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Californian diocese votes to move from ECUSA

07 December 2006

by Douglas LeBlanc

“Schism in the eye of the beholder”?: top: delegates at the San Joaquin diocesan convention voting on Saturday to remove references to ECUSA from its constitution; above: the diocesan Bishop, the Rt Revd John-David Schofield (right), at the conventionAP/EMPICSAP/EMPICS

THE Revd Daniel Martins, the Rector of St John’s, Stockton, voted with the majority on Saturday, when the diocese of San Joaquin in California chose to remove all references to the Episcopal Church in the United States (ECUSA) from its constitution and canons. It has substituted the Anglican Communion for all such mentions of the Church.

Delegates from the largely conservative diocese wished to distance themselves from ECUSA’s more liberal approach to sexuality and the ordination of women. So, at the diocesan convention in Fresno, California, clergy and laity elected to take a first step away from membership of ECUSA.

Mr Martins was in the odd position of not being convinced about the action, but realising that it was the convention’s will. “It may be the wrong time, but it’s the right thing; so let’s sin boldly,” he said. He had a hand in softening the diocese’s proposal, which had originally said the diocese would align itself with another Anglican province. The measure prepares the way for such a shift, but does not commit it to a schedule for this.

San Joaquin, a diocese of nearly 50 congregations and 10,000 baptised members, is the first to risk repercussions for an attempt to leave ECUSA. Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, the Presiding Bishop of ECUSA,

has suggested that she may declare vacant the seat of the Bishop of San Joaquin, the Rt Revd John-David Schofield, and call for new leaders to be elected.

Mr Martins believes that such a response to the diocesan vote would agitate all but the strongest supporters of ECUSA in the diocese. “People like myself, who had preferred that we had not done this, would be inclined to come to the Bishop’s defence.” The Presiding Bishop would inherit only three or four loyal congregations, Mr Martins said, and the diocese would not be viable.

The Revd Rick Matters, the Rector of St John the Baptist’s, Lodi, said he would not mind if it came to such a situation. Mr Matters is one of the founders of Remain Episcopal, one of several grassroots groups that have emerged in conservative dioceses since the ECUSA General Convention of 2003.

Mr Matters said that the Presiding Bishop had not been in touch with Remain Episcopal about becoming the nucleus of a new diocese, but that he was looking forward to such co-operation. “I hope we’ll join hands soon,” he said.

Mr Matters has been hoping for reconciliation for some time. “We made it clear that our goal was to have Bishop Schofield as our bishop, and our diocese united. I’ve given up hope of keeping us all together. There is too much of a wish [among conservatives] to be pleasing to God that translates into a holiness code.”

Despite being in the minority in the diocese, Mr Matters remains upbeat. He does not see the diocese as embarking on a split: “Schism is in the eye of the beholder. If you see the Episcopal Church as the totality of the Church in miniature, then rejecting its constitution and canons is schism. We’re not in schism. We’re trying to repair schism by having a remnant of the Episcopal Church remain in communion with the larger whole.”

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