San Joaquin Episcopalians anchor reorganization in themes of resurrection, hope

Convention accepts Jerry Lamb as provisional bishop
March 28, 2008

The members of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin March 29 chose their provisional bishop and other officers, and passed organizing resolutions during a convention filled with cheers and applause, and rooted in the message of resurrection.


"I am awed by the opportunity" that the Diocese of San Joaquin has to transform itself, said Nancy Key, a member of the steering committee that worked towards the convening of the special convention, during a lunch break. The diocese has "a lot of momentum" that can now be channeled into concrete action, she added.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori opened the convention at the Episcopal Church of St. John the Baptist in Lodi, California, with Morning Prayer.

The rest of the Episcopal Church "stand[s] with you in the firm and constant hope that this body will grow and flourish and bless the Central Valley of California in ways you have not yet dreamed of," the Presiding Bishop later told the convention.

When then-acting Convention Secretary the Rev. Deacon Susanne Ward called roll of the diocese's congregations, 18 of 47 responded, accounting for 43 lay delegates and 21 clergy. More than 400 people attended the convention.

Clergy delegates were asked to sign an oath of conformity to the Episcopal Church, similar to that which they were required to sign at their ordination. Lay delegates signed an oath the echoed the Baptismal Covenant. Nominees for diocesan offices also had to sign the oath.

The convention accepted without debate Jefferts Schori's recommendation of Jerry Lamb as provisional bishop of the diocese.

The choice of Lamb came in consultation with the Presiding Bishop, who had recommended him earlier, in accordance with Canon III.13.1. That canon states in part that "a Diocese without a Bishop may, by an act of its Convention, and in consultation with the Presiding Bishop, be placed under the provisional charge and authority of a Bishop of another Diocese or of a resigned Bishop."

Lamb, 67, retired as bishop of the Sacramento-based Diocese of Northern California in 2007 and most recently served as interim bishop in the Diocese of Nevada. Lamb and his wife, Jane, will live in Stockton, the seat of the Diocese of San Joaquin.

"I am so pleased that Jane and I will be part of your life from this time forward," Lamb told the convention.

Jefferts Schori, in her remarks to the convention, said she brought the participants "Easter greetings."

"I say to you as Jesus frequently said to his disciples 'Peace be with you' and, further more, 'Fear not,'" Jefferts Schori said. "These may have been trying and traumatic months, but you are already clearly experiencing resurrection."

She told the convention that there is "new hope here for a church that can tolerate and even welcome diversity."

"There is new hope for a reconciled community," she continued. "There is, above all, new hope that this part of the body of Christ can focus on the needs of neighbors who need to her the good news of God in Christ."

She said that if the "surprisingly motley crew" that followed Jesus could flourish despite its struggles over "who was acceptable and who was not," then "there is hope for us."

Jefferts Schori said that in the coming months diocesan members will be "invited to remember who and whose you are, why you're here, and what you're going to do about it."

The Presiding Bishop gave the participants what she called "a few reminders" to keep in mind as they accept that invitation.

First, "we belong to God, whom we know in Jesus, and there is no other place we find the ground of our identity."

Second, "we are all made in the image of God … and searching for the image of God in those we have offended and who have offended us is a central part of our reconciling vocation."

Third, "in baptism we discover that we are meant to be for others, in the same way that God is for us . . . focusing on the other, the ones outside this body, is going to be a vital part of discovering resurrection."

Jefferts Schori called on the diocese to meet the great needs of their part of the world -- "migrant workers, single parents, young people with little sense of the future or direction, returning veterans."

House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson, a frequent visitor and source of support for Episcopalians in San Joaquin, also spoke to the convention. She offered a plaque which she said she hoped would be hung in the room where the new Standing Committee would meet. The plaque proclaims "I will, with God's help," the response to questions in the Baptismal Covenant.

Anderson reminded the convention that keeping the vows of the Baptismal Covenant "can be dangerous and frightening as well as comforting and empowering."

She recalled her visit to the diocese and St. John's, Lodi, in February 2007 for a gathering of Episcopalians who opposed the direction in which Schofield was taking the diocese. "We climbed upon God's roller coaster and buckled up," she said.

"We are called to use our gifts to serve God as reconcilers not only in this Diocese of San Joaquin but in the world," she said, reminding the convention that Episcopalians work as "lay people, clergy and bishops together."

At a news conference following the morning session of the convention, Anderson said the lay people of diocese "realize they have authority by the Baptismal Covenant" and are "fired up to grow the church in this part of California." She added that Lamb and the rest of the clergy "are very anxious to support the ministry of the laity in this diocese."

Lamb told the news conference that the diocese will be challenged to "keep a spirit of reconciliation and openness" in the midst of settling the legal issues involved with Schofield's actions. He said members of the diocese must bring "the reconciling love of God and the Lord Jesus to the whole community" and make that love the common ground on which they reconcile with other Episcopalians whom they will invite to "come home" and invite new people to join them in the body of Christ.

Other convention action
The convention also elected a deputation to the 76th General Convention to be held in July 2009 in Anaheim, California.

The call to elect a new Standing Committee drew protest from the Rev. Robert Eaton, rector of St. John's Episcopal Parish in Tulare, California, and two lay delegates. Eaton, who said they wanted to protest "in as godly and Christian a manner as possible," told the convention that he had never resigned from the Standing Committee and thus should not have his seat taken away from him.

Tulare delegate George Sutton objected to what he called the "illegality" of the special convention, claiming that only the Standing Committee can call a special convention. Gillian Busch, the other lay delegate, said that the Tulare parish had not been included in the organization of the steering committee that worked toward the convention.

The Rev. Mark Hall, convention chair, replied that "this matter has been settled."

Jefferts Schori had told the participants earlier that the convention had been called because Bishop John-David Schofield had been deposed or removed from his diocesan seat after having abandoned the communion of the Episcopal Church, and because the Standing Committee removed because it took actions "which violated their ability to hold office in this church."

Convention also approved a $459,000 annual budget for the diocese, funded by the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church.

Clergy and lay delegates met in executive session for about a half hour to consider resolutions related to legal issues facing the reorganized diocese.

The convention also passed resolutions to:

  • acknowledge Lamb's appointment of various officers;
  • provide for the admission of clergy with accepted letters dimissory to seat, voice, and vote, with approval of diocesan, thus allowing participation of clergy serving in the diocese, or denied service in the diocese, who have now applied for canonical residency.
  • provide for the admission of new congregations as missions with seat, voice, and vote, with approval of the bishop and provided that such congregations have met the requirements under the Constitution and Canons of the Diocese (resolution pertained to three new congregations that applied for admission to the diocese: St. Mary's in-the-Mountains, Sonora; Holy Trinity, Madera; and Grace Episcopal, Bakersfield);
  • acknowledge the bishop's appointment of rural deans for each deanery and instruct the five deaneries to elect diocesan council representatives, each deanery having one clerical member, and one lay member in accordance with the Constitution and Canons;
  • provide for the appointment of various committees of Convention including the Committee on Constitutions and Canons to review and propose revisions to the diocesan governing documents for consideration at the next appropriate convention;
  • restate, ratify and confirm the "true, correct and effective Constitution and Canons of this Diocese," acknowledge that "purported modification were ultra vires, illegal, and without effect;" and reassert that the diocese's Constitution and Canons accede to those of the Episcopal Church;
  • establish a Commission on Reconciliation "to enable mediation" and "make available faith-based reconciliation seminars and programs open to all with our Diocese;"
  • thank Jefferts Schori, Anderson and others -- including priests Robert Moore and Brian Cox, who provided pastoral presence in the diocese -- for their participation, and express appreciation of support and prayers from the wider church.

The convention also passed a consent calendar of resolutions that:

  • waived any potential defects in notice or other irregularities in the calling the Special Convention;
  • allowed the Dispatch of Business Committee flexibility in presenting the convention agenda so that the chair could call special recesses as necessary, move items on the agenda for good cause, and expedite business;
  • allowed Dispatch of Business to limit debate; as necessary; and
  • permitted licensed clergy, official observers, and distinguished visitors seat and voice.

Episcopalians have been at work to reconstitute the Diocese of San Joaquin since the diocesan convention on December 8 when clergy and lay deputies voted took a vote purporting to realign the diocese with the Argentina-based Anglican Province of the Southern Cone. The convention also effectively removed all references to the Episcopal Church from its constitution so as to describe the diocese as "a constituent member of the Anglican Communion and in full communion with the See of Canterbury."

-- The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is Episcopal Life Media correspondent for Episcopal Church governance, structure, and trends, as well as news of the dioceses of Province II. She is based in Neptune, New Jersey, and New York City.

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