Welcomes You

Installation of David Rice

St. Paul’s, Modesto, CA
Sunday, February 23, 2014

We’re here today to celebrate the next chapter in a very long story.  The history of this diocese has roots in the first worship by Anglicans, led by Sir Francis Drake’s chaplain north of San Francisco in 1579.  A group of Native Americans stood by and watched.  It took 270 years before there was a settled congregation – which continues today as Trinity-St. Peter’s, San Francisco.[1]  The first missionary bishop of California, William Ingraham Kip, was elected back east in 1853, and shipwrecked en route off San Diego in January 1854.[2]  He held his first service there – in the courthouse.  Never let it be said that the current era is the first to see Episcopalians in court!

Kip was offered hospitality by a wealthy rancher and community leader, Don Juan Bandini.  This eminent resident was dealing with the continuing depredations of American citizens, who were stealing his livestock and plundering his ranch’s outposts.  The desperadoes were white supremacists, led by one William Walker, who thought his manifest destiny was to establish English-speaking colonies in Latin America that could be added as American slave states.[3]  He started in 1853 by capturing La Paz, Baja California.  By the time Kip arrived in San Diego, the Mexican government had forced him out.  Charged with violating the sovereignty of a foreign nation, he was acquitted by an American jury in 8 minutes.  The relationship between the United States of Mexico and the United States of America is still a hot-button issue, in spite of our deep and abiding interdependence. 

Kip also found an army chaplain present, John Reynolds, who in 1853 was holding services at St. John’s, Stockton, attending the convention of Episcopalians in San Francisco, and working to develop a church in the San Diego area.  Kip reports the continued lament over low attendance at services and the other attractive, alternative activities available to the population on Sundays – shopping and bars in particular.  Reynolds was also engaged in a war of words in the local newspaper – his day’s equivalent of flaming blog posts.  And we think our age is unique! 

Fast forward 155 years.  Exactly six years ago today, Canon Bob Moore and Canon Brian Cox were here in the Diocese of San Joaquin as interim pastors listening to people in deep pain and confusion.  The two canons met with many groups, found widespread mistrust of The Episcopal Church and urgent need for reconciliation, and counseled training and support for that ministry of healing.  Throughout their skilled work here during the interim between December 2007, when leaders voted to leave The Episcopal Churc, and the election and installation of Jerry Lamb as provisional bishop in March 2008, they helped people begin to name their reality and begin to break down the fortifications that had kept individuals and groups from learning what they shared as the body of Christ in this place.  They were led by what Joshua directed his hearers to do:  observe the law of Moses – i.e., love God with all you are and have and love your neighbor as yourself.  The two canons were especially scrupulous about “not turning to right or left” for that kind of taking sides was a good part of what led to the split.  ‘Keep this law in the forefront of your consciousness, particularly as you speak,’ says the prophet, and finally, “be strong and courageous, for God is with you, wherever you go.”  That has been the prime directive around here ever since:  be strong and courageous and love your neighbors.  Be strong and courageous enough to enter into real dialogue with people who hold a different opinion.  You will discover the image of God in them, and you can expect to grow in grace, even if it is very hard work!

Bishop Lamb was stalwart and creative in encouraging this diocese to discover the reality that Paul talks about – all the baptized are gifted for ministry, those gifts and skills differ from one person to the next, and all of them are essential to the work of the body of Christ.  Perhaps the central watchword of this chapter was “grow up… into the full stature of Christ.”  Don’t be misled by despots or tricksters who promise to keep you comfortably in thrall – grow up.  It’s not easy, but it is the way to abundant life.  Speak the truth in love, discover your part in the work of the body, meet the others and figure out how to coordinate this multi-limbed body for the work before us.  Jane Onstad Lamb helped the world learn about the recent history of this community, and the hard work of truth-telling, in the book she edited, and it’s been a gift to others in similar circumstances.[4]

Perhaps the iconic marker of this chapter of the diocese’s history was a report published in 2009 by a Commission on Equality, that challenged the entire diocese to consider the gifts and needs of all, with particular regard to women, the LGBT community, different ethnic and language groups, the disabled and hard of hearing, children and elders, the poor and people of varying educational levels, and anyone who’s been pushed to the margins.  It’s offered a deeply gospel-based response to a history of prejudice and exclusion that reflects Paul’s charge to the Christians in Ephesus to ‘take your part in the body of Christ, which should function as one body, continuing to grow in love.’

The next chapter of ministry here included the installation of Bishop Talton as provisional bishop in March 2011.  Rebuilding, reconnecting, and healing have continued under his leadership, with a new deanery structure and encouragement to be an inviting and welcoming presence in the wider community.  That’s variously looked like blessing animals in a shelter in Atwater, raising funds and friends for Haiti, connecting with the School for Deacons in Berkeley, planting community gardens, and starting campus ministry. 

This chapter has been characterized by connecting and kenosis.  Connecting begins with a Trinitarian understanding of God – for being made in the image of God means we are relational beings.  Kenosis is a Greek word that means emptiness, and it’s often used to talk about what God does in taking on human flesh, and the kind of self-emptying ministry Jesus exemplifies.  It’s about humility, and getting out of the way so that others can use their gifts for ministry, and it flows out of an understanding that we all depend on the Body to which we are connected.  Chet and April have continually prodded, lured, and cajoled the people around here to try new things, and to reach out in ways that may seem scary or new, always for the sake of the other. 

This chapter of ministry has continued to build on recent ones – finding strength and courage to discover those marginalized or forgotten others around us, and looking inward to discover the gifts God has given each one of us – for the sake of reconciling and healing the world.  Chet and April have modeled that kenotic work in inviting others into leadership and reminding us all that leadership is for a time and includes planning for the next chapter.

We look toward that next chapter today.  Jesus’ words in the gospel about his relationship with God might be summarized, ‘look here and see what God is like, and if you can’t see clearly, look at what I do, and you’ll see what God is up to.’  This diocesan community is engaged in making those words and works evident – so that the world can see healing, reconciliation, and good news in the flesh.

You’re discovering those strengthened connections made evident in the sacrificial generosity of the bishops of Province VIII, funds given to aid this next chapter of your ministry.  It may seem only like a remarkably gracious gift – and indeed it is – but it will challenge you to reflect that sacrificial generosity in your lives and the lives you touch here and around the world.  How will you put that into flesh?  How will you pour yourselves out in love for the broken world around you?  You are calling a new bishop into this community to keep challenging and encouraging you to do just that.

The challenges that faced the first Anglicans and Episcopalians in California are still with us, beginning with the long gaps in physical presence and ministry – don’t wait 270 years for the next chapter.  Use the courts to spread good news.  Share community with earlier inhabitants of this land – the first peoples, both Native and Latino.  Discover the gifts, stories, and insights of new and ancient inhabitants and let them teach you.  Recognize that the popular press and the blogosphere are not your ultimate judges – be courageous and faithful, and keep growing up into the full stature of the Christ who poured out his life for the world. 

There is good evidence that one of Kip’s spiritual descendants[5] used to send people on their way at the end of a service with these words:  get up, get out, and get lost!  Get up your courage, get out there into the world, and lose yourselves in serving God’s world.



[1] Founded in 1849 as Trinity Church.

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Walker_(filibuster) He went on to invade Nicaragua in 1855, be recognized as its legitimate government by the US, reinstitute slavery, until a Latin American coalition force routed him.  The US Navy took him home under guard.  He tried another coup in Honduras, which failed.  Honduran authorities executed him in 1860.  American adventurism is not new either.

[4] Hurt, Joy, and the Grace of God.  2012, Applecart Books

[5] Bishop Paul Moore of New York