Last week, the California State Supreme Court did not take up the case involving a property dispute in the diocese of San Joaquin, which meant that the Appellate Court’s decision in favor of the Episcopal Church diocese stood. This case involved 28 properties (values at ~ $50 million) which had been held by the bishop’s corporation sole and include the diocesan cathedral, some diocesan funds as well as various parish churches. Three other property disputes involving parish churches which were not held by the corporation sole, remain to be resolved.
In a written statement, bishop David Rice of the Episcopal Diocese said;
“I have suggested in the past that we assume a position of prayerful restraint. There will be an appropriate time and place for celebration. What we do now, which is what we are always called to do, is to give thanks to God that we are Called to be…
And the ways in which we continue to emerge in this Jesus Movement remains our focus.”
In a written statement, the current Anglican (ACNA) Bishop, Eric Menees, has said that the Anglican Diocese will now work to hand over the properties;
“In essence, and practically speaking, this is a conclusion to the case involving the
Anglican Diocese Holding Corp. properties”
The Episcopal Dioceses’ Chancellor, Michael O. Glass also said that he expected the transfer of the property to its rightful owners will proceed without incident; “It is my belief that the leadership of the Anglican Diocese intends to work with the Diocese to provide for an orderly, thoughtful, and pastoral transition of the properties.”
Episcopal Café Editor, Jon White, had an opportunity for a brief interview with Bishop Rice, which is below.
CAFE: Can you tell us where you feel the Diocese of San Joaquin is in the wake of this decision?
Bp Rice: In my pastoral letter I simply used the imagery of landing on a plane; and I say to people in San Joaquin we’re still on the plane, we’re sitting on the tarmac, but the seatbelt sign is still on, as it were and it is my hope that we will show prayerful restraint because there is still a lot of work to be done to finish up the litigation.
CAFE: Assuming that you have these properties transferred to you reasonably quickly; what are you realistically going to be able to do with them? I mean the camp and the cathedral seem like they could be put to quick use, but what about all the various parish churches?
Bp Rice: That makes an interesting conversation. Some of those properties were acquired at a time in the life of the church where I think the church was, generally speaking, practicing what I call architectural evangelism. And many were built in places where there was not significant population, and in some cases where there’s still not significant population. So in some of these cases we’ll really be looking at we can do when we retain these properties, ranging from hiring them out to selling them. So, this is really important, since I arrived two and a half years ago, most of our work has been what I would call missiological work. It’s the way in which we’re engaging in our larger context. So we’ve given time to our sisters and brothers who live on the streets, we’ve given time to work towards eradicating human trafficking. We’re now working with our brothers and sisters who are incarcerated and their support systems. So what I would say to you is that the conversations we have about properties are now going to be defined by who we are becoming as a diocese and as an emerging diocese and a missiological diocese. It’s more than simply getting the property back; it’s how that property might serve us as we serve the larger community around us; those are the questions before us.
CAFE: I’m glad you brought up the focus on mission, because one of the questions I wanted to ask is whether getting these properties back might, in some way, be a distraction from the mission work the diocese has undertaken? I mean, it seems many dioceses wish they might be relieved of some of their properties so that they could do some other stuff.
Bp Rice: I think that’s a really good question. Here’s one of the things I say, that I believe San Joaquin is facing, what Fort Worth is facing and what South Carolina and even Pittsburgh are facing is a template for the rest of the church. Now, there’s a risk in all of this and you’ve already intimated the risk yourself. The risk is to return to some idea of the halcyon days of the past where our default position was, we rely on buildings, we rely on properties and people come to us. Well, first of all, those weren’t very halcyon days and second of all that isn’t where we are as church in the 21st century. And so, yeah absolutely, there are some possible risks in retaining properties – that people can say to themselves; ’well, we could just go back and do what we did then.’ That’s not going to happen. So that elasticity is our calling, something we always keep in front of us and the response to it is that we stay true to who we are. We have what we call a vision reminder in the diocese; “we’re called to be…” We believe that’s important. We believe we’re part of the Jesus Movement, using Michael Curry’s language and the language of this church. So the hope is that those points of focus will keep us, our attention, directed to what we’re doing and who we are.
CAFE: So, as a diocese, I know there have been some strong feelings from many people who have endured this long, drawn-out experience over the last eight or nine years. Do you feel this is an important event in moving forward in healing or is this going to dredge up some of that?
Bp Rice: Well, I think it be a both/and. I can’t forecast what happens from here, and again what I typically say in this diocese and in other places, is that what we are experiencing has never been done before so I can’t give you a definitive answer of what’s going to happen or a forecast. I think there will be places where there will possibly be some, how shall I say, tender places and people. I think there will be other places where people are really ready to move on. You know, eight years have been a long time. I don’t know, but I continue to use the language of reconciliation, to use the language of remaining true to who we are; that we have an inordinate amount of work to do as it is so all I can say is that we will remain as faithful as we can and we will continue to exercise as much humility and care and service as we can.
CAFE: This might seem an odd question, but can you identify anything positive that came out of this experience, something that might be a valuable lesson for the rest of us? You mention that it provides a kind of template, but can you elaborate on that?
Bp Rice: Yes, I talk about this a lot. At my first diocesan convention here, we used Luke chapter ten where we talked about travelling light. I think the very best thing that happened to this diocese, (and I wouldn’t wish this upon any diocese… even now as I typically say, where we are the rest of the church is going in this direction, though perhaps by different circumstances) is that we have learned to travel light. I work out of my car, I don’t have an office; we are perpetually itinerate. I have minimal staff and I was a diocesan bishop in another country [Diocese of Waiapu, New Zealand] where I had quite established surroundings and environs and I wouldn’t go back to that because I think what we’re doing and how we’re doing it is fitting for where the church is today. I think there have been some huge benefits and even, dare I say, advantages experienced over the last eight years for San Joaquin. The other thing I want to say is, I applaud the prayerful persistence and patience exercised and exhibited by innumerable laypeople and clergy over the last eight years and particularly I want to express my gratefulness to Jerry Lamb and Chet Talton for their episcopal leadership and the ways in which they navigated through some really difficult terrain over those years.
CAFE: Since you served in New Zealand, to kind of switch gears, I have one more question. I’ve keenly followed the situation of the Anglican church in Christchurch in the wake of the devastating earthquake there, and I see some parallels with your situation in San Joaquin. Any thoughts on the Christchurch cathedral issue?
Bp Rice: Yeah, we actually have a house outside of Christchurch and I was a parish priest in that diocese for a number of years. I know the cathedral very well; I was ordained in that cathedral and I know the state of it. I think that the bishop, Victoria Matthews and the diocese have made the right call, that it was irreparable, but it looks like that was overturned now and they are going to rebuild the cathedral. My sadness about that is that I think the cathedral was essentially levelled by the 2010 earthquake and it provided an opportunity for them to do something different. So again, my concern is that I think it may simply be a return to the default position of the past.
CAFE: Yes, it seems that the demand to rebuild the cathedral as it was, and even some of the parish churches I’ve heard has not necessarily come from the churches themselves.
Bp Rice: Those who were vocal and extremely forthright through that had little relationship to the diocese and little relationship to the cathedral other than wanting this iconic building in the center of the city. So there’s some sadness connected to all that but the decisions have been made and they’re going to do what they do. But I question the impetus and rationale behind it.
Café: I know you said you had to run, so I really appreciate you taking time to talk with us.
Bp Rice: My pleasure.
Image: The Car-thedra
By Stephen Bentley
Creator, “Herb and Jamaal”,
Episcopal Deacon, Diocese of San Joaquin