The Diocese of San Joaquin, which includes congregations as far south as Rosamond and Ridgecrest, has opted to split from the Episcopal Church USA over a schism between conservatives and liberals.
The move follows a nationwide pattern that also prompted the denomination's largest congregation, Christ Church Episcopal in Plano, Texas, to also pull its affiliation with the USA church.
"The mission of Christ Church is to make disciples and teach them to obey the commands of Christ," the Christ Church Vestry statement read. "The direction of the leadership of the Episcopal Church is different and we regret their departure from biblical truth and the historic faith of the Anglican Communion."
The defection is not new to Southern California, where several congregations have also disaffiliated, prompting court action on the division of property. Last year, St. James in Newport Beach, All Saints Church in Long Beach and St. David's Church in North Hollywood, were among the first to officially bolt from the denomination.
And, in the northern San Diego community of Fallbrook, St. John's Church voted July 17 to leave the denomination. With at least 85 percent of those voting, that parish agreed to join the more conservative Anglican Province of Uganda in the Diocese of Luweero, which is a member of the mainstream of the worldwide Anglican Communion, which numbers 77 million. The Episcopal Church USA has 2.3 million members and is a part of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
Although the Fresno-based diocese indicated its desire to leave in an April 8 letter to Anglican officials, the Rt. Rev. John-David Schofield, bishop of the diocese, reiterated its intentions in a July letter to its parishes.
"With such open rebellion and disregard for our own Constitution and Canons, is it little wonder that chaos and turmoil have overtaken the Episcopal Church?" Schofield wrote. "The election of Katherine Jefferts Schori only brings into focus this rebellion with her clear statements regarding sexual practices that she, in her diocese, has permitted and promises to promote as Presiding Bishop despite the prohibition of the same by Holy Scripture."
Christ Church and Fallbrook made their decisions following the general convention.
"St. John's is a biblically orthodox church that wants to remain true to the historic Christian faith," Rick Crossley, a congregational leader, said in a news release. "Recent actions and inactions at the national convention of the Episcopal Church have made it clear that it has chosen a different course outside the path of mainstream Anglicanism. We are simply remaining faithful to our historic beliefs and values by aligning ourselves with the orthodox faithful in the Anglican Communion."
In recent months two other San Diego congregations have announced they were also severing ties with the national church.
The denomination's conservative congregations have been involved in a widely publicized faction over the 2003 ordination of openly gay cleric V. Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire. Conservatives are also unhappy with the ordination of women and the recent election of Jefferts Schori as presiding bishop. Jefferts Schori has supported increased rights for gays, including same-sex blessings. During her first sermon as presiding bishop-elect, she reportedly referred to the Lord as "our Mother Jesus."
"Jefferts Schori is committed to a belief system which is fundamentally contrary to Scripture, Christian teaching and Anglican doctrine," the Rev. Canon David C. Anderson, chief executive officer and president of the American Anglican Council said in a news release.
Anderson also said the actions at the recent convention proved the denomination was on a liberal path it was not willing to surrender.
"If past performance is the best indicator of future behavior, we can expect the Episcopal Church to continue its revisionist trajectory with no regard for the Anglican Communion," he said.
According to the conservative American Anglican Council, the newest departures are not surprising. In its report "Equipping the Saints: A Crisis Resource For Anglican Laity," the ACC noted that in 2003 and 2004, the Episcopal Church experienced a net-membership loss of 72,402 membersan average of almost 700 membersleaving ECUSA per week. In 2004, the national average Sunday attendance in the Episcopal Church declined by 3.3 percent. And, since 2000, nearly 200 churches have disassociated from the Episcopal Church, with half of those defections coming since 2003.
Even with the exodus of so many other congregations, the decision in Fallbrook was not taken lightly, according to the Rev. Donald Kroeger, St. John's rector.
"It is only after much prayer and years of dialogue within the Episcopal Church that we came to this conclusion, but it is our only recourse if we are to stay true to the historic faith and teachings of the church," Kroeger said in a written statement.
"We have worked for many years to reconcile our differences with the Episcopal Church. Unfortunately, however, that effort cannot bridge the theological chasm between us or bring the Episcopal Church back into communion with most of the Anglican world that has severed ties with the U.S. church."
Kroeger said he's hopeful that the decision will help the congregation move beyond the internal strife to "concentrate on our core mission as a church."
"This includes reaching out to those in need around us and sharing the gospel," he said.