FORT WORTH: Standing Committee proposes severing Episcopal Church ties

Episcopal News Service. October 2, 2007 [100207-02]

Mary Frances Schjonberg

The Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth announced October 1 that it will ask its upcoming diocesan convention to "take the first step needed to dissociate itself from the General Convention of The Episcopal Church and to begin the process of affiliating with another Province of the worldwide Anglican Communion."

According to a statement posted on the diocese's website, the Standing Committee will propose five diocesan constitutional amendments, which must be approved by two successive meetings of the convention.

The convention meets November 16 and 17 at All Saints' Episcopal School, Fort Worth.

"We believe it is time to separate our diocese from General Convention religion and to join an orthodox Province of the Anglican Communion," the Very Rev. Ryan S. Reed, president of the Standing Committee, said in the statement. "However, we do not wish to compel any parish in the diocese to remain with us as we pursue this course of action. With Christian charity toward those who differ from the majority, we are offering an amendment to Canon 32 to provide a process whereby parishes may leave the diocese in an amicable and Christian manner."

Reed said that the diocese "has always been a traditional, conservative diocese, adhering to the beliefs and practices of the historic catholic faith" and has for 25 years "struggled to remain as a faithful remnant within The Episcopal Church, witnessing to our beliefs, which have been repudiated by our brothers and sisters in other dioceses."

Reed criticized the rejection by the House of Bishops and the Executive Council of a plan for pastoral care of dioceses such as Fort Worth put forth in February by the Primates of the Anglican Communion. The House of Bishops said the plan "would call for a delegation of primatial authority not permissible under our Canons and a compromise of our autonomy as a Church not permissible under our Constitution."

The Standing Committee's statement makes no mention of an episcopal visitor plan offered by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori at the House of Bishops' recent meeting in New Orleans.

A 16-page report from the Fort Worth committee on constitution and canons contains both the Standing Committee's proposed resolutions and resolutions proposed by other members of the diocese to counter the leadership's past and current attempts to sever ties with the Episcopal Church. The committee recommends rejection of those resolutions.

Changes to Canon 32 on disputes between a rector and his congregation would expand the dispute procedure to conflicts when a congregation opposes the diocese's direction. The changes imply that the dissenting congregation would have to leave the diocese.

The new Canon 32 keeps the bishop the ultimate arbitrator of the disputes. The new version would also state that it is the bishop's duty "to make adequate provision in any resolution to protect the interest of the minority of the parish wishing to remain in union with the Diocese, and to protect the missionary interest of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth."

There is no provision for situations in which members of a parish disagree with their parish leadership's decision to follow the diocese's attempts to sever ties with the Episcopal Church.

The other resolutions would remove from the diocesan constitution's preamble any mention of the Episcopal Church, change the constitution's first article from one acceding to the authority of General Convention to one titled "Anglican Identity"; give the diocesan convention authority to elect deputies to "extra-diocesan conventions or synods" with all mention of General Convention deputies deleted; remove the required agreement of the diocese to enact canons which are consistent with those of the Episcopal Church; and allow the diocese to move its cathedral to a parish other than one in Fort Worth.

Fort Worth becomes the third diocese in the past two and a half weeks to announce that its leadership will ask its diocesan conventions to begin the process of severing all ties with the Episcopal Church. The dioceses of Quincy and Pittsburgh disclosed their plans in mid-September. They all propose similar constitutional changes.

Fort Worth Bishop Jack Iker and Quincy Bishop Keith Ackerman attended the September 25-28 meeting of the Common Cause Council of Bishops called by Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan. The bishops attending that meeting pledged to spend the next 15 months developing "an Anglican union," which they anticipate will be recognized by some Anglican Communion Primates and provinces.

Thirteen active or former diocesan Episcopal Church bishops attended the Common Cause meeting in Pittsburgh, including Keith Ackerman (Quincy), James Adams (Western Kansas), Fitz Allison (formerly of South Carolina), Peter Beckwith (Springfield), David Bena (formerly of Albany), Alex Dickson (formerly of West Tennessee), Andrew Fairfield (formerly of North Dakota), John Howe (Central Florida), Jack Iker (Fort Worth), William Love (Albany), Donald Parsons (formerly of Quincy), Henry Scriven (assistant, Pittsburgh) and William Wantland (formerly of Eau Claire).