Monday, July 5, 2010

San Joaquin Faces A Media Challenge -- Everyday and Everyway

It is time for the rest of the world to see how the Episcopal Diocese is treated by our local newspaper, the Modesto Bee. (By the way, we get the same treatment in the Fresno Bee). It ain't very pretty but it is typical of John David Schofield's 25 years of misinformation. The writer (I will not use the term journalist) is Sue Nowicki. She has been with the Bee for many years. She used to work the education beat and her research was no better then than now..

Anglican battle in Stanislaus County got very personal this week when the Episcopal faction filed a lawsuit against St. Francis Anglican Church in Turlock.

The lawsuit was filed Monday in Stanislaus County Superior Court by the Rev. Jerry Lamb, bishop of the Modesto-based Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin. It names the Rev. Gerald "Gerry" Grossman and nine members of the church's vestry, or ruling body, as well as the St. Francis parish as defendants.

It got personal? Lawsuits are generally personal anyway but keep in mind the Episcopal Diocese has not sued a single soul for anything (not one thin dime) other than the property they took with them when they left the Episcopal Church.

St. Francis is the first parish in the diocese to face an individual lawsuit in the dispute that has split Episcopal churches across the country, largely over Scriptural interpretation, such as whether Jesus is the only way to salvation and if homosexuals should be ordained.

Lazy reporting. It is not the "only" reason they left. Surely she could not spend the time to look at the "power grabs" not only in the San Joaquin diocese but in virtually every diocese that has left.

"The diocese has never given us money," Grossman said. "The national church has never given us anything. Why do they think they have a right to this property?"

Well now deposed Father Grossman ought to take a look at the lawsuit. That should give him a pretty good idea of why he and his vestry is being sued.. Softball pitch. Why did she not return the question to Father Grossman?

No monetary damages are mentioned. Instead, the lawsuit seeks "to return control of the parish premises and other parish assets to the plaintiffs in the matter."

See, here the clever wording is "no monetary damages mentioned" when in fact there are none sought. Why such a big deal? Because these folks have taken property that does not belong to them and the Episcopal Diocese COULD ask for monetary damages from not only the rector but each and every vestry person! That would send a VERY interesting message to me. Of course for Ms. Nowicki, it is just a quick comment.

"I received a 'courtesy call' from (Episcopal attorney Michael) Glass on Monday," Grossman said Thursday. "He said, 'We're going to do our best to keep this out of the press because it could be embarrassing to both sides.' "

Instead, Lamb sent out a news release Wednesday, announcing a "new round of litigation."

My best guess is Father Grossman got this one confused. How in the world, with everything that has gone on before was this, in his wildest imagination, going to be kept out of the papers? In my more sanguine moments, I think this was a misrepresentation of the telephone call between Father Grosssman and Mr. Glass.

The reason the Turlock parish was targeted is complicated by church and legal rules, but it boils down to this:

The diocese to which it is loyal — led by Bishop John-David Schofield — was the first in the country to leave the national Episcopal Church in December 2007 and align itself with the larger worldwide Anglican Church.

One quick comment -- the inflammatory "targeted" word. Why do you suppose Ms. Nowicki used that word?

In the wake of the split, the Episcopal Church installed Lamb as its bishop over a parallel diocese. He has been charged with recovering the property — parishes and Fresno's diocesan headquarters — under Schofield's control.

Here again, despite the fact that Bishop Lamb is by Episcopal Church constitution and canons and verified by the courts thus far, is the real Bishop over the real diocese of San Joaquin. Ms. Nowicki, not the parallel diocese, the Episcopal diocese of San Joaquin. Former bishop John David Schofield has absconded with property that properly belongs to that diocese and the courts have ruled that Mr. Schofield is not the true bishop.

Within the 40 parishes loyal to Schofield are 10 that are incorporated — they own their property and are not owned by the diocese. So while most parishes are included in a lawsuit filed in 2008 against Schofield, the incorporated property must be handled individually.

In this case, Lamb said, the first lawsuit was filed against St. Francis because it is the closest parish to Modesto.

St. Paul's of Modesto was another incorporated parish that left the Episcopal Church. More than 90 percent of that congregation walked away from its $2 million-plus property on Oakdale Road last June and meets as Wellspring Anglican Church in a rented facility in downtown Modesto.

Lamb never filed a lawsuit against St. Paul's, which faced different legal challenges because it had left both the national church and the original diocese, aligning itself with another Anglican group.

Ms. Nowicki did no background research otherwise she would have asked the vestry(?) of St. Paul's why they did not fight the issue? They did not fight the issue because their vestry took a look at the issues and knew they were going to lose so simply met with Bishop Lamb and rather amicably (well, sort of) recognized the real owner of the property.

Grossman arrived at St. Francis in May 2008, said that unlike St. Paul's, his congregation isn't considering handing over its property, valued at $1 million at the beginning of 2009.

"We feed homeless children in this neighborhood. We're on a mission in this community. Our sign says, 'Lives Change Here,' and that's what we're about," he said Thursday morning, sitting in the sanctuary built in 1948 that features wooden pews and stunning stained glass windows picturing the life of Christ. "We're about God's business here in this town."

What about the 20-plus St. Francis members who Lamb claims were "forced out" by the split and now meet in another church's property?

They weren't forced out, Grossman said.

"They left this parish before the diocese left the Episcopal Church," Grossman said. "We have the letters to prove it. They resigned from the corporation."

But, he said, he has no hard feelings toward the departed members, and in fact said he gave them an altar table they wanted, loaned them other items and had coffee with their priest, the Rev. Kathryn Galicia.

Well, here again she did no research on the history. The last rector was forced out by John David Schofield and then JDS installed a deposed priest that caused many families to leave. Tell me, as an Episcopalian, would you receive the sacraments from a deposed priest? Yet, Ms. Nowicki makes no mention of any of that.

"What bothers me is we're churches," he said. "The money (spent in lawsuits) is better spent feeding the homeless, serving the community.

"To me, this is the worst-case scenario: If this property were taken over and they don't have the number of people to support this, it will be sold and two congregations will be out of a church."

Ms. Nowicki misses the obvious question at this point -- Father Grosssman, why don't you return the property to the rightful owner and not spend the church's money?

National officials won't say how much money has been spent nationwide on the 50-plus lawsuits filed by the Episcopal Church to recover property. Lamb said he doesn't know even how much has been spent locally.

He did say his diocese contributed about $70,000 to $80,000, which was raised by individuals and parishes loyal to the national church. The rest of the legal costs have been paid by the national church, he said.

Grossman said he doesn't have any idea what it will cost to defend the church against the lawsuit. But, he added, he has been told the Anglican diocesan attorneys will represent them.

Ms. Nowicki makes Bishop Lamb sound dumb for only being able to estimate the current legal costs while Father Grossman gets off scotfree with a "the diocese will take care of us" comment. If you were being sued for everything you own, would you not KNOW who was going to defend your rights? But Ms. Nowicki let that comment slide right by.

"What's next for us as a parish is to continue on — to make the main thing the main thing," he said. "This isn't going to distract us from the mission of this parish: to work in the community and to see changed lives because of Jesus Christ.

"This isn't about real estate. It's about doing what's right."

Wow! Softball served up belt high and ripe for a swing from the heels and by golly Ms. Nowicki let that one go right by her! Let me help Ms. Nowicki, "What makes you think, Father Grossman, you are right and Bishop Lamb is wrong? St. Paul's vestry took a look and decided just the opposite.

Once again, we, Episcopalians in the Diocese of San Joaquin Valley/Diocese, are forced to put up with shoddy journalism at best and flagrant disregard for the facts at worst. This adds tremendously to the uphill battle we face not only in recovering our property but in attracting new members to our parishes. While it would be too much to ask for a writer to perform the necessary research and write an unbiased article at least Ms. Nowicki could treat both parties with the same distain.

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