Headed into a
critical vote, an Episcopal diocese in Central California
is poised to split with the national denomination over what
its bishop sees as the threat of moral decay in the
The Diocese of
San Joaquin is expected to vote by Saturday to secede from
the Episcopal Church, becoming the first full diocese to do
so because of a conservative-liberal rift that began
decades ago and is now focused on whether the Bible
condemns gay relationships.
vote would place San Joaquin under the leadership of a
like-minded conservative Anglican diocese in Argentina. It
is almost certain to spark a court fight over control
of the diocese's multimillion-dollar real estate
holdings and other assets.
In a letter to
parishioners, Bishop John-David Schofield said, ''Those
who claim they want to remain Episcopalians but reject the
biblical standards of morality...will, in the end, be
left solely with a name and a bureaucratic
The head of the
U.S. denomination has warned Schofield against secession.
''I do not need
to remind you as well of the potential consequences of
the direction in which you appear to be leading the diocese
of San Joaquin,'' Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts
Schori, head of the U.S. denomination, wrote in a
letter Monday to him. ''I do not intend to threaten
you, only to urge you to reconsider and draw back from this
responded that the diocese would go forward with the vote
during its annual convention, which starts Friday. He all
but predicted that delegates would choose to break
with the Episcopal Church, the U.S. member of the
global Anglican Communion.
''It is The
Episcopal Church that has isolated itself from the
overwhelming majority of Christendom and more specifically
from the Anglican Communion by denying Biblical truth
and walking apart from the historic Faith and Order,''
Last year a
majority of the laypeople and clergy who attended the
diocesan convention voted to take the first step to secede
from the national church. That proposal would become
final if it receives a two-thirds majority vote at the
congregation has explored breaking ties with the
American church since 2003, when Episcopalians consecrated
the church's first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson
of New Hampshire. The resulting uproar throughout the
world Anglican fellowship has moved the 77
million-member communion toward the brink of schism.
advocates for accepting gay relationships, including
Jefferts Schori, say they are guided by biblical
teachings on social justice and tolerance. But
Schofield and other conservatives believe Scripture bars
same-sex relationships. San Joaquin also is one of three
dioceses in the Episcopal Church that will not ordain
women. Schori last year became the first woman elected
to lead the denomination.
holdings include 48 church buildings, including the lush
Fresno headquarters, a series of mission-style buildings
surrounded by olive, Chinese elm, and cherry trees.
Its total assets are worth millions, said the Reverend
Van McCalister, a diocesan spokesman.
conservative Episcopal parishes have split from the church
in the last few years, and some have affiliated
directly with Anglican provinces overseas, according
to national church statistics. But the courts have
mostly ruled against them, said Valerie Munson, a
Minneapolis-based lawyer who specializes in religion and
''If the San
Joaquin diocese succeeds in taking its property, it would
set a precedent that would affect not only the Episcopal
Church but other churches that are similarly
organized,'' Munson said. ''It could set off a chain
San Joaquin is
one of four Episcopal dioceses out of 110 -- along with
Fort Worth, Texas; Quincy, Ill.; and Pittsburgh -- taking
steps toward breaking with the U.S. church.
''Who owns what
is ultimately going to be controlled by the civil
courts,'' said James Quillinan, a San Jose,
Calif.-based estate and probate attorney.
''What's certain is that when local chapters break off
from the national group, it almost always results in