This past weekend, I had the honor and privilege of participating in the annual convention for the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin. This is one of those Episcopal dioceses who have remained Episcopal despite being abandoned by their bishop and many churches (who also “took” diocesan properties when they “left”). I first met these good people, the “faithful remnant” at their newly re-formed diocesan convention in 2008. What a difference two years makes!
In 2008, the diocese gathered for a “Homecoming” Convention at one of the remaining church buildings in Hanford, CA. It was a celebration of all those who had been marginalized in the past who could now come home to the faith and traditions they loved in The Episcopal Church. Food was plentiful in the largest pot-luck supper I had ever attended. Participants were hungry for resources and connections, having been starved in the past under their former leaders. There was a sense of joy, alongside bewilderment, as they began to learn what it means to be a welcoming church, inclusive to all in the fertile San Joaquin valley of California. That was then. This is now.
In 2010, the diocese gathered for workshops, General Convention discussions, exhibits, and worship. And meals (we ate very well with hospitality abounding and table fellowship). We met at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Modesto, CA, a church (building) that has recently been returned to the diocese via a California Supreme Court’s ruling. And it now houses a vibrant diocesan center under the warm pastoral presence of The Rt. Rev. Jerry Lamb.
One of the ‘mottos’ of the diocese is that they are a resurrection community. This was truly exemplified at this year’s convention. Participants traveled from all over the diocese to attend; an expansive geography including mountains, desert, city and farming communities. Participants were still eager to make new connections and hear of new resources, but there was a context from which their questions (and answers) came from. They were no longer in the dark or wandering in the wilderness. Female clergy were noticeably present, as were deacons and members of the LGBT community – something that would not have occurred under the former regime (who are now part of the Anglican Province of Uganda).
They recognize their mission of serving Christ in the world – a mission of love for all people that was truly exhibited as they gathered as a diocesan family:
- We are a resurrection community dedicated to living out our Baptisimal Covenant by:
- Worshipping at the common table where all are fed, spiritually, physically, emotionally, and intellectually.
- Intentionally welcoming, incorporating, and affirming all God’s people.
- Honoring, developing, and celebrating the unique ministry of all the baptized.
- Being the heart, hands, and feet of Christ in the world.
Convention concluded (before the last workshop and another meal) with Eucharist. The church was full as everyone’s voices were lifted in song. Clergy vested and processed . . . so many more than 2 years ago. The Rev. Canon Dr. Gregory Straub, Executive Officer and Secretary of General Convention preached on the readings for the day. Citing the Old Testament reading from Exodus, Canon Straub noted that the people of San Joaquin were no longer slaves in Egypt, but chose the hardship of wandering in the wilderness, following God’s pillar of fire by night and cloud by day, not knowing where they were being led. But following God led to new life as it continues to do so.
Leaving behind comfort to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ has brought this diocese to a new resurrection.