San Joaquin embraces next chapter with ‘missional bishop’ David Rice

By Pat McCaughan
Posted Feb 25, 2014
Bishop David Rise administers the Holy Eucharist to one of the younger members of the Diocese of San Joaquin. Photo: Richard Schori

Bishop David Rice administers the Holy Eucharist to one of the younger members of the Diocese of San Joaquin. Photo: Richard Schori

[Episcopal News Service] Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, more than a half-dozen other bishops and about 400 Episcopalians on Feb. 23 gave newly appointed Bishop Assistant David Rice a joyous, rousing official welcome to the Diocese of San Joaquin.

Surrounded by an overflow crowd at the festive afternoon service at St. Paul’s Church in Modesto, the presiding bishop administered the oath of conformity to the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church to Rice, who most recently served as Bishop of Waiapu in the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia.

Rice is poised to become the next bishop provisional of the diocese; he will stand for election at an upcoming March 29 special convention to be held at 11 a.m. at St. Paul’s Church in Bakersfield.

Bishop David Rice and his wife Tracy are joined in front of the altar by some of the bishops from the Episcopal Church's Province VIII dioceses. Photo: Kelvin Yee

Bishop David Rice and his wife Tracy are joined in front of the altar by some of the bishops from the Episcopal Church’s Province VIII dioceses. Photo: Kelvin Yee

Joined by some of the Episcopal Church’s Province VIII bishops – Marc Andrus (California); Barry Beisner (Northern California); Mary Gray-Reeves (El Camino Real); Jim Mathes (San Diego); and Edna Bavi “Nedi” Rivera (provisional, Eastern Oregon) – Jefferts Schori paid tribute to previous provisional bishop Jerry Lamb (retired, Northern California) and Chet Talton (retired suffragan, Los Angeles), who also were present at the service.

“Bishop Lamb was stalwart and creative in encouraging this diocese to discover the reality that … 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,” she said of that chapter in the diocese’s life. “Perhaps the central watchword of this chapter was ‘grow up … into the full stature of Christ.’”

The three successive San Joaquin bishops provisional (from left) Jerry Lamb, David Rice and Chet Talton outside St. Paul's, Modesto. Photo: Kelvin Yee

The three successive San Joaquin bishops provisional (from left) Jerry Lamb, David Rice and Chet Talton outside St. Paul’s, Modesto. Photo: Kelvin Yee

She added that Jane Onstad Lamb’s book “Hurt, Joy and the Grace of God” (Applecart Books, 2012) helped the world learn about “the hard work of truth-telling … and it’s been a gift to others in similar circumstances.”

Talton followed Lamb as bishop provisional and his tenure was about “rebuilding, reconnecting, and healing … and encouragement to be an inviting and welcoming presence in the wider community.

“Chet and [spouse] 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,” the presiding bishop said.

This next chapter with Rice “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,” she said.

She also challenged San Joaquin Episcopalians to – in the words of former New York Bishop Paul Moore “’getup, get out and get lost!’ Get up your courage, get out there into the world, and lose yourselves in serving God’s world.”

Earlier in the day, Rice had shared a similar sentiment while preaching at St. John the Baptist Church in Lodi, about 40 miles north of Modesto.

Describing himself as a “missional bishop” he said: “What I will perpetually talk about and ask you about is, how are you engaging in the world beyond this lovely house of prayer?”

He challenged the congregation to think about what it means “to redefine for our lives what a neighborhood means, and the reality is that if we take the gospel seriously, if we take Christ’s life seriously, it [a neighborhood] is far more expansive and far more inclusive than perhaps we want to admit sometimes in our lives.”

Foundational themes of his ministry, grounded in the indigenous Maori people of New Zealand’s concepts of “manakitanga” (how you are received) and whakapapa (from whence you come), include extending hospitality not just to those who visit us in church, but broadening and expanding the concept of church, he said.

“From my perspective, church is everything as far as we can see,” Rice said. “It is where God is. The Gospel mandate invites us to join with God wherever God is and God is everywhere at the same time in the most ubiquitous sense.”

Which means that “we allow ourselves to see and experience the living Christ in everyone we encounter,” he added. “Think about how the world in which we live could be dramatically, profoundly different if we allow ourselves truly to see the living Christ in everyone.”

He recalled witnessing thousands of youth playing netball one Sunday morning while on his way to celebrate Eucharist at a church in the Waiapu diocese, a weekly occurrence, according to church members. Rice asked them, “What if some Sunday instead of gathering here, we gather there, and wear our T-shirts and offer bottled water to the people and we could be there and let them know who we are and we could expand our neighborhood.”

Several people were uncomfortable with the idea, he said, saying they preferred to be in the church building on Sunday morning. Others asked if offering water to the netball players would draw more people to church.

“That’s called ecclesio-centric, when everything is focused on this place, just on what happens here [inside the church building],” Rice said. “I’m saying expand your horizon that the church is this and more.

“If we truly believe the life of Christ and the message of our Lord and the ways in which he models living out there, then sometimes we might be slightly uncomfortable. Sometimes we might have to change. Sometimes the pattern of our lives might be altered.

“If we do what Christ did. If we do what he invited us to do, you know what happens? We build relationships, we respond to needs, we go the extra mile … and those to whom we respond want to be a part of community and sometimes – not always – they do come.”

But “this is not evangelism,” he added. “This is something different. This is mission. This is being missional.”

On a personal note, Rice evoked laughter and applause when he told parishioners he’d attended a pub night fundraiser at St. Anne’s Church in Stockton the previous evening and that his former diocese shared a tradition with the Central California Valley diocese – both are located in areas of major wine production.

Born and raised in North Carolina, he said that both his parents have Cherokee ancestry and believes he may hold the record for most ordinations – five, including ordinations as deacon and minister in the United Methodist Church and later as deacon and priest and then as bishop in the Anglican church.

He was also a youth minister and added that he is “extremely keen to be involved in the lives of youth here any way I can.”

Patsy Lithco, 67, a St. John’s parishioner said she “fell in love with” Rice immediately. “I really liked his message about what we need to do outside these walls. He knocked my socks off. He is absolutely a keeper.”

Rice inspired hope for Jim Reeve, a St. John’s member for nine years. “He was very hopefully prophetic. That was probably one of the best messages I’ve ever heard, especially the part about getting outside the church. He made a passionate plea for us to do what the Lord has requested us to do.”

The Rev. Elaine Breckenridge, St. John’s priest-in-charge, agreed that Rice inspired hope. “I’m thrilled. It was such an inspiring sermon. He’s charismatic and a deep thinker at the same time. He will bring a level of hope to the diocese.”

After quite a long talk with Rice, William Bunn, 9, pronounced him “nice. He’s a really good friend. He called my vest a waistcoat and said it was dapper.”

Bishop Provisional Chet Talton appointed Rice an assistant bishop. Rice will begin making pastoral visitations in that capacity. If elected March 29, he will be immediately seated as bishop provisional of the diocese, making him the first active bishop to serve in that capacity since theological differences split the diocese in 2007.

–The Rev. Pat McCaughan is a correspondent for the Episcopal News Service. She is based in Los Angeles.

Comments (8)

  1. Greg Masztal says:

    To the Web Administrator: The link to St. Paul’s in Modesto is incorrect! It should be

    1. Mary Frances Schjonberg says:

      The St. Paul’s link is now correct. Thanks for letting us know.

  2. The Rev. Harriet B. Linville says:

    May God’s healing presence continue in the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin. While serving as rector at St. Peter’s by-the-Sea in Morro Bay, we were blessed with regular participation of residents of the Central Valley. While the split of some years ago is painful, clearly these three bishops, along with PB Katharine, have been inviting the people to follow Jesus Christ and expand who is drawn into the circle of God’s love in The Episcopal Church. This reflects our baptismal covenant. Blessings to all.

  3. Meta Schettler says:

    We really need more than one Episcopal church in Fresno. It’s a city of 500,000 and one parish with one priest cannot serve its needs. And that congregation has probably lost 20-30 families in the last few years due to poor decision-making. I commute up to Madera to the Episcopal church there, but I would love to attend in Fresno if we had any real choices.

    1. George Wade says:

      I agree we should have more Episcopal Churches in a city the size of Fresno, and that will take time. I take exception to your comment about a minority of 30 that disagree with decisions that were made by the Vestry. The way I see it is the 30 that you claim have left, made room for the 50 plus that came to fill those seats.

      It’s really too bad you are missing out on the phenomenal growth of Holy Family Episcopal Church under the spiritual leadership of Reverend Michele Racusin and the Vestry leaders within a vibrant congregation. Bishop Rice has asked us to go out from the walls of the church and help someone, become someone’s friend in need as Christ would do. Look for the work of God in the community and get involved!

  4. Frank Breckenridge says:

    Perhaps San Joaquin was blessed by the schism. It was painful but the message of Jesus, if anything, was that through suffering we begin to break down and break through our self-centeredness. As a new member of this diocese I feel a certain “oneness” in other Episcopalians – perhaps of the kind that shipwrecked survivors feel! Gratitude to still be here and with greater understanding of the many blessings that come from simply being the Church in this time and in this place. And now, it seems, that travail and heavy labor has been rewarded with the coming of an exceptional man as bishop.

    1. George Wade says:

      We are very blessed. We are emerging as the Church Christ would have wanted us to be, welcoming, inclusive, spiritual, and loving.

  5. Maria Radford says:

    I welcome Bishop Rice with prayers for his success in a difficult mission. I have had the privilege of worshiping at Holy Family when visiting family. I spent 33 years at an Anglican school in Toronto, whose Principal became a priest and later the Rt. Rev. Anne Tottenham. Our school founded in 1865, led the way in women’s education in Canada and in women’s role in what is the Eposcopal Church in the US. The first woman bishop in Canada and the first woman student at the University of Toronto attended my school. In our Chapel, attended daily by all students regardless of religious affiliation, the stained glass chancel window depicts 3 woman saints surrounding Jesus. My family would attend a Catholic church rather than accepting any worship that did not accept women with a vocation to the priesthood. Good luck, Bishop Rice.

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