Is you is or is you ain’t my bishop?

(Updated) The Rev. Fred Risard, vicar of St. Nicholas Episcopal Church in Atwater, California, Diocese of San Joaquin wrote a letter to Bishop John-David Schofield asking for clarification about his status as a bishop in the Episcopal Church when he heard that the Bishop was planning to come to his church this weekend.

The Episcopal News Service reported that Risard noted in his December 20 letter to Schofield that St. Nicholas had “already had the pleasure of your annual visitation for 2007.” So the need for this second, unannounced visit was unclear.

Bishop Schofield said that, as of the last diocesan convention on December 8th where a vote was made for the diocese to join the Province of the Southern Cone, he is no longer a Bishop of the Episcopal Church but now a bishop of the Province of the Southern Cone.

St. Nicholas is one of the churches in the diocese that has chosen to remain in the Episcopal Church, and they have purchased advertising in the local press to reassure the community that “the Episcopal Church is still present in the Merced area, where ALL are welcome to worship and do the work of the Mission.”

Risard wrote:

We would like you to state to us your pastoral and canonical relationship with St. Nicholas Episcopal Church, and myself. You publicly stated at our diocesan convention that you no longer are the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, and instead you are a Bishop within the Province of the Southern Cone.

The Vicar welcomes Bishop Schofield either as a worshiper sitting in the pews, as a visiting foreign prelate with no liturgical function or as a diocesan bishop ready to repent and reconcile with his congregation. He was also asked if he would join in the work of the mission to distribute groceries to the poor in advance of Christmas.

“Will you be coming as our Episcopal Bishop, having repented of your actions at Diocesan Convention, seeking forgiveness and reconciliation? Or will you be coming to worship as a visiting foreign Bishop seeking to reconcile with your former congregation and Vicar, and, following the Mass, to join us as we take groceries and coats to the poor?”

There is some concern that purpose of the sudden visit is for the Bishop to attempt to remove Father Risard from his role as vicar or perhaps to close the mission.

“Is it his intention to support the mission congregations in their call to worship and to serve the poor or does he want to close it? He needs to go on record about what he’s doing.”

Attorney Mike Glass, an attorney representing the congregations and individual members who desire to remain Episcopalian says “in all fairness, if the Presiding Bishop has asked for a clarification and hasn’t received one, I think that the priests in the Diocese of San Joaquin are entitled to know, too.” Glass added that priests may be rightly concerned about violating church canons by allowing Schofield to preside in their congregations.

As a mission, the Bishop of the diocese is the rector of the congregation, but if Schofield has, as he has said publicly, now withdrawn from the Episcopal Church and is a Bishop of the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, then it appears to be the case that the mission is without a rector at the moment. The situation is at best ambiguous. Glass said “Until…clarification comes from either the Episcopal Church’s canonical processes or from the bishop himself, perhaps the bishop ought to refrain from attempting to exercise any episcopal authority.”

According to ENS, Father Risard sent copies of his letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson, and the Rev. Canon Robert Moore (whom Jefferts Schori appointed to provide an ongoing pastoral presence to the continuing Episcopalians in the diocese).

The Episcopal Majority says:

We join the The Rev. Fred Risard in his puzzlement. The former Episcopal Bishop of San Joaquin has made it clear that he is no longer a part of the Episcopal Church. Now that he is a bishop in a Latin American diocese, we are perplexed that he would want to exercise episcopal jurisdiction in an Episcopal church.

Kudos to Father Risard for asking the pertinent question.

Read the rest: ENS: SAN JOAQUIN: Atwater vicar asks bishop to clarify planned visit

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