Bishop delivers healing message

RIVERBANK -- The national leader of the Episcopal Church preached a message of healing on Sunday at Christ the King Community Episcopal Church.

The sermon by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, leader of 2.4 million Episcopalians, came a day after the church's leadership met in Lodi to replace the nation's first breakaway bishop.

It installed Jerry A. Lamb, retired bishop of Northern California, to replace Bishop John-David Schofield, who in December led the Diocese of San Joaquin to leave the ECUSA and come under the authority of the Anglican Communion in South America. The split was sparked by the 2003 ordination of a gay bishop and over the interpretation of Scripture. The Anglican Communion is the worldwide body; the Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch of the church.

The ECUSA ousted Schofield earlier this month; he claims it has no authority over him because he is now part of the Province of the Southern Cone. Both sides are claiming the property of the diocese. The dispute undoubtedly will involve the input of Archbishop Rowan Williams in Lambeth, England, headquarters of the denomination, and possible lawsuits. In the meantime, the conflict continues.

"Healing is possible, and there is work to be done," Jefferts Schori told the Riverbank congregation, which has chosen to stay with ECUSA. "Welcome home."

The crowd of about 100 gave her a standing ovation. Jefferts Schori traveled from New York on Friday for the weekend convention. She planned to visit a congregation in San Andreas on Sunday afternoon.

"It felt very important for me to be here for the reorganization of the Episcopal diocese," she said before the service. "Given that things have been very traumatic for the Episcopalians, it is important for them to know the rest of the church is supporting them."

Of the 47 parishes and missions of the Diocese of San Joaquin, she said 19 showed up in Lodi on Saturday and 18 pledged alliance to the ECUSA, she said, including Christ the King.

It is unclear where the other 28 congregations stand. At least one, St. Paul's in Modesto, will not remain with the ECUSA but also will not follow Schofield to the Southern Cone. Instead, the parish, which owns its property, will align itself with another Anglican organization.

Schism decades in the making

In December, when lay and clergy diocesan representatives voted to leave the ECUSA and come under the authority of the Southern Cone, about six parishes and individuals in other churches made it clear they wanted to remain with the national church. The diocese stretches from Stockton to Bakersfield. For example, most of the 90 members in St. Francis Episcopal Church in Turlock followed Schofield while about 35 members chose to remain Episcopal; they meet in a home under the direction of the Rev. Donna McNiel. A dozen of them attended the service in Riverbank.

"The strength of the Episcopal Church is its inclusiveness," said Leslie Littlefield, 49. "Our strength is our diversity. Even though we might be different from one another, our strength is our openness and our inclusiveness, and I am afraid former Bishop Schofield ruined that."

Schofield couldn't be reached Sunday. The split between the conservative Schofield (and others who hold similar views) and the church was decades in coming. It culminated in 2003, when openly gay priest V. Gene Robinson was ordained as a bishop in New Hampshire. That year, Schofield stopped sending financial support to the national church, which elected Jefferts Schori as its first presiding female bishop in 2006.

Frank Remkiewicz, 58, a member of Christ the King, said the decision to break from Schofield and stay with the Episcopal Church "was a thoughtful decision based on much discernment. Most people voiced an opinion after prayerful thought."

The Rev. Glenn Kanestrom of Christ the King said for him, it came down to being loyal to the doctrine and discipline he took as a priest in the Episcopal Church.

Bishop extends 'calming hand'

Remkiewicz, like other Episcopalians, characterized Saturday's decision for Lamb to lead the diocese as a celebration and a mark of a step toward regrouping.

Jefferts Schori offered what Remkiewicz called "a calming hand" to the separation.

Still left unsettled, however, is who controls the church property in the San Joaquin Diocese. Jefferts Schori said the Episcopal Church's position is that the property falls under the Episcopal Church.

"Our concern is that they be held in the trust for Episcopal Church purposes," she said. "They were given for the mission and the use by Episcopalians and the larger commu- nity."

Bee staff writer Inga Miller can be reached at imiller@modbee.com or 578-2324.