By WALT CABE
Special to the Star-Telegram
North Texas Episcopalians and those observing recent activities in our diocese can be forgiven for some confusion.
A quick update is that the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth is alive and well and doing ministry and mission everywhere from Gainesville to Wichita Falls to Brownwood to Hillsboro and back.
On Nov. 15, Bishop Jack Iker led a diocesan convention at which a majority of delegates voted to leave the Episcopal Church and align with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone.
As the canons — church laws — require when a bishop announces he has left the Episcopal Church, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori inhibited Iker from performing sacramental acts and gave him 60 days to change his mind.
Almost immediately, Iker posted a notice on the Internet announcing that the presiding bishop has no authority over him because he is a bishop in another church.
On Dec. 5, the presiding bishop accepted that as notice of his renunciation of orders in the Episcopal Church. That means that Jack Iker is no longer an ordained minister in the Episcopal Church and no longer has any authority in the Episcopal Church, having very publicly left it.
While those who have gathered themselves around Iker still insist they are the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, it is simply not possible to leave the Episcopal Church and then claim to be still part of it. And while they still occupy property that belongs to the Episcopal Church, they have no legal rights to it, according to the church’s canons.
All this will in due course be sorted out, most likely in the courts.
Meanwhile, the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth continues its ministry as an integral part of the Episcopal Church.
Many Episcopalians in the diocese never supported Iker’s aims. Months before Nov. 15, they began planning to reorganize and refocus the diocese — not to organize a new one, as Iker’s office has recently claimed — to carry on the work of the church. They formed the mostly lay-led Steering Committee North Texas Episcopalians, made up of representatives from the remaining Episcopal congregations.
Since Nov. 15, 15 intact and reorganizing parishes and somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000 Episcopalians in North Texas, some meeting in their parish property and some in temporary space, have continued to worship and explore new and effective ways to carry out the church’s mission of reconciling the world to God and all humankind to each other through Jesus Christ.
Among the organizing principles of the continuing diocese are a commitment to a life of prayer; honoring Holy Scripture and participating in true Episcopal worship; and to an empowered lay leadership and a return to the emphasis on Christ’s instructions to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and comfort the lonely.
A reorganizing convention is scheduled for Feb. 7. Committees are preparing a budget, reviewing canons to bring them into compliance with national norms, communicating with the wider church and the public, nominating qualified lay and clerical candidates for diocesan offices and designing strategies and programs for various outreach ministries. In time, the full range of diocesan ministries will be reestablished.
On Feb. 7, the presiding bishop will call the convention to order and preside over election of a Standing Committee (three clergy, three laity), the highest level of elected leadership, and other officers. She also may then ask the convention to ratify a provisional bishop, appointed by her in consultation with the Steering Committee, to oversee the diocese until a bishop can be elected under ordinary circumstances.
Meanwhile, the church’s worship is going forward. Retired priests — including one woman — are leading services in the faith communities, and the parish congregations’ life of prayer goes on unimpeded.
The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth is alive and getting healthier.
The people reorganizing the diocese want those who have separated to know that we hold them in our prayers as our brothers and sisters in Christ and that we hope to see the day when we are all back together at the same table, a family of blessed, happy Episcopalians.