of his body guards stood in front of the rail as we left the church. What in the world did he think we where going to do??? Such Drama!!!

Fr. Fred did an excellent job of expressing himself. I was so proud of him. The ex-bishop knew exactly where Fr. Fred stood. Fr. Fred received a standing ovation after his address!
From Andee:

Bp. Schofield did come to Atwater today, preached and celebrated (with Fr. Fred concelebrating and distributing the eucharist). At the end of the service, Schofield stood up and said that there had been much speculation about the reason for his visit, and he wanted to reassure everyone that (1) Fr. Fred had not been fired and (2) St. Nicholas was not being closed. Then, just as everyone was starting to take a tentative breath of relief, he said the other reason he wanted to come was to tell them that Atwater was no longer bringing in enough money to pay a full time priest, and that instead the diocese would be sending them supply priests occasionally. In other words--Fr. Fred wasn't being fired, he just wasn't going to be paid any longer, and the diocese wasn't even going to keep a steady part time priest, just send supply priests periodically.

Then, in his concluding remarks, Fr. Fred told the full and emotional story of the ways the diocesan leadership--most specifically, he named Bp. Schofield and Canon Gandenberger--had deliberately and maliciously undermined the health of the mission, fostering division and schism instead of love and compassion. Tears, prayers and applause from those who witnessed this!

Among those of us who came to be there in support of Fr. Fred and St. Nicholas were myself, members of Holy Family (Fresno), St. Francis in exile (former members of St. Francis Turlock), St. Michael's in exile (former members of St. Michaels in Sonora), St. Paul's Oakland, St. Aidan's San Francisco, Canon Bob Moore (Diocese of Olympia - also both husband of Bp. Nedi Rivera and Presiding Bp. Katherine's appointee to provide interim pastoral care to the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin), Fr. Michael Backlund (representing Bp. of Northern California Barry Beisner), and Remain Episcopal attorney Mike Glass. At least four of us present are on the Remain Episcopal Board.

They were surrounded by our love, and by the prayers of thousands of people from around the world.

Fr. Fred has no plans to leave, and I understand that funds from outside the diocese are being made available to make sure he is paid.

After the service and a wonderful extended coffee hour, a number of us helped them distribute bags of food and turkey certificates to a low income Housing Authority project in the area, where we were greeted with enthusiasm and warm Christmas thanks.

The morning ended with several of us joining Fr. Fred and his extended family (parents, two brothers, nieces and nephews) for lunch.

Emotional, difficult, heartwarming--and Christ was very present.
I believe Kirstin, who was also present, will be offering us some thoughts about this soon. I'll keep updating this post as new reports come in.


UPDATE: Kirstin has posted her impressions of former Episcopal bishop John-David Schofield's visit to St. Nicholas. Here's part of it:

...After the closing prayer, before the hymn, John-David spoke again. He said something to the effect of, “You’ve heard rumors that I’m firing Fred and closing the mission. This is not true. Your attendance is dropping; you can’t afford a full-time priest. We’re keeping the doors open—and will send a supply priest on occasion. This is the sole reason for my visit.”

You know the expression, “gobsmacked?” We all knew we’d been manipulated and lied to. Come on. How he expected to come in there and say that, and have people be unified anywhere except against him, is beyond me.

Fred stood up, and let him have it. He was emotional, powerful, truthful, and strong. He said, (I’m paraphrasing), “you know, I didn’t want to go here. You had to stir things up one last time. You come in here with intent to divide people. We are about the work of reconciliation.” He said he’d been silent out of fear for his job; the bishop had just given him absolutely nothing to lose. Vicars risk a lot by speaking out; they serve only at the pleasure of the bishop. Fred said that other vicars had contacted him, supportively and wanting to know what they could do for themselves now as well. They’d felt—rather, been—pressured to go along with John-David; they didn’t truly want to...

God Has a Better Plan

I usually don't post my sermons here, because I believe that sermons are always written with a particular congregation in mind, and the congregation I serve is quite different from the group gathered here at Jake's place. But, as Christmas approaches, it seems appropriate to transition from a focus on news about the Episcopal Church to some thoughts more relevant to the season. As it is late, and I'm not inclined to write another sermon, the one for the Fourth Sunday of Advent that I've already prepared will have to do double duty:

It’s almost Christmas, but not quite yet. On this fourth Sunday of Advent, we have to set aside our knowledge of how the story turns out, if we are to appreciate the situation in which Mary and Joseph find themselves in this morning’s Gospel.

This young couple have just become engaged, when they discover that Mary is with child. Uh-oh. Joseph decides to call off the wedding, in an attempt to limit the public disgrace. But then an angel appears to him in a dream, and tells him it’s ok…that the child to be born will be a Savior.

You have to give Joseph some credit here. Angel or no angel, I’m not so sure I would have stayed by Mary’s side in that situation. But Joseph does. Their lives, of course, are turned upside down. Their dreams of a quiet life in Nazareth just flew out the window. Why? Because God had a better plan. And by being faithful to God’s leading, they were deeply blessed.

Sometimes I think that we are all inclined to give up a little too quickly. We think we are following God’s will, but things don’t go as we thought they would, and so we decide the whole idea was a mistake. Maybe we heard God wrong. And sometimes, I think we give up just before the miracle. Because it just might be that it isn’t a case of miscommunication with God, but more a matter of God’s vision being bigger than ours. Sometimes, even when we don’t understand why things seem to be falling apart all around us, we have to place our faith in God. Because maybe God has a better plan.

We can see this throughout history. When the Germanic hordes exploded out of Eastern Europe, and sacked Rome, the center of Christianity, many thought that the Christian tradition was doomed to extinction. Even St. Augustine of Hippo, that great Doctor of the Church, struggled to understand how such an awful thing could happen, which moved him to write “The City of God,” in which he emphasized that our faith must not be placed in things temporal, but in things spiritual, which will endure any kind of attack. In the end, the Vandals and the Visigoths did not destroy Christianity, even though they could have. Why? Because God had a better plan.

During the Reformation, the unity of the Christian faith seemed doomed as more and more groups broke away to do their own thing. Wars were fought between some of these groups. It did not seem possible that Christendom could survive this terrible time. But we did. Why? Because God had a better plan.

In this country, after the Revolutionary War, there was some question if the Christian tradition known as Anglicanism would survive. The Anglican clergy, as part of the Church of England, were required to offer prayers for the King of England. Quite a few of these clergy, who became identified as Tories, British sympathizers, had to hightail it to Canada or back to England, in fear for their lives. A few of the Anglican clergy decided to pray for the Continental Congress instead of the King, so they survived. But by the end of that war, the number of Anglican clergy had been greatly reduced, and we had no Bishops, and little hope of getting the English to cooperate in consecrating one for us. Anglicanism in America seemed doomed. But God had a better plan.

During the Civil War, entire dioceses broke away from the Episcopal Church, forming the Confederate Episcopal Church. The Episcopal Church never recognized the Confederate Church, and continued to list the bishops of those dioceses on their rolls. At every General Convention during that war, when roll was taken, the Confederate bishops were simply marked as absent. It appeared that there was a good chance that war would not only dramatically change the makeup of our nation, but also of the Episcopal Church. But after the end of the war, all the Confederate bishops returned, and were seated in our House of Bishops once again, with little said about the matter. That terrible war did not destroy our nation, or our Church. Why? Because God had a better plan.

Some years ago, while I was rector of a parish in California, I went through a very difficult time in my personal life. I resigned my position, and went to work as the program director of a homeless shelter. I had no intention of ever returning to the ordained ministry. Yet here I stand before you today. Why? Because God had a better plan.

In 2005, a little church over on Green Street got this idea about how we might expand our ministry by moving a few blocks to a former Roman Catholic Church. This crazy idea met quite a bit of resistance from the Diocese, with whom we needed to partner in order to make this dream a reality. Just before Christmas, about this time two years ago, we got our answer from the Diocese. And the answer was no. But we didn’t give up. We had faith that this was God’s will for our congregation. And here we are. Why didn’t we just give up? Because we were convinced that God had a better plan.

When you hear all the predictions from the pundits about the decline of Christianity, and the demise of the Episcopal Church, take them with a grain of salt. The experts have been wrong before. And I believe they are wrong now. Things are getting shaken up in the Church right now. There’s little doubt of that. But I place my faith in the living God. And I believe God has a better plan, that most likely no human has even dreamed of yet.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote these words:

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

Mary and Joseph loved God. They were called to serve God’s purpose. And they were faithful to that call, even when it seemed that there was little hope of things working out for the good.

May we not be discouraged when we hear the messages all around us forecasting gloom and doom. If we love God, and faithfully seek to live our lives according to God’s purposes, all things will work together for good, because God has a better plan.


Saturday, December 22, 2007

Bp. Schofield's Status

On December 14, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori requested clarification of the current status of John-David Schofield, the former Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin:

...I was deeply saddened to hear of the actions of the Diocesan Convention of the Diocese of San Joaquin this past weekend, particularly the declaration that you are no longer part of The Episcopal Church, but are now under the authority of the Province of the Southern Cone. I assume that this means you understand yourself to have departed the Episcopal Church and are no longer functioning as a member of the clergy in this Church.

I would like to have confirmation from you of this understanding of your status. Many interrelated matters depend on that status – for example, your membership in the House of Bishops and the acceptability of pension contributions on your behalf...
Bp. Schofield has responded to this request. The response contains a cloud of verbiage not relevant to the specific request, most likely as an attempt to obscure the one sentence that makes his status rather clear:

...I understood the Convention's actions as a request that I provide episcopal oversight of the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin under the Province of the Southern Cone of South America...
As a member of the House of Bishops of the Southern Cone, he is providing episcopal oversight. He has left the Episcopal Church. The entity of which he claims oversight is identified as "the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin." This is the first time I've seen this new entity named. If the Southern Cone has actually created such a Diocese is questionable. But what is clear is that Bp. Schofield no longer has oversight over the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin.

Bp. Schofield continues with this unusual line:

...Accepting such an invitation to be a part of the Southern Cone's House of Bishops may not necessarily define my relationship with The Episcopal Church particularly since this may only be a temporary arrangement...
Temporary or not, becoming a member of another House of Bishops does indeed define his relationship with the Episcopal Church.

Those in the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin need to understand that Bp. Schofield is no longer your ecclesiastical authority. He has chosen to leave the Episcopal Church. This has now been clarified by the Bishop's own words.


Friday, December 21, 2007

Atwater to Bp. Schofield: "Come Worship with Us, But Leave Your Vestments at Home"

From Episcopal Life:

The vicar of St. Nicholas Episcopal Church in Atwater, California, in the Diocese of San Joaquin has written to Bishop John-David Schofield questioning his plan to visit the congregation December 23 and asking for clarification about his status as a bishop in the Episcopal Church...

..."We would like you to state to us your pastoral and canonical relationship with St. Nicholas Episcopal Church, and myself," Risard wrote in his letter. "You publicly stated at our diocesan convention that you no longer are the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, and instead you are a Bishop within the Province of the Southern Cone. As such, we understand your visit is simply to worship with us; there will be no liturgical role for you, neither celebrating nor preaching. The Episcopal Church welcomes all, and you are most welcome to worship, with the purpose of seeking transformation and reconciliation"...

...Risard said he is worried that Schofield is coming to St. Nicholas to either announce the closing of the mission or his removal as vicar, actions that Schofield has taken elsewhere in the diocese during his episcopate.

"Is it his intention to support the mission congregations in their call to worship and to serve the poor or does he want to close it?" Risard said. "He needs to go on record about what he's doing"...
From the Living Church:

...In an interview with a reporter for The Living Church, Fr. Risard said he is concerned that Bishop Schofield was planning to relieve him of his responsibilities as vicar at St. Nicholas. Fr. Risard said he wants to remain a priest of The Episcopal Church. He abstained from the votes to leave The Episcopal Church and from the one to affiliate with the Southern Cone on Dec. 8 during diocesan convention...

...Fr. Risard said St. Nicholas’ has retained Michael Glass as legal counsel and declined further comment on the relationship, citing client-attorney privilege. Mr. Glass, a San Rafael, Calif.-based attorney who represents congregations and individual Episcopalians who wish to remain in The Episcopal Church, told Episcopal News Service on Dec. 11 that he, local leaders, David Booth Beers (chancellor to the Presiding Bishop), and leaders from Episcopal dioceses surrounding San Joaquin “are coming together very soon to finalize our coordinated efforts to provide for the leadership needs, the legal and pastoral issues, and the financial concerns of our brothers and sisters in San Joaquin, and to provide for the continuation of the diocese.”

Fr. Risard said St. Nicholas’ is not contemplating legal action against Bishop Schofield or the diocese. However, he believes the proposal to leave The Episcopal Church is illegal and should never have been put to a vote at convention. Fr. Risard said he is hopeful that a growing number of clergy will realize its illegality and refuse to be intimidated by Bishop Schofield any longer.

“All I’m doing is trying to put pressure on the bishop to clarify his status in The Episcopal Church,” he said. “By not following him into the Southern Cone, he is not our bishop. Other clergy need not be fearful of the bishop. They need to come to their own conclusions about what he has done. He is not getting away with that with me.”
Let us hope other clergy follow Fr. Risard's example.

If you're in the area, please consider joining the people of St. Nicholas this Sunday for worship and as a sign of support. Directions to the church can be found here.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Praise For Our Presiding Bishop

Teresa Morrison offers a commentary at ADVOCATE.COM about what is going on in the Episcopal Church:

...I firmly believe that within a generation the antigay hate speech Bishop Schofield so freely espouses will receive as little tolerance as we do today, and I look forward to a time when men like him will wish they had quietly harbored hatred rather than staking their reputations on it. Meanwhile, Bishop Jefferts Schori and other proponents of inclusion will be credited with having furthered the integrity of their faith institutions as dynamic, relevant forces in the 21st century.

Non-Episcopalian gays and lesbians might not think we have a dog in this fight, but we all have a vested interest in the outcome. We find ourselves in a very rare position here, one so unfamiliar to LGBT people we can scarcely grasp its significance: In the determination of the U.S. Episcopal Church to take a stand for our equality and inclusion, we have everything to gain and nothing to lose, while the folks fighting for us risk their political and financial footing in the Anglican Communion, the third-largest Christian body in the world, which is far more sympathetic toward your Bishops Schofield than to the progressive platform embraced by Bishop Jefferts Schori and the majority of her church’s 2.5 million members.

We never asked Episcopalians to take up our fight. Rather, it seems, their spiritual path has led them to believe that we aren’t any less deserving of ministry or recognition or even consecration simply because we happen to be unpopular sexual minorities. I wish that weren’t an extraordinary concept in 2007, but it is. And Bishop Jefferts Schori has hardly blinked in a year of denominational strife that has seen her character and her commitment to her religious office questioned, challenged, dismissed, and maligned.

In this age of gay bashing from all sides, it isn’t often we encounter a religious leader—or any leader—willing to bulldog for our rights, especially when faced with such a potentially high cost to herself and the institution she represents. What I wouldn’t give for such genuine representation in our elected officials...
Some days, I really love my Church.

A tip of the saturno to Greg Griffith for pointing to this.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Some Anglicans Are More Equal Than Others

I want to refresh your memory in regards to my response to the passage of B033 at General Convention 2006:

...The world was watching to see if at least one segment of the Body of Christ would reject the self-righteous bigotry that they have come to expect from those who call themselves Christians. And we have shown them that we're not any different from the Falwells and Robertsons that regularly make a mockery of our faith. Most likely many will shrug and say they were not surprised, and then turn to the next page of the Wall Street Journal. We have crawled back into that box the secular world has built for us; a box that is quickly becoming irrelevant in many people's lives anyway.

I'll tell you one thing: I will never refer to myself as an Anglican again. We have created a golden calf that is not worthy of our worship, let alone our respect.

Keep in mind that this will not be enough for Anglican bigots like Peter Akinola. TEC is going to continue to be treated like a naughty child who must be disciplined. We have managed to not only compromise our integrity, but have also produced nothing that will be considered acceptable to the Communion. We blinked.

My heart is broken. Beyond that, I am outraged. There must be consequences created for this act of cowardice...
That remains my position today. I do not describe myself as an Anglican. In fact, if the Archbishop of Canterbury's Advent Letter is symbolic of what it means to be an Anglican today, I reject that designation even more emphatically.

In that letter, he made it clear that the only reason he is not ready to give up on the Episcopal Church is because of the existence of the "Windsor Bishops," and others who proclaim their loyalty to the Anglican Communion, and are willing to sacrifice a minority of their members in order to maintain those ties to Canterbury.

This loose affiliation of Churches formerly known as "the Anglican Communion," is becoming more structured, and certain segments, such as the Primates, are claiming more authority for themselves. In his recent letter, Dr. Williams, who is known to be very careful in his choice of words, referred to "the Anglican Church." Isn't it obvious what direction things are headed?

Keep in mind that Dr. Williams has also spoken about a "two-tiered" membership in the Anglican Communion. Those who do not follow what he understands to be the consensus of the Communion will be stripped of all positions of leadership, effectively silencing them from the councils of the Communion. But, technically, they will still be members, meaning they will still be expected to contribute funds for the maintenance of the Anglican Consultative Council and the Lambeth Conference.

"All Anglicans are equal, but some are more equal than others." I suppose we should not be surprised by such an Orwellian direction, as that appears to be what Dr. Williams understands the Communion consensus to be; based on the questionable interpretation of seven passages of scripture, gay and lesbian Christians are to be denied a place at the Communion table; they are to be counted among the "less equal."

How else can we understand Bp. Robinson not being invited to Lambeth? Beyond that, this means the people of New Hampshire will not be represented. For what reason? Because Bp. Robinson had the audacity to be honest. Do keep in mind there will be more than a few gay bishops at Lambeth. Quite possibly some of them will even be there representing the Southern Cone. But they will remain in the closet, and so will be honored for their duplicity.

What the Archbishop of Canterbury is doing to Bp. Robinson, and the people of New Hampshire is wrong. It is symbolic of the bigotry that continues to infect the Church.

By participating in Lambeth, we affirm such bigotry. Attending is wrong. It's really that simple. Those who attend will show who they really serve; the idol of the Anglican Communion, not the living God.

Personally, I don't care what the Anglican Communion does. Let the extremists have it. And, if I were a bishop, I most certainly would not surrender my integrity in order to prop up this illusion we call the Anglican Communion.

How far are we willing to compromise ourselves? When do we draw our line?

I think we need to draw that line now. We do nothing. We do not respond to any more requests from the Communion. We do not participate in any more of their meetings or events. We don't send them another dime. No announcements. No grand statements. Just a quiet refusal to participate.

And then let this golden calf we call the "Anglican Communion" do what it wants. If they desire that we continue with them, we will consider such an offer. If they want to strike our name from their list, so be it.

We need to move past this, with our integritry intact. To continue to engage those who are determined to twist the message of the Gospel is accomplishing little, and deeply damaging our witness to the world.

Let it go, folks, for our own sakes, and for the sake of the world.


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Lambeth: Showdown or No Show?

The Archbishop of Canterbury sent out invitations to Lambeth in May. At that time, here is how he described the plans for this 2008 Conference:

… it will also be an opportunity for all of us to strengthen our commitment to God’s mission and to our common life as a Communion. In connection with this latter point, we shall be devoting some time to thinking about the proposals for an Anglican Covenant, and about other ways in which we can deepen our sense of a common calling for us as a coherent and effective global Church family.”

“The Conference is a place where experience of our living out of God’s mission can be shared. It is a place where we may be renewed for effective ministry. And it is a place where we can try and get more clarity about the limits of our diversity and the means of deepening our Communion, so we can speak together with conviction and clarity to the world. It is an occasion in which the Archbishop of Canterbury exercises his privilege of calling his colleagues together, not to legislate but to discover and define something more about our common identity through prayer, listening to God’s Word and shared reflection. It is an occasion to rediscover the reality of the Church itself as a worldwide community united by the call and grace of Christ."

Mindful of the speculation that has surrounded the issuing of invitations to the Conference Dr Williams recalls that invitations are issued on a personal basis by the Archbishop of Canterbury and that “the Lambeth Conference has no ‘constitution’ or formal powers; it is not a formal Synod or Council of the Communion”, and that invitation to the Conference has never been seen as “a certificate of doctrinal orthodoxy”...
No legislation. No formal powers. Not a Synod or Council.

Here are some of the descriptions of Lambeth from Dr. Williams' most recent Advent Letter:

...While argument continues about exactly how much force is possessed by a Resolution of the Lambeth Conference such as the 1998 Lambeth Conference Resolution on sexuality, it is true, as I have repeatedly said, that the 1998 Resolution is the only point of reference clearly agreed by the overwhelming majority of the Communion...

...I have underlined in my letter of invitation that acceptance of the invitation must be taken as implying willingness to work with those aspects of the Conference's agenda that relate to implementing the recommendations of Windsor, including the development of a Covenant. The Conference needs of course to be a place where diversity of opinion can be expressed, and there is no intention to foreclose the discussion - for example - of what sort of Covenant document is needed. But I believe we need to be able to take for granted a certain level of willingness to follow through the question of how we avoid the present degree of damaging and draining tension arising again. I intend to be in direct contact with those who have expressed unease about this, so as to try and clarify how deep their difficulties go with accepting or adopting the Conference's agenda.

How then should the Lambeth Conference be viewed? It is not a canonical tribunal, but neither is it merely a general consultation. It is a meeting of the chief pastors and teachers of the Communion, seeking an authoritative common voice. It is also a meeting designed to strengthen and deepen the sense of what the episcopal vocation is.

Some reactions to my original invitation have implied that meeting for prayer, mutual spiritual enrichment and development of ministry is somehow a way of avoiding difficult issues. On the contrary: I would insist that only in such a context can we usefully address divisive issues. If, as the opening section of this letter claimed, our difficulties have their root in whether or how far we can recognise the same gospel and ministry in diverse places and policies, we need to engage more not less directly with each other. This is why I have repeatedly said that an invitation to Lambeth does not constitute a certificate of orthodoxy but simply a challenge to pray seriously together and to seek a resolution that will be as widely owned as may be.

And this is also why I have said that the refusal to meet can be a refusal of the cross - and so of the resurrection. We are being asked to see our handling of conflict and potential division as part of our maturing both as pastors and as disciples. I do not think this is either an incidental matter or an evasion of more basic questions...

...I also intend to convene a small group of primates and others, whose task will be, in close collaboration with the primates, the Joint Standing Committee, the Covenant Design Group and the Lambeth Conference Design Group, to work on the unanswered questions arising from the inconclusive evaluation of the primates to New Orleans and to take certain issues forward to Lambeth...
There will be no legislation at Lambeth, yet a previous Lambeth resolution (one whose method of passage remains under question) is used as "the only point of reference." Lambeth has no formal powers, but its pronouncements will represent "an authoritative common voice." It is not a Synod or Council, yet "the refusal to meet can be a refusal of the cross - and so of the resurrection."

On the agenda will be "implementing the recommendations of Windsor", the Anglican Covenant, and "to take certain issues forward" in regards to TEC's House of Bishops' New Orleans statement. Yet this will not involve legislative sessions, or use of formal power, and is not to be understood as an "official" council of the Church?

So, will this be a significant gathering or not? Let's face it; just a few years ago, the common understanding of what it meant to be an "Anglican" was that your bishop received an invitation to Lambeth. Even though that definition has been questioned in the last few years, this meeting of all the Anglican bishops has always been considered an important event. In light of the matters on the agenda, the 2008 Lambeth must be considered a very important moment for our Church.

Yet, it appears that some will not attend, because there will be those present with whom they disagree. Instead, they will hold their own "alternative Council":

Conservative Anglican leaders are secretly planning a meeting next summer for the hundreds of bishops expected to defy the Archbishop of Canterbury by boycotting the Lambeth Conference, The Daily Telegraph has learned.

The unprecedented event will be widely seen as an "alternative Lambeth", further damaging Dr Rowan Williams's hopes of averting a formal schism over homosexuals.

Aides of the Archbishop said that any such gathering, which is due to be held just before the official conference, would be perceived as a symbol of division and would send out a "negative" message.

It will also be portrayed as a rebuff to the Archbishop's plea last week for all Anglican leaders to attend the Lambeth Conference, the once-a-decade meeting of the Church's 880 bishops...
There are also those within TEC who are wondering about the wisdom of sending our bishops to Lambeth, such as Michael Hopkins, rector of St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene in Rochester, New York:

...What if the table is in itself so distorted that nothing good can come of it? What if the table is, by design, not credible. And it is clearly not given that despite three previous Conference’s promise to listen to the experience of lesbian and gay persons, there is no evidence whatsoever that the next Conference intends to do so. If nothing else, the one person who could be there as an active participant in such a listening process from the side of gay and lesbian persons is not being allowed to participate. If our bishops’ are to go to the Conference are they willing in no uncertain terms, to protest strongly this state of affairs and state that they will do everything in their power to see that the conversation happens at the Conference?

Second of all, is not the Conference a set up. The Archbishop says in his letter that the primary purpose of the Conference will be to work on the Anglican Covenant, presumably to bring it to a final draft. Presumably the Covenant will then be presented to the Provinces of the Communion for their constitutional assent. Is there any reason at all to trust this process? Is not, rather, the evidence that this Covenant will be seen after the Conference as the norm for the Communion as Lambeth 1.10 has come to be seen? Will not the Covenant be presented to the Provinces as a litmus test, i.e., vote for it or you’re out of Communion? Does not the trajectory of the Archbishop’s own writing not lead in this direction? Do we really want to participate in our own exclusion? Are our bishop’s so certain that they can effect the Covenant language so that it is not innocuous to our constitutional make-up as TEC? Do they not remember how out-voted they were in 1998, despite all their efforts to bring something more palatable to the Conference (the report of the sub-section)?
In my mind, the exclusion of Bp. Robinson would make it impossible for me to accept such an invitation. I would simply not go, on that point alone. If Bp. Robinson does attend Lambeth, it will be as a "guest," meaning no voice and no vote. If our bishops choose to attend, possibly they could notify Canterbury that they will also be present as "guests"? This would certainly show solidarity with the people of New Hampshire, who have been excluded by Dr. Williams.

So, what do you think? How do you reconcile Dr. Williams' conflicted "no formal power/authoritative voice" message? Is Lambeth a set up for TEC? Should our bishops attend as guests with no voice or vote?


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Take a Chill Pill, David

There's been quite a few responses to the Archbishop of Canterbury's Advent Letter. A good list of links is provided by The Lead. For those seeking a calmer, more upbeat take on it, read Bill Coates words over on The Episcopal Majority.

I want to highlight one rather strong response. It is by David Anderson, President of the American Anglican Council, an organization that functions as the Network's covert operatives, by David's own admission.

Before David "I like a good fight" Anderson jumped to Nigeria, he was the rector of St. James, Newport Beach, which is one of the parishes in the case currently before the California Supreme Court. He then launched the American Anglican Council, partially bankrolled by Howard Ahmanson, a former parishioner and previous disciple of the infamous Rushdoony. You may recall that Rushdoony was the grandfather of the Dominionists, who advocated for, among other things, capital punishment for all gays and lesbians. Anderson set himself up in the offices of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, where he continued to build his reputation as "that angry guy" among most Anglicans. He was recently rewarded for his lack of self control by being issued a mitre by Abp. Akinola of Nigeria. Birds of a feather...

It appears that a purple shirt has not caused David to tone down his rhetoric. Here's part of his recent response to Dr. Williams:

...In the Advent Letter there is no call for TEC to repent or even do better, but rather for all of us to accept that they are locked into their iniquity and we have to accept that as it is. They stay at the table, and the orthodox have the burden of trying to figure out how to live with them. Additionally, it is clear that the AMiA, CANA, Kenya and Uganda USA bishops are not only unwelcome or unworthy to sit with Dr. Williams, but he questions their LEGITIMACY. In one quote he says, “And while … I understand and respect the good faith of those who have felt called to provide additional episcopal oversight in the USA, there can be no doubt that these ordinations have not been encouraged or legitimized by the Communion overall.” It is finally not those few of us that he is really attacking, but our Primates: Akinola, Orombi, Nzimbi, and Kolini. The actions of Primate Venables really upset his sense of order as well, because now Canadian and American bishops and one entire diocese have changed provinces and moved to the Southern Cone.

Dr. Williams announces in his letter that he is seizing yet more power and initiative, principally to punish the orthodox, by several new actions. He is launching “professionally facilitated conversations” between TEC and those they are most in dispute with to see if there is any better level of mutual understanding. What part of the last ten years does he not understand? The TEC revisionists do understand us and fear us. That is why, like pharaoh, they are trying to prevent our multiplying. And we do understand the revisionists, and we are determined not to go to hell with them, no matter what the cost of our resistance. In launching this new action, he also announces that he knows who he will pick to do it. This is not collegial. This is power...
David, David, really need to get some help before you blow a gasket.

It is quite obvious what got him all worked up; it's that one word he put in all caps...LEGITIMACY...he is all bent out of shape because he understands Dr. Williams to be saying his consecration as a bishop in the Anglican Communion was ILLEGITIMATE. Which it was.

So, he takes a few shots at those with whom he disagrees. First of all, one must assume that "revisionist" is the term he is using to describe those he opposes. I'm sure he would have preferred a stronger term, but most likely his essay would not have seen the light of day if he would have said what he really thinks of us.

He imagines that we fear him and his group. Fear isn't the emotion that comes to my mind. Pity perhaps. Even disgust at times. But no, not fear. The last person that generated any fear from me was a large man who knocked me to the ground and stuck a pistol between my eyes. But an angry, illegitimate bishop who has spent most of the last decade trying to get those he doesn't like out of the church? Sorry David, but I'm just not feeling the fear.

And then there is that lovely sentiment regarding how he is "determined not to go to hell with them." So now that David is a bishop, he gets to decide who is condemned to eternal damnation and who is spared? I think somebody needs to explain to him that just because some of the Anglo-Catholics might bow when he passes by, nobody confuses him with God, even if he would prefer that they did.

Since David has chosen to leave the Episcopal Church, it is probably best if we just ignore his snarling and snapping. Don't let him get you down. Or, to phrase it in a more elegant way:

Nil Illigitimi Carborundum!

or, for the Barry Goldwater fans;

Illegitimi non carborundum!

or, for those who prefer at least a resemblance to actual Latin;

Noli nothis permittere te terere!