A house of worship divided
by Jennifer Wadsworth/ TP staff
May 09, 2009 | 2815 views | 10 10 comments | 27 27 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The congregation of St. Mark’s Church on South Tracy Boulevard has been divided by a schism in the Episcopal church.    Glenn Moore/Tracy Press
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A dispute over women priests and same-sex marriage that sparked a legal battle over property ownership among higher-up Episcopal church leaders has trickled down to a personal level for a small Tracy congregation.

The fight split in half St. Mark’s Episcopal Church — which has since dropped the “Episcopal” from its title. It has strained friendships, some of which have only recently begun to heal. And it played a part in one man’s decision to convert to Catholicism.

“I got tired of all the fighting,” said Marvin Barth, 78, who enrolled in catechism last year and since Easter has attended St. Bernard’s Catholic Church. “I just wanted to be part of a church with a more conservative theology.”

So did Bishop John David Schofield, who led the ecclesiastical divorce, calling the U.S. Episcopalian Church too liberal.

The Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori in 2006 was voted into a nine-year term as presiding bishop of the entire U.S. Episcopal denomination. For Schofield — who had never in his decades of church leadership appointed a woman to a high rank in the church — Schori’s election was the last straw.

When Schofield broke off from the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin around Christmas in 2007 because he opposed the denomination’s decision to appoint women as bishops and support of same-sex marriage, a handful of churches split with him.

They called themselves Anglican after the schism and claimed membership with a newly formed Fresno-based diocese led by Schofield. Church leaders deemed too liberal by Schofield within the separated diocese were slowly replaced with more conservative leaders.

St. Mark’s, though, was left in the lurch. It took more than a year for the congregation to find a priest. The instability drove away many members and took an emotional toll on those who stayed.

“A deep, dark depression settled over everyone at first,” said Carolyn Barth, 74, Marvin’s wife and a senior warden for the Anglican side of St. Mark’s. “It took a while for us to move on from that.”

In San Joaquin County, St. Ann’s in Stockton and St. Mary’s in Manteca sided with Schofield. About one-third of St. Mark’s congregation stuck with the national Episcopalian denomination, while the rest turned Anglican.

But Schofield’s side kept the Tracy church building and tried to claim some right to a $1.3 million trust fund. That’s where the disagreement turned into a legal fight. His claim to ownership came under fire in Fresno County Superior Court soon after the secession.

The San Joaquin diocese sued its newly formed Anglican counterpart for holding onto church buildings bought with money donated to the Episcopalian denomination.

A judge favored the Episcopalian diocese in a preliminary hearing this week. Both sides are due back in court in August for a final ruling, unless the judge agrees to a final adjudication before then.

At stake is which side gets to keep the trust fund and church buildings — the Episcopal diocese that bought them in the first place, or the Anglican diocese several churches defected to.

St. Mark’s in the middle

In the meantime, many members of the Anglican side of the St. Mark’s congregation say they’re worried about whether they’ll get kicked out of the building, which sits on a 5-acre lot off South Central Avenue. Church leaders believe that fear — combined with the constant turnover of pastors — shrunk the congregation.

“People for a long time have felt that they (the Episcopalian diocese) wanted us out of the property,” said Carolyn Barth. “Some left because they just didn’t want the stress of being in a church that was hanging by a thread of being lost.”

The Episcopalian faction now meets at First Presbyterian Church. Father David Pina leads the group of 25 or so churchgoers who stuck with the San Joaquin diocese.

Pina said he asked the new Anglican church if the groups could share the St. Mark’s building, despite the litigation.

The splinter group never officially responded. A member of the congregation had to deliver the message for him, because the church leaders refuse to communicate at this point except in court or through lawyers.

Pina said he plans to ask again.

“I’m not going to give up,” he said.

The schism angered and saddened members of both congregations, Pina said, adding that he believes if each congregation could share the building and meet in it at different times, it might help heal the rift.

“I think it’s tragic,” he said of the separation. “They’re called schisms in the church, and they have occurred for years, and it’s pretty healthy when people want to start a new mission or start something positive, but when the church starts deciding who is really Christian and who is not, we get into the dark side of our faith.”

Though the divisiveness hurt the Tracy congregations, members said they’re beginning to see some growth again.

The more conservative St. Mark’s Anglicans appointed a new priest last summer — Kenya-born Edward Dondi, a part-time hospital chaplain.

Dondi brought stability to a church that went through several interim ministers during the past two years. Dondi has also attracted new members, many of them Kenyan families with children, which nearly doubled the size of the congregation.

“Most of our growth has come from the families and the children that recently became a part of our church,” Carolyn Barth said. “Father Dondi calls the youth ‘my hope,’ and he’s right — these children are our future. We used to be a mostly older congregation, so they’re like a new beginning for us.”

Leaders of the Anglican offshoot have decided to act like the 5-acre property is theirs forever, just to give the congregation some peace of mind, Carolyn Barth said.

“We’ll fix it up and take care of it as if we’d never lose it,” she said Friday. “I think it helps us cope, just personally, with all the drama.”

And since last year, members of one side have begun to meet up with those from the other for a weekday Bible study. Most hesitate to talk about it, though — they worry it could be construed as underhanded.

But Pina said he believes the crossover could help people move on from what for many was a painful split.

“These are people who have known each other for years,” he said. “It hurt them to have to choose sides, so it’s nice to see them come together again.”
Comments-icon Post a Comment
May 14, 2009
Even though it will be sad if (or when) you lose your place of worship...the faithful will always find a place to worship. We always do.
May 12, 2009
Coffey7799, thanks very much shedding light on some of the incorrect comments included in this article.

This quote of yours is especially key:

"The split was not a reaction to same-sex marriage or female ordination. It had far more to do with the role of scripture and interpretation. It absolutely had noting to do with deciding "who is really Christian and who is not." That line is ridiculous."

The "who is really a Christian" line is a mischaracterization of the crux of the matter and appears to be an attempt to manipulate public opinion using a hotbutton issue rather than sticking to the facts. That is very unfortunate.

Further, Fr. Pina's assertion that he tried to share the church and was rebuffed seems a bit disingenuous. As you note, both Episcopal and Anglican sides stated there was to be no sharing of the building while this issue remains in litigation. Fr. Pina is aware of this fact so I'm puzzled by his statements.

It's disappointing that the Tracy Press didn't dig a bit deeper to portray these issues more clearly. It's also disappointing to read those questionable assertions attributed to Fr. Pina. I can only hope he was misquoted because, like you, Coffey7799, I have always respected both the Press and Fr. Pina.

Yes, a "yellow flag" should definitely have been called on this article.
May 11, 2009
Forgive me if I am using too much bandwidth, but in response to JamesTTLS's assertion that most Anglicans do not support their province's position regarding the Episcopal Church, I would like to offer a story from my own experience.

In 2006 my wife and I were fortunate enough to attend Sunday services at St. James Mission, Talisay, Cebu City Philippines. Naturally, we attracted a great deal of attention. During after service fellowship, several people expressed curiosity regarding what the Episcopal Church was like in the U.S. I told them that we were currently experiencing a great deal of strife over the ordination of a non-celebate homosexual as Bishop of New Hampshire. The proportion of those present who were outraged by this was not 70%. It was 100%. The response that I remember most clearly was "How can this be? Don't they know what the Bible says?" To this I could only reply, "Yes. they know. They just don't care."

May 11, 2009
Actually, what I said was " Provinces of the worldwide Anglican Communion representing over 70% of the world's Anglicans have declared themselves to be in a state of broken or impaired communion with it" (the Episcopal Church). This is not a myth. It is a fact. There are probably some people in those provinces who do not support their province's position. There are a great many in the Episcopal church who do not support their provinces heresies. That the Episcopal Church has, through both its statements and its actions, set itself on a far different course than Christians have been following for the past 2000 years is undeniable.
May 11, 2009
This was a very good article in that it presented the facts of the case, not the fabrication Mr. Schofield and his followers with to be the facts.

TracyGuy is perpetuating a myth. Seventy percent of the world's Anglicans are NOT in impaired or broken communion with The Episcopal Church. The facts are that some leaders representing countries where seventy percent of the world's Anglicans live have declared they are not in communion with or in impaired communion with The Episcopal Church.

Those leaders do not speak the minds of their members any more than President Bush spoke the mind of all Americans.

May 10, 2009
The U.S. Episcopal Church does not just have a problem with a small group of theological conservatives here in the Central Valley. Provinces of the worldwide Anglican Communion representing over 70% of the world's Anglicans have declared themselves to be in a state of broken or impaired communion with it. This has not come about merely over issues of human sexuality, or women's ordination. These are just two of the many symptoms manifested by the underlying problem within the Episcopal Church.

When traced to its root, this controversy is about the authority of the Holy Scriptures. John 14:6 states "Jesus answered, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me"". When questioned about this by Newsweek magazine, Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori stated "Jesus is a path to the divine that is recognized by people in our culture. To say that there cannot be other paths in other cultures is to put God in an awfully small box". This illustrates the whole problem in a nutshell. Most of the world's Anglicans believe, as stated in the Nicene Creed, that Jesus is "of one being with the Father", therefore divine. The U.S. Episcopal Church teaches that Jesus is just one of many "paths" to the divine, all of which are equally valid. In fact, at one of the Episcopal Church's recent General Conventions, a motion to affirm the truth of John 14:6 was defeated.

If you look on the Episcopal Church's own web site, you will find that it is currently embroiled in a controversy regarding whether or not a practicing Zen Buddhist is qualified to be the Bishop of the Diocese of Northern Michigan. It remains to be seen if this person will eventually be consecrated as Bishop. The fact that such a thing is being considered speaks volumes about the theology of the Episcopal Church. It is useful to note that the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin voted unanimously to support his candidacy.

As an Anglican who takes his Christian faith seriously, there is only one position that I could take in this controversy. To remain in an apostate body like the Episcopal Church would be akin to choosing to remain on the Titanic after it struck the iceberg. If we eventually lose the building it will be a heavy blow, but we will recover. Life has never been easy for those who seek to live by biblical standards in a secular culture. What happens to us in this life is a secondary issue. My main concern is what happens immediately thereafter.
May 09, 2009
Thanks for sharing Coffey7799. Kind of thought is was more an internal rift.
May 09, 2009

Thank you for your clarifications.

Thank you for reminding us to read things with a grain of salt.

May 09, 2009
A couple points should be made here. I was a congregant and part of church leadership at St. Marks at the time of the schism and for some time after.

The split was not a reaction to same-sex marriage or female ordination. It had far more to do with the role of scripture and interpretation. I absolutely had noting to do with deciding "who is really Christian and who is not." That line is ridiculous.

No proposal for property sharing was ever put forth and if it had been, it would have been referred to the diocese. Both Anglican and Episcopal sides have stated that while this issue remains in litigation there can be no property sharing. For everything Fr. Pina says, his own side is opposed.

The use of the phrase "splinter group" is fallacious here. In a world-wide sense, it is the US Episcopal Church that is seen as the breakaways, not the Diocese of San Joaquin.

This article is not good. At best it is an oversimplication of some very complex issues. At worst it is heavily biased and fuels a fire that was dying away among former and current members of St. Marks. Yellow cards to Fr. Pina and the Tracy Press though I have the utmost respect for both.
May 09, 2009
A correction to your story...St. Anne's Episcopal Church in Stockton remains an Episcopal Church. It has not followed Mr. Schofield into the so-called anglican diocese.

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