Thursday, December 13, 2007

Some Clarifications Regarding the Faithful in San Joaquin

I've recently received an update of the situation in San Joaquin from a friend who is a member of that diocese and is monitoring the conversations on this little backwater blog. Since one of our roles is to bring to light those things that cannot be revealed on "official" sites, as we have the liberty of delving into the realm of speculation and they do not, I think it will be of value to pass on the information I have received. Do keep in mind that this friend is someone that I have worked with before on another project, and so I consider the following information to be an accurate expression of the current situation.

Mission Congregations -
Yesterday, we discussed the threat made by the former bishop and leaders of San Joaquin to cut off funding to the missions if they objected to being held captive. Apparently, this is not the full picture of the situation.

Not all mission congregations are receiving funding from the diocese. The Diocesan budget reveals that almost all 19 of their missions are not receiving any funding from the Diocese. It appears that the custom in San Joaquin is that a congregation remains in mission status until it is self-supporting, can afford a full-time priest, and has average Sunday attendance of 75 or more. The reasons some of these missions prefer to not become a parish varies from place to place.

The issue for these self-supporting missions isn't the threat of their funding being cut off. The concern is that their clergy (Vicars) are "appointed" (and potentially removed) at the whim of the bishop. This means that it is safe to speculate that the clergy leaders of those congregations are either in agreement with Bp. Schofield, or are living in fear of losing their position if they object too loudly. On top of this, we have learned that mission congregations, self-supporting or not, are not given the option of refusing to be part of the Southern Cone.

A Special Note to Clergy -
If clergy or congregation leaders are troubled by the recent developments in San Joaquin, but are uncomfortable with contacting Remain Episcopal, then they need to immediately call attorney Mike Glass directly at 415-454-8485. He can advise them about how to protect themselves, as he is already doing for a number of other clergy and congregations in that diocese.

Clergy may also contact Canon Robert Moore for pastoral support. According to Episcopal Life, our Presiding Bishop has appointed Canon Moore "to provide an ongoing pastoral presence to the continuing Episcopalians in the Diocese of San Joaquin." I have been unable to locate his contact information. If someone has it, please pass it on.

The Action of TEC's Leaders -
I have been informed that there is much going on behind the scenes. The details cannot yet be made public, for muliple reasons. To speculate once again, the apparent delays could be because the civil cases might be stronger once TEC has followed its own internal disciplinary procedures. Beyond that, perhaps there is the hope that there will soon be a decision from the California Supreme Court regarding the 3 Los Angeles parishes who left TEC and tried to take their property with them. That decision will have a significant impact on future cases in California.

I think it is safe to assume that legal actions are being pursued. The basis for such actions was carefully explained at the recent Chicago Conultation by Bp. Stacy F. Sauls of Lexington. Personally, I like Dan's much briefer but equally elegant summation of why there is little doubt that legal action has been taken:

...The Diocese of San Joaquin was created by the General Convention of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the USA (DFMSPECUSA) using the Constitution and Canons of that organization.

Our Presiding Bishop and the hierarchy could be sued under US law by members of the DFMSPECUSA if they don't seek to conserve the assets of the organization. There is ample precedent in civil law for lawsuits with other non-profits whose chairs, through mismanagement, have depreciated the assets of the organization.

Likewise, the DFMSPECUSA is incorporated in New York State and the Attorney General of New York would be within historical precedence to also file suit against the DFMSPECUSA if +KJS doesn't take action to conserve the assets of the church.

The Attorney General's office in New York State sued the New York Stock Exchange (then a non-profit corporation) over excessive executive compensation a few years ago. Officers of non-profits have a fiduciary responsibility under law.

But given the sensitivity of these legalities, I think it's a huge mistake to accuse the Presiding Bishop of anything. She may not be making strong statements because they could be used against her in court.
Diocesan Demographics -
We've done some speculation on this. As one who spent much of my youth in San Joaquin, and served for many years in a neighboring diocese, I can affirm the following information from my friend who is currently residing there:

...If you're thinking of us as mission territory, and not just replanting existing congregations (which is the way it should be!)--yes, there are a lot of rural areas. But also many urban, sophisticated ones. Many areas have been growing rapidly, especially as housing prices in the Bay Area, Silicon Valley, Sacramento, and L.A. areas skyrocketed. No Episcopal churches have been planted in those new developments--and they should have been. We need 20 times more Spanish-speaking congregations than we've ever had. Also lots of immigrants from Southeast Asia -- Laotian, Filipino, Cambodian. Migrant farm workers--how can we serve them? Not a single Episcopal church in a black community in this diocese, either. The counties in DoSJ do tend to be conservative and slower to adapt to changes than our neighboring diocese--but that also means that there are few churches who reach out to moderates and liberals. All five of the congregations who have stated they intend to remain in TEC have and welcome liberals, conservatives and everything in between--held together by our love of God, common worship, and love for one another...
What Can We Do Now? -
The outpouring of offers from priests to come to serve the faithful in San Joaquin is heartwarming. My friend is overwhelmed by the response and thanks all those who have made this offer. But first things first; we've got some work to do before such offers can be considered. We've got to get the money together to do the advertising so we can gather people to those services before they are scheduled.

They need $5,000 to do a single mailing to the known members of the diocese, and $50,000-$100,000 for the initial 3-week advertising blitz--not including any TV or internet advertising. If you have experience developing such campaigns, and are willing to help, they would love to hear from you. They also need people who can come up with creative ways of using web-based methods of social networking systems to get the word out.

You can contact Remain Episcopal at this email address:


Donations may be made to "Remain Episcopal," and sent to this address:

Remain Episcopal
2067 W. Alluvial
Fresno, CA 93711

My friend also offered a brief reflection that I feel is worthy of consideration:

I keep thinking: Jesus said to go out and make disciples, and that when two or more are gathered in His name, He will be there. He didn't say anything about planting churches with average Sunday attendance of 100+ and a full-time priest. What would happen if we took Jesus' model--and considered our church planting efforts equally successful if we "grew" a Bible study/prayer group of 8 people who met regularly for 3 years, or a small congregation of 25 ASA that lasted for 30 years, or a congregation of 600 ASA? What model of leadership, pastoral care, clergy-calling, and financial stewardship would that lead to? Is what's happening in DoSJ a heaven-sent opportunity to rethink what it means to "be" church?
This is the kind of thinking that is needed in San Joaquin right now. Out of this tragedy will spring new opportunities.

I recall reading a book by Robert Capon, a gourmet chef who also happens to be an Episcopal priest and an excellent theologian, in which he stated something to the effect that the best thing that could happen to some congregtions would be for them to lose everything; buildings, funds, vestments...everything. After a time of grieving, they might gather together once again in someone's living room, and after some sharing of their feelings of loss, someone would most likely ask the question, "So, what do we do now?" And that would be the moment when God begins to create something new, something exciting and vibrant, out of the rubble of their broken dreams.

We are people who believe in redemption, even in the midst of our grief, and in spite of our fears. "All things work together for good, for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose." May we place our hope in the living God.

Pray for the Diocese of San Joaquin.

Pray for the Church.


No comments:

Post a Comment