Monday, December 24, 2007

My head is still shaking

But I promised Jake’s readers I would write something, and I’ve already gotten a crazy amount of hits. So, here are my impressions of former Episcopal bishop John-David Schofield's visit to St. Nicholas Episcopal Church, Atwater, CA.

The Apostle in Exile and I found our way to St. Nicholas, and got ourselves oriented. We were standing in a small circle in the parish hall, talking with Fr. Fred before the service. Bob Moore+ came in, and I bounced over and gave him a hug. I was only momentarily surprised to see him, but so happy. I thought, “Yes. They’re watching.”

Bob was appointed by Presiding Bishop Katharine to coordinate pastoral care for those in San Joaquin who choose to stay in the Episcopal Church. I’ve only met him a few times, but enough to be pleased that he’s here. His wife is Nedi Rivera, Suffragan Bishop of Olympia. They’re both fantastic people. He’s a close, attentive listener, and a deeply calming presence. I was very reassured to see him.

The other Episcopal clergy present were Fred’s father, Martin Risard, a retired priest living in Sonora; and Michael Backlund from NoCal (living in SJ, he commutes to Sacramento to serve). Bill Gandenberger was also there, as canon to John-David.

John-David preached, and concelebrated with Fred. I couldn’t figure out why; what part of leaving by his own choice and attempting to take the diocese with him, had he not understood? Fred explained it later, as a gesture meant on his part to reconcile.

I’m stuck here, as anything I attempt to say about John-David’s participation in the liturgy is colored by my shock at his audacity. I nearly broke up laughing, when this schismatic “bishop” prayed for unity in the church. I’d been at one other Eucharist where he preached and presided. This sermon was actually short, for him, and evidence via his actions that he doesn’t listen to his own words. He prayed before celebrating, over the elements, and again while washing his hands—not sotto voce, this time, but full voice—and professing (to God, no less) his own humility. No. Really. If I could directly quote him, you might be as shocked as I. (I’d thought about bringing my voice recorder with me, but felt it was inappropriate, and left it at home.)

Fred had spoken, I believe at the Offertory—thanking all of us for being there, and mentioning that he’d gotten support from all over the world. He seemed like an unlikely hero; a priest in a small mission, just trying to do his job. He announced that they were going to take bags of groceries to hungry people afterward—which they did, and some of us helped. (It was so good to do the work of the Gospel, after that craziness!) The offering went to support that work in the community.

Fred said that they’ve been down to about 20 people on a Sunday, half of what they’d started with, because of all the trouble in the diocese. I’m no judge of numbers, but yesterday this small church was full. There were people there from St. John’s, Lodi; St. Francis (in exile), Turlock; Holy Family, Fresno; and I’m from St. Aidan’s, San Francisco. Possibly others that I don’t know; I got the sense that anyone who could go, went. A few were standing, in the back.

John-David consecrated the elements, and sat in the bishop’s chair. Fred and the deacon fed us. Fred knew my name from this blog, and he was beaming as he placed the host in my hands.

I had posted previously, asking for support for Fred. I told Paul, and posted links at Episcopal Café and Jake. I got a sub for myself on Sunday, and went to Atwater—not even from Berkeley, but my friend’s house in the Valley. She drove; it took barely over an hour. It seems like so little—and it meant so much. I felt very privileged to be able to be there.

After the closing prayer, before the hymn, John-David spoke again. He said something to the effect of, “You’ve heard rumors that I’m firing Fred and closing the mission. This is not true. Your attendance is dropping; you can’t afford a full-time priest. We’re keeping the doors open—and will send a supply priest on occasion. This is the sole reason for my visit.”

You know the expression, “gobsmacked?” We all knew we’d been manipulated and lied to. Come on. How he expected to come in there and say that, and have people be unified anywhere except against him, is beyond me.

Fred stood up, and let him have it. He was emotional, powerful, truthful, and strong. He said, (I’m paraphrasing), “you know, I didn’t want to go here. You had to stir things up one last time. You come in here with intent to divide people. We are about the work of reconciliation.” He said he’d been silent out of fear for his job; the bishop had just given him absolutely nothing to lose. Vicars risk a lot by speaking out; they serve only at the pleasure of the bishop. Fred said that other vicars had contacted him, supportively and wanting to know what they could do for themselves now as well. They’d felt—rather, been—pressured to go along with John-David; they didn’t truly want to.

Somebody has to go first; it may as well have been him. I love my own bishop. I can imagine that if I had a deep disagreement with +Marc, he’d honestly listen to me. He’d make a real attempt to work it out. There’d be none of the power-play and mind games that happen here. That’s why I’m still shaking my head. The way John-David relates to people—faking nice at them while twisting knives in their back—does not happen in my reality. I couldn’t even begin to process this, until this morning—and I’ve heard the stories for three years.

Fred said more, along the lines of thanking us for supporting him, again. Twice he turned to face John-David. All of this needed to be said, and it needed to be said to the one who had hurt him. There were a lot of people praying, as we listened.

Some at Jake’s have mentioned bodyguards. I didn’t see them. My eyes were pretty steadily front, the whole time, except when I caught my friend's eyes in disbelief and horror. I listened as well as I could; at the same time, my defenses were up. And I was riveted by what was unfolding in front of me. I saw incredible audacity and lies, be met with prayer, clear speech, and courage.

A friend distilled it thusly: “Truth was spoken to power, and “power” oozed out the door.” He nailed it. I didn’t see John-David or Bill Gandenberger at all after the service. They’d been invited to help serve the poor; they didn’t stay to speak to anyone.

Now what? Keep praying for Fred Risard, the community of St. Nicholas, and all other vicars and missions in the diocese of San Joaquin. If you live in the Merced-Atwater area, visit St. Nicholas. Simply showing up, is support. If you want to donate, you may do so here. Money received by Remain Episcopal goes toward publicizing these issues, supporting the rebuilding of the continuing Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, and toward supporting people like Fr. Fred. (Facebook members may donate to Remain Episcopal, here.)

UPDATE: Father Jake has compiled this and other eyewitness accounts, here. Others saw things I didn't, and saw things that I witnessed, differently. Check it out.


Paul said...

Thank you, Kirstin, for providing one more eye-witness account for those who wait, pray, and yearn for the health of the EPISCOPAL Diocese of San Joaquin.

Being Peace said...

God bless you Kirstin and thank you for your witness. My spiritual mentor taught me to 1) show up, 2) pay attention, 3) speak your truth and 4) don't be attached to the outcome. It sounds to me that is exactly what Fr. Fred did on Sunday. I am grateful for people like him who are not afraid to speak their truth no matter what.

FranIAm said...

What a powerful post. You know, I feel that as a Catholic (with no shortage of problems of our own) but one who longs for communion with many, that I am "peering through the glass" here.

All I can say is that I laud you for your visit and your reportage of it. And I laud and support Fr. Fred and St. Nicholas.

My heart breaks with these matters and so many more that concern themselves with power and politics, when all my mind is doing is returning to Matthew 25.

Someone is hungry, someone is naked, someone is sick, someone is in prison. And the powers that be fight among themselves and fuss over a false morality.

Peace unto all and great blessings to you.

It is an honor to read this blog.

R said...


Wow! And appropriate at a time of year when we remember BIG things happen in small places.

The Truth is spoken to the powerful. I wonder if JDS heard the Christ Child speaking to him?

Thank you for your witness. This can no longer happen in secret or with impunity...the Body of Christ is watching...

Anonymous said...

Kirstin, thank you for going to St. Nicholas to be a witness. Thank you for your powerful story.

Thanks be to God for Fr. Fred and the faithful at St. Nicholas. May God bless thme and give them strength and courage in the difficult days ahead.

May God soften the heart of JDS.

Grandmère Mimi said...

That anonymous up there is me.

susan s. said...

Thanks, Kirsten

aprisard said...

Thaanks Kirsten, I couldn't have said it better. And I was there, Fred's brother.

I'm glsd you reported what he said, because it's good too get some one unrelates to back him up. And thanks to all who suport him, he's still there thanks to you all and his forthrightness and honesty.


Anonymous said...

Thank you, Kirsten, for this wonderful reporting of an amazing and extraordinary event. Someone else mentioned how like Bethlehem the whole thing was. True, except that there Herod did not put in an appearance like happened in Atwater.

I really believe this event will prove to be the seed of something really big. We are witnessing history here.

Jane R said...

Yeesh! And wow. And thank you.

Josh Indiana said...

I don't know how you might have tagged this post, but as I look at your list I can nominate a few: Grinchiness would surely work, though my favorite is Hideosity.

Schofield's rude, uncaring and boorish behavior can only be filed under Self-Referential Silliness.

Kirstin said...

Thank you all. It's so good to know that so many are watching.

LOL, Josh--but his self, not mine!

Mimi said...

Interesting. This is the Diocese of the Episcopal Church where I grew up, so I've been following it.


PseudoPiskie said...

I wish St Nicholas would take DJS off their website.

Kirstin said...

Thank you, Mimi. It's completely freaky.

Pseudo, that's a very good point. One of us could write to them and say so; I might do that now.

Al_Blackwell said...

It is time for the Executive Committee and the Presiding Bishop to realize that they must inhibit/depose bishops who announces or communicates to others that they are leaving the National Church. At the minimum they should be prohibited from making any structural changes or ordaining any clergy in their former diocese.