It's the end of the year, a great time to look back and check in with some folks who have made news in 2012.
The Apostolic Church of the East in Hughson had a big split over church leadership issues. For a while, the two sides were changing locks daily, calling out the Sheriff's Department and wrangling over the church's bank accounts. Things have not yet been fully resolved, but the two sides have compromised, with each taking alternative Sundays at the facility.
The Rev. Joseph Illo, popular pastor at St. Joseph's parish in Modesto, left in August to become chaplain at a Catholic college in Southern California. He's enjoying the stimulation of working with college students, but misses the life of a parish priest and his friends in Modesto.
Meanwhile, the Rev. Mark Wagner, who took over for Illo, has felt a warm welcome from his parishioners. He said there have been a lot of ropes to learn and he misses his old congregation at Sacred Heart in Turlock, but said, "The move has been good for me."
There was almost a two-year lull in the legal battle between the Episcopal Church USA and the local diocese, which left the national body to come under an Anglican oversight body. But many of the resulting lawsuits over property are due to begin court cases in 2013, some of them within the next month. An Anglican attorney believes that most of them will be settled by the end of the year.
So here are the updates on those three stories:
Assyrian church remains in an uneasy truce
St. Mary's Holy Apostolic Catholic Church of the East in Hughson split in July over the question of church leadership.
Members of the church board rejected the authority of the Ancient Church of the East's patriarch, Mar Addai II, because he was insisting that a $250,000 loan from the Hughson church to one in Canada was in reality a gift. Ninety-five percent of the church members disagreed. The patriarch a position similar to the Roman Catholic faith's pope also had been accused of sexual assault.
The patriarch traveled to Hughson, dissolved the church council and fired the priest, the Rev. Edward Bakos, who had been ordained in the church in 1992.
He didn't have the authority to do that under the state's corporation laws, said the attorney representing the church board, Jack Sodhi.
A scuffle ensued, with each side changing locks more than once and trying to obtain access to the church's money.
Now, the two sides are in an uneasy truce.
"We go one Sunday and they go the other Sunday," said Kay Maksoud, a board member. "We have the same priest, who was fired. They have a priest from Canada."
Each side has about 100 people who attend on the alternating weekends. Other members have decided to attend both sides' services or to go to another church until the resulting lawsuits determine who the real board members are and who has access to the church's accounts.
That could take months or even years, Sodhi said.
Pastors miss parishioners, but like their new roles
After more than 20 years in the Stockton Diocese, 12 of them as pastor at St. Joseph's parish, the Rev. Joseph Illo moved south to take on a new role as a chaplain at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula.
Living 10 miles from the ocean without the stress of running a parish has felt like "a sabbatical or a vacation," he said Thursday. The best part, he said, is "interacting with the students and the teachers. Also, the fine chapel and library. I like having time to read."
But he misses the dynamic life in a parish, "the heart of the church." The students he works with are almost all between 18 and 25 years old. "What I really miss is doing everything, seeing people from the cradle to the grave," he said. "The students are very interesting I have 40 of them coming for spiritual direction and the air's a lot better down here. You realize how thick the valley air is when you go back."
He still specializes in giving international retreats to Mother Teresa's order, the Sisters of Charity. In 2013, he will give one in Venezuela for the first time and one in Peru, the third time he's been there.
"Priests are lucky," he said. "We get to do different kinds of work in our chosen career."
The Rev. Mark Wagner, who took over for Illo, said he's still busy getting used to running St. Joseph's parish.
"I miss my friends in Turlock, but I've gotten a great welcome from a lot of beautiful people who have opened their hearts to me," he said. "I'm learning a lot of new skills because of the new ropes here, and there are a lot of them," he said. He added, "I feel as if I fit here."
In 2013, Wagner said, the church plans to add new ministries for single adults and young marrieds. The church also will add stucco to some buildings and other projects to "beautify the campus." And it will continue its 24-hour-a-day adoration of the Sacraments in the church's chapel.
"I think that's the heart of our parish," he said.
The great divide: Episcopalians vs. Anglicans
After a couple of years of almost no action, lawsuits filed by Episcopal leaders to gain control over property in the San Joaquin Anglican Diocese are headed for court dates.
Rusty vanRozeboom, a Fresno attorney who represents the Anglicans who left the national Episcopal Church, said arguments in the first lawsuit regarding the approximately 30 parishes that were unincorporated are scheduled to be heard Jan. 9, with a trial date set for March 25. He is doubtful, however, that those dates will stand, based on previous similar hearings.
The court cases involving six of the nine incorporated parishes those that own their property rather than it belonging to the diocese will be held later this year. Two area parishes, including St. Francis in Turlock and St. James (the historic Red Church) in Sonora, are scheduled to go to trial June 18 and Aug. 19, respectively.
"Most of these should be decided by the end of 2013," said vanRozeboom.
He said it is "hard to say" how these cases will turn out. Across the country, many individual parishes have been forced to hand their property back to the Episcopal church, but some rulings have favored the Anglican parishes and dioceses.
"Property aside, it's such a drag on ministry to have this cloud over your church," vanRozeboom said. "We're still tied to (the Episcopal church) as long as we're involved in these lawsuits. Frankly, it makes evangelism a little more difficult, because who wants to join a church that's involved in litigation?"
Bee staff writer Sue Nowicki can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2012.