THE Californian diocese of San Joaquin has voted overwhelmingly to leave the Episcopal Church in the United States and affiliate with the Province of the Southern Cone.
San Joaquin, which has 47 parish and mission churches, and does not ordain women, adopted a constitutional change a year ago to enable the current move. It is the first of five expected diocesan secessions. Pittsburgh, Springfield, Quincy, and Fort Worth are at different stages of the process.
A statement from Lambeth Palace on Wednesday said that the Archbishop of Canterbury “has not in any way endorsed the actions of the Primate of the Southern Cone, Bishop Gregory Venables, in his welcoming of dioceses, such as San Joaquin in the Episcopal Church, to become part of his province in South America. All of these acts of intervention need to be read against the recommendations of the Windsor Report.”
The Bishop of San Joaquin, the Rt Revd John-David Schofield, had urged his diocesan convention to seize the moment. “By the summer [General Convention] of 2009, no reasonable person could believe that canon laws will not be introduced making it impossible for dioceses and parishes to leave. . . Freedom to have the bishop you want, freedom from innovations that are contrary to scripture, freedom to hold your own property will disappear,” he warned.
The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, warned the Bishop before the vote of the “potential consequences of the direction in which you appear to be leading San Joaquin. . . I do not intend to threaten you, only to urge you to reconsider and draw back from this trajectory.” Her letter, though in essence duplicating earlier letters sent to the Bishops of Pittsburgh and Fort Worth, did not mention legal action.
Bishop Schofield noted: “There is a pastoral tone to this letter which is much appreciated. Informing me that you are not writing with any threats is most encouraging also.”
In a pastoral letter in November, Bishop Schofield wrote: “The Diocese’s place in the Anglican Communion and in full communion with the See of Canterbury has been assured through an invitation extended by the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone, which is offering the Diocese membership on an emergency and pastoral basis until the Episcopal Church, among other things, repents and complies with the requests of the Windsor report and accepts the pastoral plan proposed by the Primates of the Anglican Communion in Dar es Salaam in February 2007.”
Bishop Venables’s response to the vote was: “Welcome home. And welcome back into full fellowship in the Anglican Communion.”
A suggestion that Dr Williams had conceded oversight of traditional dioceses by the Southern Cone as a “sensible way forward” in the crisis had been widely attributed to Bishop Venables, who had a routine meeting with Dr Williams at Lambeth in September. Asked directly in an interview with the Church Times last month what Dr Williams had said, Bishop Venables emphasised only that “We would not have moved if I had not had that conversation with him” (News, 16 November). The words “sensible way forward” were used by Bishop Schofield in his November letter.
Bishop Venables said on Tuesday: “The Archbishop of Canterbury’s opinion is important to us, which is why I kept him informed of what our plans were, but at no time did we seek his endorsement or claim it.”
The Episcopal Church received the news of San Joaquin’s departure “with sadness”, said Dr Jefferts Schori after the San Joaquin vote (70:12 clergy in favour and 103:10 laity). “We deeply regret their unwillingness or inability to live within the historical Anglican understanding of comprehensiveness. We wish them to know of our prayers for them and their journey. The Episcopal Church will continue in the diocese of San Joaquin, albeit with new leadership.”
She has appointed the Revd Robert Moore to provide “an ongoing pastoral presence to the continuing Episcopalians”. The Episcopal News Service reported on Tuesday a comment by Michael Glass, a lawyer, that Bishop Schofield had threatened the livelihoods and congregational finances of priests who opposed the secession.
The Bishop of Lexington, the Rt Revd Stacy Sauls, who chairs the US House of Bishops’ task force on property disputes, has written to reassure the remnant “of the justice and rightness of your position”.