Episcopal Church reorganizes in Central Valley

March 29, 2008 2:57pm

•  Elects provisional bishop

•  Diocese reconstituted with 18 parishes

•  Updated at 3:54 p.m. with audio, quotes, additional details

The Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, which covers much of California’s Central Valley from Lodi south to Bakersfield, was reconstituted Saturday with a provisional bishop and governing board.

Jerry Lamb was named provisional bishop.

“There is new hope here for a church that can tolerate and even welcome diversity,” says Katherine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church USA in remarks at the Saturday convention in Lodi.

Former bishop John-David Schofield, who was deposed after leading most of the churches in the diocese into alignment with the Anglican Church in Argentina. Mr. Schofield bolted from the national church over its ordination of women and homosexuals as priests.

He may soon meet his former Episcopalians in court, if not in church.

At issue will be who owns the church’s property. Mr. Schofield remains in his old offices in Fresno.

“We’ve been very clear … that all property is held in trust for the Episcopal Church,” says Ms. Jefferts Schori.

“The first task of the leadership here is to reassert the place of the corporation’s sole. It is vested in law in the Episcopal bishop of the Diocese of San Joaquin,” she says.

A “corporate sole” is a corporate entity that exists largely for the use of religious organizations and heads of church.

The Episcopal Church says its bishops act as agents for the larger church and do not hold property in their own names.

Since Mr. Schofield was fired by the national church, he is no longer seen as the chief operating officer in the Central Valley church.

“If we need to, we will invite the court to help enforce the law,” says Michael Glass, a San Rafael-based attorney who represents churches voting to stay with the national church.

The “new” diocese is expected to give lay members a greater say in governance than had been experienced, says Bonnie Anderson, president of the House of Delegates of the national church.

“In many dioceses in the Episcopal Church, the laity tend to turn over a lot of their authority to the clergy or the bishops,” she says. “In this diocese … they have seized that authority.”

The Lodi conference also approved a reconciliation effort. Mr. Schofield lays claim to about 29 local churches with a total membership of about 5,700.

“This effort is not only to reconcile members of this diocese with those who might be leaving … but among people that have been injured, confused,” says Mr. Lamb.

About 450 people representing 18 parishes attended the meeting. The 18 parishes have a total of about 2,300 members.

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