San Joaquin contemplates secession

The Diocese of San Joaquin will consider legislation at its convention in December to “transfer all relationships and communion from ECUSA to an Anglican Province to be determined at a Special Convention called by the Bishop of San Joaquin.”

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Speaking only for myself (not as a diocesan mouthpiece): I support people who cannot in good conscience remain within the Episcopal Church finding other homes within the Anglican Communion. I support negotiated settlements on property issues. But this move seems unnecessarily confrontational to me. In fact, it seems designed to push issues of authority and ownership beyond negotiation and into either ecclesiastical or civil courts. Because if a diocese acts as though it can secceed, and the Church does nothing to stop it, then, in effect, the Church has conceeded the point. And this is true no matter how many times we reiterate in our official materials that: “Under the canons of the Episcopal Church, dioceses are designated and recognized by the General Convention.”

While we are considering this issue, there is one point that I wish those eager to leave the Church would clear up for me. Where, to your way of thinking, does final ecclesiological authority rest? If push comes to shove between Communion and province, or province and diocese, or diocese and congregation, which unit has the greatest legitimacy? At the moment, the answer seems to shift with your majority, and that makes it difficult to know your mind.

Update: Mark Harris examines this issue in detail, and I mean detail, here.

The Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin’s December 1-2 convention will be asked to consider constitutional amendments that would “place the Diocese of San Joaquin in an ideal position to be part of any ecclesiastical structure that the Archbishop of Canterbury and Primates might design,” according to a statement posted on the diocese’s website October 1.

The 13 amendments or additions are intended “with appropriate consultation (e.g. Archbishop of Canterbury/Primates of the Anglican Communion) to transfer all relationships and communion from ECUSA to an Anglican Province to be determined at a Special Convention called by the Bishop of San Joaquin,” the statement said.

The proposed changes do not affect “the Apostolic teaching and practice of the Episcopal Church that it received by being part of the Anglican Communion” but rather “perpetuate the historic Faith of the Church in a time when these things are being challenged by others,” according to the diocese’s website.

The changes include, among other things, striking references to the Episcopal Church, its canons and its General Convention, and changing the qualifications for certain office holders from “communicant(s) in good standing” to “voting member(s) of a Parish or Mission.”

Under the canons of the Episcopal Church, dioceses are designated and recognized by the General Convention.

The constitution’s second article would be amended to make the diocese accede not to the constitution of the Episcopal Church but to the “faith, order and practice of a province of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church known as the Anglican Communion.”

The full text of the proposed changes is available here.

The statement says that the proposed amendments have been on file with the diocesan convention secretary since September 1, well before a series of September meetings in New York, Texas and Rwanda, which the diocese’s statement said it anticipated would affect it and its request of alternative primatial oversight.

It is also nearly a month before San Joaquin Bishop John David Schofield was cleared of accusations that previous diocesan constitutional changes had constituted an abandonment of the communion of the Episcopal Church. Those accusations were found not to constitute such an abandonment, as defined in the Church’s canons.

On September 28, the Episcopal Church’s Title IV Review Committee determined that Schofield had not abandoned the communion of the Episcopal Church by leading efforts to change other parts of the diocese’s constitution and articles of incorporation.

Bishops J. Jon Bruno of Los Angeles, Jerry A. Lamb of Northern California, James R. Mathes of San Diego and then-diocesan William E. Swing of California claimed evidence of abandonment in San Joaquin’s action at its last diocesan convention, when it changed its constitution to qualify its agreement to submit to the Episcopal Church’s Constitution and Canons. Article V, Section 1, of the Constitution says that a diocese’s constitution must accede to that of the Episcopal Church.

At its last convention, the diocese changed its constitution to read that it would accede “to the extent that such terms and provisions, and any amendments thereto, adopted by the authority of the General Convention, are not inconsistent with the terms and provisions of the Constitution and Canons of the Diocese of San Joaquin…”

Eight of the Episcopal Church’s 110 dioceses are requesting a relationship with an Anglican primate other than the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in what is being called Alternative Primatial Oversight (APO). They are Central Florida (Orlando-based), Dallas (which has requested a relationship with the Archbishop of Canterbury), Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, Quincy, San Joaquin (California), South Carolina and Springfield (Illinois). The bishops of Fort Worth, Quincy and San Joaquin refuse to ordain women to the priesthood or deploy women priests in their dioceses.

Only the Diocese of Quincy’s convention has yet ratified the APO requests. Dallas, Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, San Joaquin, South Carolina and Springfield all have annual conventions later this year. Central Florida’s convention is set for late January.

— The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is national correspondent for the Episcopal News Service.

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