Like 46 other Episcopalian parishes in the cluster of nearby
counties, St. Mark’s Church in Tracy is now part of a much smaller denomination
after local Anglicans voted overwhelmingly to cut ties with its North American
province at a convention Dec. 8.
In the spirit of its founding nearly 500 years ago, when
King Henry VIII cut ties with the Roman Catholic Church to annul a marriage he
deemed inconvenient, Anglicans from 14 Central Valley counties that make up the
Diocese of San Joaquin voted for the separation from Episcopal Church USA to
protest the appointment of gay clergy and women in church leadership.
The separation could raise disputes over who legally owns
the properties in the local diocese, and even spark a lawsuit, say officials
from the Diocese of San Joaquin.
Except for eight parishes that were incorporated separately
or existed before the diocese was formed, Bishop John-David Schofield, who led
the schism, holds legal title to about 40 churches in the Central Valley
“We hold that there is no legal ownership of the property
beyond the bishop (Schofield),” said Bill Gandenberger of the Fresno-based Diocese
of San Joaquin. “The question about property will have to be solved by the
courts if, and when, the Episcopal Church (USA) initiates actions.”
Even then, Gandenberger said, based on past fights between
congregations and their diocese, such a case could get postponed for years
before being heard in court.
Leaders from the national denomination will now look at forming
a new Central Valley diocese with an interim bishop after both clergy and
laymen from the San Joaquin Diocese chose to affiliate instead with conservative
South American Anglicans.
Schofield, who has isolated himself from the main Episcopal
body, has a history of rallying against gay clergy and what he holds to be “non-literal”
interpretations of the Bible.
In the months leading up to the secession, Schofield’s
archbishop, Katherine Jeffers Schori, wrote him letters urging him to communicate
with other diocese and voice his dissent formally instead of marginalizing
himself and rallying his own congregations against church higher-ups.
St. Mark’s was one of 45 congregations at the convention
this month that supported the separation. The remaining churches that voted
against the decision were St. Anne in Stockton and St. John the Baptist in
St. John’s and St. Anne’s churches will continue to operate
in practice under the authority of the national denomination, said Father Mark
Hall of St. Anne.
“We’re in a vacuum right now. Schofield is claiming powers
that were never intended him to have,” Hall said. “(Separation) is an illegal
action because you can’t disassociate from a body that created you.”
Hall said he believes the contentions about gay clergy
Schofield raises are signs of “a slight bit of mental illness” and the decision
to secede puts congregations like Hall’s in a “questionable legal status.”
“All of his arguments are specious arguments because he
can’t speak for people like me. We read the scriptures every Sunday and take
the Bible seriously, not literally. It’s easy to mislead when you take
statements out of context,” Hall said. “It’s a classic schismatic action of
someone who’s unstable, completely out of line (and) doomed for failure.”
St. Mark’s backs Schofield’s stance and supports his
decision to split.
With as many legal and doctrinal complications as it sparks
for its spiritual leaders, the denominational split should have little to no
bearing on day-to-day worshippers, Gandenberger said.
Church services in the separated diocese should be no
different under the shift in leadership, Gandenberger said.
“Our people will have the same styles of worship, the same
Book of Common Prayer, the same hymnals and newsletters,” he said.
What would change is that congregations would recognize
South American Archbishop Gregory Venables during prayer instead of the U.S. Episcopalian
Local parishes are teaching what Episcopalians have always
taught, said Ganderberger — Biblical Christianity.
“From our perspective, it is the leadership of the Episcopal
Church (USA) that is bent on breaking away from mainstream, Biblical
Christianity,” he said. “We are simply choosing not to follow them.”
•We want to hear what you have to say. To reach Tracy Press
reporter Jennifer Wadsworth, call 830-4225 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.