Friday, September 5, 2008
A Pastoral Request from the Bishop
This message is specifically directed to every priest in charge of a congregation in the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth. However, I am sending it to all clergy, vestry members, and convention delegates on our mailing list so that everyone will know what I am proposing.
As the date approaches for our momentous Diocesan Convention vote in November, many parish clergy have attempted to make certain that their parishioners understand the issues surrounding the proposal that we separate from the General Convention of The Episcopal Church. In several places parish forums have been held, where outside speakers have been brought in to present the opposing sides on the question of realignment. Some of you have preached sermons on this subject, written articles for your parish newsletter, and even in a couple of places brought in General Convention authorities to speak to your people. In addition, several different groups have been formed in the Diocese, including Remain Episcopal, Via Media, and Remain Faithful, which have attempted to educate, organize, and motivate the laity to take sides on the question: “Should we remain with TEC or with the Diocese?” Legal counsel has been engaged, lawsuits are being anticipated, various steering committees have been formed, and outside assistance from the “815” church headquarters in New York is being sought.
An important factor that has often been forgotten in all of the controversy is the need for prayerful discernment that seeks, above all else, to know what God’s will is for us at this particular time in our life together as a diocesan family.
As your bishop and chief pastor, I am inviting and urging that every congregation in this Diocese enter into an intentional 40-day period of prayerful discernment to be concluded the week prior to our Convention on November 14 and 15. This means that our start-up day would have to be either September 28 or 29. Furthermore, I am proposing that we all use the same materials and process that will lead us in this venture. All the information that you will need may be found at this website: www.40daysofdiscernment.org. Please go to that site today or tomorrow and get everything you need in order to begin.
Fr. David Klein has already completed this program at St. John’s Church in Fort Worth, and I am certain that he is willing to commend it to you and to answer any questions you may have about it in advance.
I will not force any of you to comply with this request. At this very tense and troubled time in the life of our Church, I am simply asking each of you to respect and be guided by my pastoral direction and leadership as your bishop by leading your congregation(s) in this discernment program. Ultimately, no one from outside can tell you and your people what you should decide is the best way forward for your congregation. This 40-day program is to help each local congregation, as a body of Christian believers, to enter into a prayerful and reasoned process to help discern a way forward through the crisis that is confronting us.
Please let me know how I can be of assistance as we move forward together as the Holy Spirit leads us.
The Rt. Rev. Jack Leo Iker
Bishop of Fort Worth
September 3, 2008
+ Jack Iker has written a letter to the parishes in the Diocese of Ft. Worth asking for a period of 40 days of discernment so that in November the members of the diocese can vote at Diocesan Convention on whether or not to leave the Episcopal Church. This letter is typical of the kind of information that +Iker and even his predecessors have made available to their priests and congregations for years. If it had not been for many who have moved to the sunny south from other areas, most Ft. Worthians would never have known that they were out of pace with the rest of the Church. It was also the heavy work of Via Media and now Remain Episcopal that have given members of the Episcopal Church in the diocese a view of the Church that has not been controlled by the archconservatives. In many ways the Episcopal Diocese of Ft. Worth reflects the strong influence of the Southern Baptists whose conference is based in the city.
But the seemingly benign plea for discernment by +Iker has its teeth. According to this letter the diocese should enter a time of prayerful discernment. But the “but” is there. It should only be done according to the same information which will be provided by the diocesan office. Once again the Diocese of Ft. Worth is trying to control the mind of the diocese which is the most un-Episcopal—un-Anglican thing you can do.
One of the most important charisms of what it means to be an Episcopalian is the freedom of thought. We have always looked askance at the Roman Catholic hierarchy that tends to bend the mind of its members. We have always tried to stand ready to embrace more than one opinion. Again and again we have seen +Iker and the likes try to control how people think which is not only un-Anglican, it just plain doesn’t work. All it does show is how worried they are when people hear both sides. The years of anti-liberal propaganda is beginning to fail as the world begins to recognize that the issues are no longer Liberal vs. Conservative. The issues are whether Christianity is going to be relevant to a coming generation. The fights must stop because at present no one can hear the Gospel for all the bellicosity.
If anything has happened in this present age is that people can access all kinds of information at all times and in all places. As post-modern gurus are saying—no longer can people in power control information or process. What we must do is come to a place where community –that incredible mix of compromise and conversation must be at the center of what it means to be Church. The future of the Church is going to be less a matter of episcopal decrees and more about dialog. It is going to be less control and more about shepherding. Our bishops are going to have to be more in touch with the people of his/her diocese. The role of the bishop will be less the leader and more the pastor—one who can serve and listen rather than one who sets the agenda of a diocese.
Whether the Diocese of Ft. Worth votes to leave or not, there will be Episcopalians in Ft. Worth. Like the Diocese of San Joachin, there may some churches that will go. But a good number will remain faithful and will continue to be part of the Church knowing that the arguments that +Iker and the like propose are old hat and no longer important to the future of the Anglican Communion.
As we saw at Lambeth, the Anglican Communion is not about to divide. Yes, we disagree but it is not in us to split. We may be more willing to fight than switch. But we are still family. We are still unwilling to divorce even though we disagree.