Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Saint James Church: Who Are We and Where Did We Come From?

May 12, 2017  
Filed under Articles

As we begin our visioning process it incumbent that we look at who we are, beginning with our patron saint and our origins as a congregation. This paper is not intended to be a comprehensive historical timeline but is an attempt to highlight developmental milestones and events that helped shape what we have become, keeping in mind that through the eyes of faith this is also the hand of God guiding us in this process. There are also demographic shifts that have made us a more diverse in the Body of Christ.

What’s in a name?
Why would the first Anglican congregation in Fresno County California select the name of “St. James” for a name when they had their choice of any name? Perhaps it was what the members of the founding congregation saw in the character of James himself. St. James (the greater) was in Christ’s inner circle of disciples. Christ allowed James, St. John (his brother) and Peter to see things to which the other disciples were not privy. For example, those three were the only ones who witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus. James was the first apostle to be martyred and healed a man as he was being taken to his death. James became the Patron Saint of Spain and his shrine is the third most visited holy site in the Roman Catholic Church. The cross of St. James is a sword and his name was invoked in battle by the Spanish army who stopped the invasion of the Moors. Reflection on this suggests possible contemporary ramifications for us.

A missionary priest founded our congregation in 1879 with a small brick church finished in 1884 at Fresno and N Streets. His name was Douglas Ottinger Kelley. He was a man of enormous energy who should be given more credit for the building of what now constitutes much of our diocese. He also established congregations in Hanford, Bakersfield, Merced and Modesto. He was our first rector. We were pioneers as the first Anglican congregation in Fresno County and we remain pioneers today 138 years later.

In 1910 Fresno became the See City of the new Missionary District of San Joaquin with Louis Childs Sanford as the first Bishop (1911-1942). In 1911 St. James’ was designated as the Pro-Cathedral and in 1925 it became the Cathedral Church of the Missionary District. At that time we were a part of the Diocese of California. Sumner F. D. Walters became our second bishop and resided in Stockton. (1944-1968). Some members are still with us who remember him well and worshipped on the Fresno and N Street campus. In 1951 Sanford Hall was built adjacent to the Cathedral and when the Cathedral was condemned as unsafe in 1957 following a major earthquake, Sanford Hall was used for services. Peter and Dianna Essayan were married in the Cathedral before the earthquake and the stained glass window of Jesus the Good Shepherd is in the background of their wedding photograph. That same window was brought with the congregation to the Cedar and Dakota campus and was later installed in east wall of the Chapel of the Innocents above the altar. The altar, pulpit and baptismal font at Cedar and Dakota also came from the church on Fresno and N streets.

The decision was made to move north to a new area of Fresno and sell the property on Fresno and N Street to the city of Fresno. In 1960 a new Sanford Hall and a church school wing were completed at Cedar and Dakota. Many folks remember the 60’s as the high point at St. James with three overflowing services, a church bus, and after service treats at Harpain’s Dairy. Kevin Gunner was not only senior warden but served as one of ”McKinsey’s Monks”, as an acolyte for 21 years. It is interesting to note that St. James, as the Cathedral Congregation has not worshipped in a Cathedral building for the last 60 years. In 1971 the St. James’ Cathedral School was established. The school closed in 1996 because of declining enrollment. Beginning in 1972 the cottage on the campus was used as the Thrift Shop, which was open four days a week. It was a tight knit dedicated group of parishioners who volunteered one day a week for many years. They are an inspiration for us all of us.

At that time the new campus was established, this was considered the northern fringe of the city with new homes to the north of the campus. The first services were held at this site in January 1961. It was the same year that the General Convention of the Episcopal Church approved the Missionary Diocese of San Joaquin petition to become a separate diocese from the Diocese of California. The Cathedral Offices and Diocesan House were subsequently built in accordance with the Master Plan for the property, which included an area allocated for the eventual construction of a Cathedral. Sanford Hall served as the Cathedral and a decision was made to build Zoe Eden Hall as a multipurpose building that would also serve outreach ministry to the neighborhood rather than build a Cathedral. Conservative and warm Bishop Victor Rivera (1968-1988) served as the third bishop of our diocese. He was instrumental in buying land in Oakhurst and building ECCO now referred to as the Evergreen Conference Center. The church had its highest population in the late 1960’s with a large adult choir and celebrated the burning of the mortgage. The choir was a point of pride and the focal point of connectedness for many members. Young Audra McDonald was a choir member. Rita Nitschke took over the duties of “Choir Mom” from her mother. There was also a strong youth group and young married group called “Cana”. Most of the parishioners were white, well connected and reportedly cliquish. The 1928 prayer book was in use. There was great sadness when Dean Lee (1955-1970) retired. With the addition of other Episcopal Churches and the charismatic G.L. Johnson, the membership of St. James began to decline and the Fireside room was no longer needed for overflow.

When Bishop Rivera retired, John David Schofield 1988-2011) was selected by the diocese as their fourth bishop. There was considerable controversy in the Episcopal Church about such a conservative person becoming a bishop and General Convention nearly failed to approve his election. An anonymous source planted a story in the Fresno Bee that Bishop Schofield was secretly a Roman Catholic. Ironically, it was Louis Crew a gay member of the Episcopal executive council who rallied support by saying, “If there is room in the Episcopal Church for me, there is room for John David Schofield.”. TEC leadership is probably regretting to this day that they approved his election. Bishop Schofield, like bishop Rivera before him attracted and recruited conservative and traditionalist priests to the diocese who were trained in conservative orthodox seminaries. This led to the rare situation that the clergy were more conservative than their parishioners and probably was the deciding factor in their willingness to leave the Episcopal Church.

During Bishop Schofield’s tenure the first major crisis were the events that led to the short tenure of Cathedral Dean, John Congdon (1993-1995). There was a great deal of disruption and discord during this time. After Bishop Schofield dismissed him, Fr. Jim Thompson served as interim Dean and was referred to as “Provost.” He was the right person for the times but some damage could not be repaired. Many in the adult choir members left. Following this Dean Carlos Raines was installed (1998-pres). The loss of his administrative assistant Bev Hamill to cancer was difficult for everyone but him in particular.

Events in TEC came to a head when Gene Robinson, a practicing homosexual was consecrated a bishop in 2003. During the San Joaquin Diocesan Convention of 2007, the decision was made by the vast majority of the congregations to follow Bishop Schofied and realign with the Southern Cone of the Anglican Communion under Archbishop Gregory Venables. The bishop rightly believed that TEC had abandoned both the preeminence of Scripture and the Traditions of the Church Universal. This set in motion a lawsuit from TEC, which challenged the decision, demanded the property and froze the assets of the new Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin. Bishop Schofield was inhibited by TEC presiding bishop Katharine Jefforts-Shori and later deposed by General Convention. Bishop Schofield was in effect no longer an Episcopal bishop but the first bishop of the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin. St. James, as the Cathedral Church was the tip of the sword as the lead congregation. He always saw himself as an Evangelical, Charismatic and Anglo-Catholic Christian. This essentially mirrors the main three streams of the ACNA.

On a personal note, at the same time my wife Sharon and I left Holy Family Church (one of few the “Remain Episcopal” congregations) and was ordained a deacon by Bishop Schofied. It was his last official act before being inhibited the following day. As an Anglican Bishop, he priested me two years later.

These were difficult times financially because we had no access to reserve funds and needed to live by faith, day-to-day depending on God to provide. There were difficult budget decisions with severe staff cuts. Canon Van McCalister was a great help during this time assisting Bishop Schofield. Bishop Schofield’s health began to deteriorate but he agreed to stay on and help Robert Duncan the first ACNA Archbishop bring together the faithful congregations and Dioceses in the United States and Canada to form the Anglican Church North America in 2009. At nearly the same time the Global Anglican Future Conference was held in 2008 to address the same issues within the World Wide Anglican Communion. The results of all of these events were that St. James became a church in a new diocese, a new province and a new Anglican Communion. We now use a new liturgy, prayer book and catechism. To this day, our diocese has been seen as a leading defender of Gospel Truth on a world stage. The sword of St. James remains with us. These difficult times brought on a humility and welcoming spirit at St. James. Both Bishop Schofield and Dean Raines also fostered these qualities in us and modeled these qualities in themselves.

During our final years on the campus we shared our site with the Spanish-speaking congregation of Our Lady Of Guadalupe. We consecrated our fifth bishop Eric Menees (2011-pres.). It is worth noting that our last three bishops were fluent in Spanish and English, which reflects both demographic changes but may also suggest future visions.

The most recent event is the fact that the Diocese lost the legal battle for the property and all unincorporated churches including St. James had to vacate to different locations leaving behind all church properties. The older saints at St. James continue to grieve this loss. It is a loss that those of us with shorter histories with St. James can never fully appreciate.

All of this is written with a prayerful hope that we can see a trajectory in this. When combined with the suggestions of the parishioners it is possible that we can see a way forward that God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit have already prepared for us to walk in. It has been a blessing for me to pass this history along to the saints at St. James.

Note: Sources for this brief summary of the St. James History include church documents, communications with long time St. James members including Marcus Zalky, Rita Nitschke, Susan Sanders, Kevin Gunner, Tom and Lois Powell, Marjorie Bishop and Peter and Dianna Essayan. My memories are included and personal recollections of bishop Schofield gleaned from a video interview I conducted with him in 2010.

In His Service,
Father Dale Matson

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