Called to Be, an Episcopal revival in the Diocese of San Joaquin, was held November 17-19 in Stockton, Fresno, and Bakersfield, California. While there, members of the presiding bishop's staff worked with the local diocesan team to hear and share the stories of faith in these places, to livestream events to the wider Church, and to learn about new ministries and new ways of serving God and neighbor in California's Central Valley. While every moment was filled with the Spirit, I reflect here on five of them.
These Episcopalians work hard.
The Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin has been forged in a crucible. According to Mary Frances’ Schjonberg’s excellent coverage of the revival, “At every turn, people stopped to reflect on the nearly 10 years since then-Bishop John-David Schofield and a majority of Episcopalians attending a Dec. 8, 2007, diocesan convention voted to disaffiliate with the Episcopal Church. Schofield was at odds with the church over the ordination of women and gay clergy and issues of biblical authority. Those who left call themselves Anglicans, although the Anglican Communion does not officially recognize their organizations." Years of litigation followed, and only recently have church properties been returned to their Episcopal congregations. And so, over a decade of pain, division, lock-outs, and now healing, members of the diocese have been through quite a bit—but this has only strengthened their resolve to serve God and neighbor. Though substantial challenges remain, the questions I frequently heard were not about finances or average Sunday attendance, but rather how parishioners could best reach out with God’s love to their neighborhoods, whether that neighborhood is a suburban development, or a rural town affected by drought, or even a tent city of the homeless. Their small but extraordinarily capable diocesan staff is likewise committed to lifting up the work of their congregations and discerning where the Holy Spirit is leading them.
The bishop’s ring is a symbol of continuity.
During the Saturday investiture of the Rt. Rev. David Rice as Bishop of San Joaquin, the new bishop received an important gift—well, several important gifts, including the Scriptures, a book of the diocese’s constitution and canons, and the House of Deputies medal on behalf of the whole Diocese of San Joaquin. One of the most fascinating gifts was the episcopal ring of the late Victor Rivera, who served as diocesan bishop from 1968-1989. This ring, featuring the bishop’s seal, was presented to Rice by Rivera’s daughters, including the Rt. Rev. Nedi Rivera, who served as suffragan bishop of Olympia and later, provisional bishop of Eastern Oregon.
Immigration is on many peoples’ minds in the diocese.
On the first night of the Called to Be Revival, we gathered at the University of the Pacific to sing, pray, and hear personal testimony about immigration policy, with a focus on the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy. While there, we heard from numerous people, including at least one Episcopalian, who was a Dreamer; these young people brought to the United States as children know no other country or context, and are pursuing or have pursued post-secondary and graduate studies. We heard stories of fear and love, of appreciation for the Church's advocacy on their behalf, of the dedication a young woman has to care for her younger siblings, should her parents be deported. The General Convention of the Episcopal Church has for over 30 years advocated for just and comprehensive immigration policy in the United States. To learn more, visit the Episcopal Public Policy Network.
The Church is present with the homeless.
On our first afternoon in Stockton, we drove down I-5 to visit the Episcopal Church of St. John the Evangelist. Beneath the labyrinthine overpasses, we could see small tent cities that have sprung up for the homeless. St. John’s, established in 1850, serves these people through a ministry called the HUB—Helping Urban Bicyclists. The ministry was started two years ago by Deacon Steve Bentley, a magnanimous man whose passion, true to form, is service through the Church to the poor. The HUB provides bicycles and repairs at no cost to people in need of transportation—a gift indeed for a city with a stable climate but a sprawling footprint. Deacon Steve and his group of volunteers receive donations of bikes in all conditions and mix and match parts to rehabilitate them.
God and his people came through for us in major ways.
Between spotty wireless internet, shifting itineraries, and a phone password that just didn’t seem to work, there were numerous opportunities for our communication plan to fall apart completely, and in grand style. In every stressful scenario, though, there was a providential moment where God and his people rose to the occasion. There was the man visibly shaking with fear who showed up to the HUB thirty minutes after closing—but who found us interviewing Deacon Steve, who would calm him, pray with him, and assure him that he and God would always be there to help. There was the spotty Wi-Fi that interrupted our stream of worship but was remedied when a parishioner happened to walk by and ask if we needed to use her phone’s hotspot connection, enabling the stream to continue. And there were the moments when, as at any multi-day event, one gets tired and cranky, only to be interrupted by the grace of a local Episcopalian telling us how she came to know Jesus, or how he has experienced God’s grace and healing through a deacon’s loving and persistent concern, or how their kids can finally focus because as acolytes, they have important jobs to accomplish during worship. After Called to Be, I am more convinced than ever that God brings these holy moments and these saints to us whether we’re asking for them or not—and as far as the saints of San Joaquin go, “I mean to be one, too.”