Standing at the entrance to St. Paul's Episcopal Church on 17th Street, the Rt. Rev. Chet Talton raised up the blunt end of a 6-foot-tall staff and pounded it against the door.
Again he pounded with his crosier, and again, each time the knock resounding through the 160-strong gathering. From inside, the church warden greeted him, and after a brief exchange, Talton entered.
So began a new era at St. Paul's, itself the subject of a prolonged battle that, though settled at this congregation, continues to ripple through courtrooms across the country.
Talton's homily Sunday afternoon was neither victorious nor partisan. Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, he called for healing, for getting down to God's work and, perhaps most emphatically, for inclusiveness.
"There are no outcasts," Talton said. "We will take anybody. God takes everybody. God says yes to everybody."
Sunday's Eucharist, replete with ceremony and tradition, was a celebration of St. Paul's return to Episcopal ownership earlier this month.
A Kern County judge ruled in February that the church -- as well St. Michael's in Ridgecrest and two others outside Kern -- belonged to the Episcopals, not the Anglicans who had occupied it since leaving the diocese five years ago.
A related case set to go to trial next year in Fresno is expected to decide the ownership of five other Kern County church properties. They have been claimed by Anglicans who left the Episcopal church over theological differences sharpened by the Episcopal Church's ordainment of an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire in 2003.
Talton reminded the congregation that now is not the time to rest and reflect.
"So now that we are home," he said, "let's go to work. Let's go to work,"
That message seemed to resonate with Stef Donev, a member of St. Paul's parish counsel. He noted that while the three Bakersfield Episcopal congregations have grown from 12 total members shortly after the Anglican split to more than 100 at St. Paul's alone, there is still work to be done.
"It's good to be here," Donev said. "Kind of intimidating."
He explained that the congregation at St. Paul's has little money in the bank and now must pay to keep up a large campus. But he said he's not worried.
"God didn't carry us this far to drop us on our heads," he said, adding that the downtown location will help the church in its mission of reaching out to people in need.
Joining members of St. Paul's Sunday were leaders from at least two other Bakersfield churches: Emmanuel Lutheran and First Congregational, where St. Paul's displaced Episcopalians had been paying rent and worshiping until this month.
Donev said members of other churches were specifically invited to Sunday's celebration.
"You invite everybody to your parties," he said.
A new member of St. Paul's, Sara Chan Pettiford, said she has found the congregation to be very welcoming. Although she never attended the church before the 2007-08 split, she found the homecoming to be "unreal."
"I feel like we've been on vacation," she said. "It's over now."
Little was said Sunday about the Anglicans, who until last month worshipped at St. Paul's, though the door was clearly left open for them.
The Rev. Canon Kathleen Cullinane, who is the diocese's canon to the ordinary, said the church had given the departing Anglicans liturgical items, such as a chalice, to help them get a new church started.
St. Paul's wants to reconcile with those who have left, she said, adding that they will always be welcome.
"It doesn't mean just (people) who agree with us," she said.
"We are all God's people."