Hundreds of Episcopalians joined over the weekend to reconstitute the Diocese of San Joaquin, over a month after most of diocese left the national church.
The small group of more than 350 remaining members celebrated on Saturday a time of "moving forward" and "welcoming all" as they claimed their status as the official Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin.
"I am an Episcopalian," the crowd said at the encouragement of Bonnie Anderson, president of the Episcopal House of Deputies.
"You are the Episcopal Diocese of San of Joaquin," she assured them.
The event, held at Church of the Savior in Hanford, Calif., comes after 42 of 47 congregations in the diocese voted in December to sever ties with The Episcopal Church.
The Diocese of San Joaquin's departure, led by Bishop John-David Schofield, marked the first time in the church's history that a full diocese chose to secede. Schofield contends that the national church has departed from Scripture over such issues as homosexuality.
Since the Dec. 8 vote, letters of support flooded in to Episcopalians who chose to remain in The Episcopal Church. Some clergy from across the nation made offers to serve temporarily and some permanently to help rebuild the diocese with the remaining Episcopalians, Cindy Smith, president of Remain Episcopal, announced on Saturday.
The remaining members, however, are not without differing viewpoints on the controversial issues wracking the church.
Even among the few hundreds that chose to stay, "there is a large complexity with regards to the differing groups in this diocese," said Anderson.
There are some who want to pursue litigation to keep church property and there are others who are reluctant to move forward with litigation, Anderson explained. Then there are some who voted to leave but are now willing to stay with The Episcopal Church and those who vowed to stay but now no longer consider themselves Episcopalian.
Others remain on the fence and have not made their decision yet on whether to stay or leave and still others just want everything to go back to normal so they can worship without all the disagreements.
"The status of minds and hearts on this topic is complex," Anderson told the crowd. "If order is to be made from this complexity, we have to know what we're dealing with here ... and we have to understand that as a community of Christ willing to move forward."
"Everyone must be committed to this work," Anderson insisted, warning that it's not going to be easy in the near future and that not everyone will get what they want.
Over the next several weeks, the remaining members will seek reconciliation within their diocese and seek renewed leadership in hopes of continuing the mission of their diocese.
In a letter addressed to the gathering in Hanford, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said they will be working to "clarify the status" of clergy members in the Diocese of San Joaquin.
Earlier this month, the church's three senior bishops agreed to ban Schofield from practicing his religious duties and certified him as having "abandoned the Communion" of the church.
A final judgment for Schofield is expected at the House of Bishops meeting in March.
"Once the ultimate status of John-David Schofield is adjudicated by the House of Bishops, and if he is deposed, I will seek to gather the remaining members of the Diocese in a special convention to elect new leadership and make provision for an interim bishop," Jefferts Schori said in the letter to the remaining Episcopalians. "I will work with diocesan leaders to clarify ownership of the personal and real assets of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin."
So far, three other full dioceses in The Episcopal Church have taken their first votes to secede over the liberal direction of the national church and realign with conservative Anglican provinces overseas. The Episcopal Church had widened rifts when it consecrated its first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, in 2003.
The second and final votes in the three dioceses are expected later this year.