Monday, February 2, 2009
Ding, Dong the Witch is Dead!
I have spent the past week in the Diocese of Ft. Worth. I have preached and celebrated in a continuing Episcopal parish; I have lunched and chatted with a number of continuing clergy and laity of the diocese. A new day is dawning here and it is wondrous to behold! I have waited 30 years for this day.
For 30 years this diocese has been run by bishops who have systematically kept members of the Church from knowing what was going on in the Episcopal Church nationwide. From its inception in 1985 as a conservative bastion against the inclusion of the Diocese of El Camino Real as a liberal diocese, a small group of people, both clergy and lay have tried to keep Ft. Worth from the normal interaction with the Church at large. The clergy have all been trained at Nashota House. Clergy who disagreed with the ultra-conservative, high church dictates of the bishops were not allowed to serve in the diocese. The bishops had also raised up many clerics in diocesan training programs (the old Canon 9) who were totally dependant upon the bishops. The bishops have more or less raised up their own successors so that there would be no fresh blood added to the gene pool. Bishop Jack Iker was elected in ’91 to continue the anti-women agenda that Bishops Davies and Pope had fostered. Most people knew that Iker could not keep his ordination vows to “uphold the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church”, but most people in the diocese did not realize how out of step Jack Iker was. Slowly but surely Iker became more and more paranoid, fearful of TEC and instilled this into his people. In too many parishes, the laity are afraid to contradict their priests even when they know that they are preaching the wrong message about the Episcopal Church.
In November with Bishop Iker’s rejection of the authority of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts-Schori and his joining with other break-away parishes with the Southern Cone of Brazil, Jack Iker was accepted as having abandoned the Episcopal Church and defrocked. Seven major parishes of the diocese and a number of laity have chosen to stay in the Episcopal Church. The diocese, before the split was not large—only 52 parishes and missions. Most of the churches, in fact, were missions, their clergy dependant upon the bishop for their jobs. Most of the larger parishes that had called rectors to their churches chose to stay in TEC.
The Iker-led Southern Cone churches are trying to follow along as though nothing has happened. They are being told that they are still Episcopalians—that nothing will change. But the reality of the Southern Cone group being able to keep their churches and their endowments is really slim to none. Even though there is an attempt to push through some laws in the Texas Congress that will limit the powers of the National Church, the likelihood of their success is remote because other dioceses of Texas are not supportive of Iker.
But the sad thing is how unprepared the people are to take charge of their churches. On Sunday I celebrated at the only African-American parish in the diocese. The people had never heard of the Union of Black Episcopalians or the Urban Caucus. They have never had a chance to interact with other Black Episcopalians in the larger Church. They have had a Nigerian priest as their rector who knows nothing about TEC and who has told them that TEC members worship God as Mother and don’t believe in the Trinity. This is the kind of misinformation that Iker and his ilk have fostered among the people.
Bishops who depend upon locally-trained clergy, a single-issue seminary, exclude the influence of national organizations like the UBE, Urban Caucus, Integrity, NECA, etc., who do not provide for good clergy continuing education, and depend on only local lay educational events lead dioceses into an extremely warped idea of what Church is about. When there is no fresh air in a diocese, the diocese becomes stagnant, dependant and ultimately ineffective in the ministry of Jesus Christ.
On February 7th, the Diocese of Ft. Worth will meet in convention to elect an interim bishop to help the people determine what steps need to be taken for the future. I am hoping that the court cases reclaiming the property and endowments for the Episcopalians will be mounted quickly for the sake of those who continue in the Church. Please pray for those who have had the temerity to be the Episcopal Church in Ft. Worth. Send the parishes and clergy of the continuing Church your regards and assurance of your prayers and thoughts. It has been quite difficult for these folks. Some of the continuing parishes are meeting in people’s homes or in other supportive denominations. But there IS fresh air here and the Holy Spirit is blowing freely. Thanks be to God!