Friday, January 04, 2008

Continuing Episcopalians to Meet in Fresno on January 26

The team at Episcopal Life is back, and on the ball. Here's their latest report on the Continuing Episcopalians in San Joaquin. It contains some important new information:

Fed up with years of rancor over the ordination of women and gays, they say healing is emerging after initial grief and loss over the split. So are new congregations. "They are preparing to reconstitute the diocese; it's heartwarming because it's been a long haul for them," said the Rev. Canon Robert Moore, appointed by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori as a pastoral presence in the interim.

Also affirming, Moore said, is observing a flood of "support for them (which) has come from all over the world and being able to watch the church rise up and to say, 'You do not have to do this alone, we will do whatever we have to do to help you move forward.' "

The Presiding Bishop's canon, the Rev. Dr. Charles Robertson, agrees: "We want to reassure all continuing Episcopalians in San Joaquin that we will continue to be there for them as the larger Church."

Moore will be among those offering support and encouragement at a January 26 gathering in Fresno planned for continuing Episcopalians. Also present there will be House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson, and representatives of Remain Episcopal, a group dedicated to reconstituting the diocese and advancing the Episcopal Church's ongoing ministries in the region.

Anderson commended the faithful laity and clergy for their "sheer grace and hopeful courage to refrain and reconstruct the diocese and to listen to what God is calling them to do at this time in our history.

"The Episcopal Church at large has a unique opportunity to encourage and support these faithful Episcopalians," said Anderson who keynoted a 2007 mission conference in San Joaquin.

It will be the "first gathering of the faithful" since the San Joaquin convention's December 8 vote to split and "an opportunity to tell people in the diocese who do want to stay in the Episcopal Church what are the next steps," said Nancy Key of Remain Episcopal and one of the group's founders. "It will answer their questions from a pastoral and legal standpoint because they're hungry for information."

Those scheduled to address the January 26 gathering also include Remain Episcopal President Cindy Smith, and Michael Glass, an attorney active with the group...
January 26 in Fresno. If you're in the neighborhood, mark your calendars.

The article also provides us with some good quotes from the Rev. Fred Risard of St. Nicholas in Exile:

...In Atwater, some 60 miles west of Sonora, the people of St. Nicholas' Mission will meet January 6 for the first time at a local community center, says the Rev. Fred Risard, the congregation's vicar and the son of the Rev. Martin Risard.

The congregation has adopted the name "St. Nicholas-in-exile" because former Bishop John-David Schofield "fired me on Christmas Day and locked me out of the church the next day," Fred Risard said. About 25 members and friends of St. Nicholas also assembled for Sunday services on December 30 at a venue not far from the church site.

He and others within the diocese say closing the mission is Schofield's way of intimidating clergy and congregations who opposed the vote to affiliate with Bishop Gregory Venables, primate of the Southern Cone, which has about 22,000 members and encompasses the South American nations of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay.

Attempts to reach Schofield for comment were unsuccessful. Despite the vote to leave, he has said he intends to retain diocesan property and has said dissenting congregations could retain individual church property "as long as they don't owe the diocese money." During a December 23 pastoral visit, he told the Atwater congregation he was concerned about the congregation's dwindling membership and financial resources, assertions Fred Risard and others dispute.

"Clergy are being fired and the church's property taken over by the bishop," Fred Risard said, adding that Schofield had also seized church records. "My congregation and I don't recognize the bishop's actions at convention," he said. "We just don't think it's legal, so we've been locked out of the building. Now we're a congregation in exile, and we're not the only one."

Meanwhile, by allowing Schofield time to reconsider his decision, the canonical procedures followed by churchwide leaders are affording Schofield the "due process" that he is concurrently denying to Fred Risard and other clergy, Risard said...
The Continuing Episcopalians are beginning to move beyond their grief and awaken to the possibilities for mission and growth:

...Similarly, other remaining congregations report increased attendance following the vote to leave. Of the diocese's 47 congregations, 42 approved the split; clergy approved it 70-12 and the laity voted 103-10 for realignment. At the Parish of Holy Family in Fresno, attendance has nearly doubled, said parishioner George Wade.

"We're packing the house on Sundays," he said. "They're even sitting in the crying room, but they're not crying anymore." He expressed concern for mission congregations that need to know they have the support of the larger church.

Beryl Simkins is another Episcopalian-in-exile who said she found much-needed support at St. Anne's Church in Stockton. Simkins, a former vestry member at St. Francis Church in Turlock, said she left in August after Schofield placed a priest there who had been deposed in the Diocese of Western New York. She has since attended a regular Tuesday evening prayer service and has begun to organize "St. Francis-in-exile with a lot of support from Father Mark Hall of St. Anne's."

With Hall's assistance, the group organized a Christmas Eve service at a local Methodist church, and arranged for a priest from the Diocese of California to officiate. Hall designated space for parishioners to pledge money for ongoing support to St. Francis-in-exile, and the Methodist church has offered continued use of their sanctuary or other space, Simkins said.

"We plan to start with a local Eucharist one day a month, to be followed by fellowship, bible study, and we want to start acolyte training and group activities for kids," she said. "We also want to begin a faith commitment as a group, like feeding the hungry in Turlock. It's a small beginning, but we have high hopes and a real desire to move beyond what has occurred and begin anew"...

From the book of the Prophet Isaiah, the forty-third chapter, beginning at the eighteenth verse:

Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
Thanks be to God!


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