Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has warned the leader of a California diocese of the consequences of his moving toward a split from the U.S. Anglican body.
The conservative Diocese of San Joaquin is on the verge of a vote, Dec. 1-2, that may make it the first Episcopal diocese in the United States to completely separate from the U.S. church. Less than two weeks before the vote, newly installed Jefferts Schori addressed a letter to the Rt. Rev. John-David Schofield of the diocese asking him to consider the hazard that he will be putting many people, including himself, in.
After hearing reports that Schofield urged delegates to take action to leave the Episcopal Church, Jefferts Schori wrote that the bishop would be violating his ordination vows. In a letter dated Nov. 20, she noted that he took vows three times over the past 30 or more years to uphold the "doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church."
"Your public assertion that your duty is to violate those vows puts many, many people at hazard of profound spiritual violence," she wrote, according to the Episcopal News Service. "I urge you, as a pastor, to consider that hazard with the utmost gravity."
While acknowledging Schofields personal disagreements with some of the decisions made by the General Conventions during that time period, Jefferts Schori recommended that he instead renounce his order in the Episcopal Church and go elsewhere.
The General Convention approved the consecration of an openly gay bishop of New Hampshire in 2003 and the election of Jefferts Schori, who supports homosexuality, in 2006 as the new presiding bishop for the body.
"We now have two separate religions in the Episcopal Church," Schofield told parishioners last week, according to Bakersfield Gazette. "The Episcopal Church has become an apostate to the point of heresy."
"You people need to be prepared for the battle of a lifetime," he added, noting that a split could mean protracted lawsuits over church property within the diocese and general harassment by leaders of the national body.
Addressing the issue of church property, Jefferts Schori wrote, "As you contemplate this action I would also remind you of the trust which you and I both hold for those who have come before and those who will come after us...Our forebears did not build churches or give memorials with the intent that they be removed from the Episcopal Church."
The San Joaquin diocese oversees 50 Episcopal churches in the Central Valley.
Nevertheless, the Episcopal head said the U.S. church body will "endure whatever decision" he makes. The members of San Joaquin, however, she added, will "probably suffer unnecessarily."
"Jesus calls us to take up our crosses daily, but not in the service of division and antagonism," she said in the letter. "He calls us to take up our crosses in his service of reconciling the world to God. Would that you might lead the people of San Joaquin toward decisions that build up the Body, that bring abundant life to those within and beyond our Church, that restore us to oneness."
Some in the San Joaquin diocese objected to the split. Many have also expressed support for Schofield.
Schofield has planned to meet with leaders of the worldwide Anglican Communion to discuss aligning with an Anglican province.
In the meantime, two parishes in the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia are set to vote on a break from the national church on Dec. 10 and 16.