FORT WORTH: Bishop, Standing Committee give preliminary approval to joining Southern Cone province

Episcopal News Service. January 10, 2008 [011008-04]

Mary Frances Schjonberg

Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth Bishop Jack Iker and the diocesan Standing Committee said January 9 that "the structure and polity of the Province of the Southern Cone would afford our diocese greater self-determination than we currently have under the General Convention of The Episcopal Church."

Iker and the committee came to that conclusion in a "preliminary report" issued in response to a resolution passed at the diocese's November 17 convention ( The resolution, which thanked the province for its invitation, asked for a report within 60 days on "the constitutional and canonical implications and means of accepting this invitation."

The 2007 Fort Worth convention gave the first of two approvals needed to amend its constitution and remove accession to the Constitution and Canons of General Convention, as well as several canonical amendments that eliminate mention of the Episcopal Church.

The Anglican Province of the Southern Cone has about 22,000 members and encompasses Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay. Its provincial synod, meeting in Valpariso, Chile, November 5-7, agreed to welcome into the province "on an emergency and pastoral basis" Episcopal Church dioceses "taking appropriate action to separate from The Episcopal Church."

The leadership and convention of the Diocese of San Joaquin accepted that invitation during its December 8 annual meeting.

Iker and the Standing Committee said that they reviewed the South American province's constitutions and canons -- an English-language version of which is due to be released soon, according to the report.

They concluded that accepting the province's invitation would give the diocese "greater self-determination than we currently have under the General Convention of The Episcopal Church." This would be an autonomy that "would be evident most specifically in the areas of property ownership, liturgy, holy orders, and missionary focus," the report said, adding that "while nothing will change in the day-to-day operations of the churches in the Diocese of Fort Worth, we expect a significant change in attitude and focus of the clergy and people of the diocese."

The report concluded that joining the Southern Cone would give Fort Worth "the opportunity and freedom to continue to practice the 'Faith once delivered to all the saints' without being constantly distracted by the controversies and divisions caused by innovations hostile to traditional Christian norms." It would also allow the diocese to "concentrate on the call of Jesus Christ to preach the Gospel and make new disciples, while at the same time assuring our continued place in the mainstream of Anglicanism, an assurance The Episcopal Church is unable to give," the report said.

The report calls Southern Cone Primate Gregory James Venables, the British-born Bishop of Argentina, "a principal leader of the traditional, orthodox movement in the worldwide Anglican Communion."

Early on in the two-page report, Iker and the Standing Committee accuse the leadership of the Episcopal Church with threatening the diocese "with false claims of canonical power to correct and discipline us while condoning or even promoting in other dioceses false teaching and sacramental actions explicitly contrary to Holy Scripture."

The nature and acceptability of the Southern Cone's offer has been debated since it was issued. During the days leading up to the San Joaquin convention's decision, San Joaquin Bishop John-David Schofield implied that Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams approved of the Southern Cone plan. Schofield said in a November 16 pastoral letter to the congregations of the diocese that the plan would, among other things, "assure that we remain within the Anglican Communion through a Province in full communion with the See of Canterbury."

"According to well-informed sources, the Archbishop of Canterbury has been fully informed of the invitation of the Province of the Southern Cone and described it as a 'sensible way forward,'" he wrote.

The day before the convention's actions, Schofield told reporters that Venables' offer was a "Godsend" for Williams.

Bolivia Bishop Frank Lyons from the Southern Cone told the same gathering of reporters that Williams approved of the new affiliation and also described it as "a sensible way forward."

Lyons made similar claims to the Fort Worth convention. On November 27, a Diocese of Fort Worth delegate wrote to the Rev. Canon Kenneth Kearon, Anglican Communion secretary general, asking for verification of those assertions. "I would be surprised to hear that the Archbishop would formally support such a development which is contrary to the Windsor Report," Kearon wrote in reply.

Episcopalians who do not agree with the direction in which Iker and the rest of the diocesan leadership is headed have been gathering and exchanging information through the Fort Worth Via Media organization. The group is a member of Via Media USA, an alliance of Episcopal laity and clergy formed in 2004 to offer a counterpoint to efforts to "realign" the Episcopal Church along more conservative lines.

Fort Worth Via Media sponsored a visit to the diocese September 8 by House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson. After Iker issued a letter criticizing Anderson's visit, the group said Iker sees disagreement as disobedience and disrespect and he did not object to the meeting in mid-July when he was invited to attend.

On January 19, the organization plans a workshop, titled "What is at stake for Episcopalians in the Diocese of Fort Worth?" The leader will be the Rev. Tom Woodward who recently retired as rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Salinas, California, a part of the Diocese of El Camino Real. Woodward, who now attends St. Bede's Episcopal Church in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in the Diocese of the Rio Grande, has opposed the "realignment" efforts.

The Fort Worth report gives no timetable for formally accepting the Southern Cone's invitation.