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Issue Date:  December 21, 2007

Episcopal split was a long time coming

Religion News Service

Bishop John-David Schofield of San Joaquin, Calif., struck an urgent tone on Dec. 8 when he urged his Fresno-based diocese to defect from the Episcopal church.

“God’s timing is essential,” he said before the decisive vote to cut ties with the American church and align with the Argentina-based Anglican Province of the Southern Cone. “Delayed obedience in scripture is seen as disobedience when opportunities and blessings are lost.”

But the historic action -- San Joaquin is the first diocese to secede from the Episcopal church and align with an overseas province -- was a long time coming, Episcopalians say, and may take even longer to resolve.

The dispute between San Joaquin and the Episcopal church began decades ago, conservatives and scholars say, well before the consecration of a gay bishop in 2004, before the ordination of women in the 1970s, back to the 1950s, when liberal bishops were perceived as questioning core Christian tenets.

Now, years of battles in church and secular courts loom ahead, with both sides fighting over precedent and millions of dollars in church property.

“We really can’t put a time frame on anything,” said the Rev. Charles Robertson, an adviser to Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. “We’re in somewhat unprecedented territory.” He reiterated the Episcopal church’s long-standing position that individuals may leave the church but congregations and dioceses belong to the national church.

In a statement, Jefferts Schori had said the diocese would continue “under new leadership,” which suggested she would install a new bishop to replace Schofield. She did not elaborate.

Robertson said Episcopal leaders had received an e-mail from “a spokesman for the Anglican Communion” that seemed to suggest that Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the communion’s spiritual leader, did not approve of San Joaquin’s move.

Williams “has not in any way endorsed the actions of the [archbishop] of the Southern Cone, Bishop Gregory Venables, in his welcoming of dioceses, such as San Joaquin ... to become part of his province,” the unnamed spokesman said.

The central California Episcopalians who remain loyal to the national church say there is a long road ahead of them, too, in their bid to rebuild the church without the 42 churches and nearly 8,000 Christians who left. There are five parishes that will stay with the Episcopal church.

National Catholic Reporter, December 21, 2007

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