By John Connolly

SAN JOAQUIN, California, December 10, 2007 ( – An Episcopal diocese has seceded from the United States Episcopal Church in protest over the denomination’s support of homosexuality and women’s ordination.

The Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, California overwhelmingly voted to leave the U.S. Anglican Communion, citing its disagreement with the church’s ordination of gay bishops, the first of which was ordained in 2003.

“We have leadership in the Episcopal Church that has drastically and radically changed directions,” said Rev. Van McCalister, a spokesman for the San Joaquin diocese. “They have pulled the rug out from under us. They’ve started teaching something very different, something very new and novel, and it’s impossible for us to follow a leadership that has so drastically reinvented itself.”

“We’ve seen a miracle here today,” said John-David Schofield, the bishop of San Joaquin. “We are already outside the jurisdiction of the Episcopal Church.”

The diocese voted to align with the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone, based in South America, a move which will likely spark a legal dispute over the diocese’s multimillion-dollar holdings.

Katharine Jefferts Schori, the first woman to serve as Presiding Bishop of the U.S. Episcopal Church, emphasized faithfulness to inclusion rather than tradition of beliefs after news of the vote reached her.

“We deeply regret their unwillingness or inability to live within the historical Anglican understanding of comprehensiveness,” she said in a statement. “We wish them to know of our prayers for them and their journey.”

Supporters of the Episcopalian embrace of homosexuality expressed disappointment in the split, claiming that Christ “included all,” and insinuating that the Diocese of San Joaquin’s desire to remain faithful to biblical teaching was a departure from Christianity. Bishop Schofield, however, maintained otherwise in his address to the diocese, saying the vote was about freedom.

“It is about freedom to remain who we are in Christ. It is freedom to honor the authority of Scripture,” he said. “It is freedom to worship with the Prayer Book we know and freedom from innovations and services that are contrary to the Word of God.”

The Diocese of San Joaquin is not the first to make the break from the U.S. Episcopal Church, and others are expected to follow next year. Dioceses in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Fort Worth, Texas, have taken preliminary votes in favor of a split, but will not make final decisions for another year.

See previous coverage:

US Episcopal Church: We’ll Leave Anglican Communion Before Homosexuality

US Episcopal Bishop Disaffected by Homosexual Agenda Joins Catholic Church

US Episcopal Church Says More Interested in Decline than Growth

Official Split in Canadian Anglican Communions “likely to get messy”