Bishop Iker’s Address
Nov. 19, 2005
We gather at this 23rd Annual Convention of the Diocese under the banner of "Building Up the Body of Christ." I hope you all recognize it as a phrase from our mission statement: "The mission of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth is to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the Body of Christ." (Ephesians 4:12) It is to this theme that we return again and again throughout the year, as we seek to be faithful to our calling as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. We have been called, individually and corporately, as local congregations and a diocese, to a ministry that builds up the Body.
But not everything that goes on in the life of the Church these days is edifying or upbuilding. In fact, we are all too familiar with developments that have been destructive and divisive. Rather than building up the Body, they have left us more fragmented and dysfunctional in our mission than ever before. St. Paul warns of this very thing in the verses just after our mission statement in Ephesians 4:12, when he speaks of being "tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles." It is not a bad description of recent events in the life of our Church. But then Paul goes on to call us to a higher ground, that builds up and does not tear down: "Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love." (Ephesians 4:15-16) That’s where I want us to head. That’s the direction we must continue to take: speaking the truth in love, growing up in Christ, joined and knit together, each part of the body working properly, and upbuilding the Church in love.
Our Annual Convention
is the time for us to consider some of the ways the Holy Spirit is
at work in us, accomplishing these very things:
A second sign of our building up of the Body is the physical construction projects that have been completed this year or are nearing completion in so many different places: like the new high school and sports facilities here on the campus of All Saints’ School, as well as at St. Vincent’s Cathedral Church and School in Bedford (not to mention their impressive new bell tower.) We rejoice that St. Alban’s School in Arlington has secured a beautiful new campus on Bowen Road, south of I-20, sometimes called "The Castle," and your prayers are asked for their continued growth and success. I am pleased to report that new parish hall and classroom additions have been completed at St. Simon’s in Fort Worth, St. Anthony’s in Alvarado, and Holy Spirit in Graham. St. Philip the Apostle in south Arlington has just finished the construction of their new church, which is to be dedicated on December 4th, and this summer we broke ground for a new church for St. Mark’s in Arlington, which will soon be under way. Another church growth highlight of this past year has been the purchase of land for the first buildings of our youngest mission, the Church of St. Barnabas the Apostle. It is a beautiful piece of property at a strategic location, and we look forward to their continued growth and development during the coming year.
All of these are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual growth, and they say to us in concrete ways, that we are about the work of building up the Body of Christ. But none of them can surpass the spiritual significance of the response made by the people of this diocese in the aftermath of two devastating hurricanes just a short time ago. There is no way to calculate the amount of assistance given, because there was no one centralized response channeled through the Diocesan Center. Rather each congregation responded as best they could, in a great variety of ways. Food, shelter, clothing and funds poured out to assist the hurricane victims in all kinds of ways, both as they sought refuge here in the diocese and as aid was sent to Episcopal churches directly in the path of the hurricanes themselves. This relief work and the rebuilding efforts continue even as we meet here today. All of us owe a huge debt of gratitude to our own Suzanne Gill, who is doing such a wonderful job as our Hurricane Relief Coordinator. In addition to her work as Communications Officer and Director of Development, Suzanne assisted our clergy in knowing just how and where we could help the disaster victims, and she continues to oversee our First Month Fund, which assists with providing housing to those who are relocating to our area as a result of the storms. At last count, over $36,000 has been given to this one specific effort. The availability of these funds will be critical as we assist families who now must move out of motels into more permanent housing.
In the reports to be given to this Convention, you will be hearing about a variety of other ways in which we are serving and growing in Christ. One of them concerns our ongoing relationship with the Diocese of Northern Malawi, where word has come to us of a terrible nation-wide famine again this year. In addition to the hurricane relief efforts, I am happy to tell you that over $42,000 has been channeled through our diocesan center to assist Bishop Boyle with his famine relief efforts. Combined with these outreach efforts on the diocesan level are the numerous ministries supported by our local congregations, in projects that extend to every corner of the diocese. Building up the Body entails ministering to those in any need or trouble, on a consistent basis, as part of our normal life.
But we have not been without our setbacks and disappointments during the past year. At the end of May came the decision to close Holy Cross Church and School in Burleson. The tabulation of the results of the Annual Parochial Reports in April showed that though we were up slightly last year in our total membership, we were down slightly in our average Sunday attendance as a diocese. To say that we did not suffer as much of a decrease as the rest of the Episcopal Church is not much of a consolation. Though more than half of our congregations showed some level of growth, we came to realize that the difficulties suffered in one of our largest congregations – both in terms of attendance and of giving – would mean that for the first time we would be facing a $50,000 shortfall in meeting our budget expenses for next year. I believe these losses are temporary and will be reversed next year under a new rector. Nonetheless, they remind us that when one suffers, we all suffer together. When one part of the Body experiences problems, the rest of it feel the pain along with them.
I do want to say a further word about the closing of Holy Cross in Burleson, which came about as something as a surprise to many of you. First and foremost, it is important that you realize that this was not a decision imposed upon the congregation by someone else, but a decision freely made by them after much careful consultation and prayer. Established as a mission in 1961, the congregation had gone through a series of good years and bad years, and had approached an average attendance of around 100 persons at a couple of different times in their 44 years as a mission. However, they were never able to grow consistently to the point of becoming self-supporting and finances were an ongoing problem, even with the thousands of dollars of diocesan support each year. The school operated by the mission was another concern, and three times over the past year, the diocese had given loans to the school to enable them to pay the teachers salaries and stay afloat. Finally, in May of this year, the vicar and lay leaders met with a church growth consultant to consider their options. At the conclusion of this consultation, it was the unanimous request of the Bishop’s Committee and Fr. Cornelius that both the mission and the school be closed, that the property be sold, and that the proceeds be used to buy land for a new church start in another community. I am pleased to report that we do have in hand a contract for the purchase of the property, and we expect the closing to take place near the end of December. After the Holy Cross Church and School indebtedness is satisfied, the remaining proceeds will be used for a new congregation to begin. Funding in this year’s budget will be combined with the line item in next year’s budget to enable us to call a new priest, starting some time next summer, to begin this new work. We must be in the business of starting new congregations that will rapidly grow to parish status, and we must wisely use our limited resources to this end.
I want to conclude this address, as I did last year, by saying a few things about our place in the wider Anglican Communion and to begin by quoting again from the final paragraph of the Windsor Report 2004, issued by the Lambeth Commission on Communion, appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury:
" There remains a very real danger that we will not choose to walk together. Should the call to halt and find ways of continuing in our present communion not be heeded, then we shall have to begin to learn to walk apart." (paragraph 157)
The only resolution we adopted at our Diocesan Convention last year, you will remember, called upon the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church to accept and implement the recommendations of the Windsor Report, that called for a moratorium on the ordination of practicing homosexuals as bishops and on the blessing of same-sex unions, until such a time as a new consensus developed in the Anglican Communion that would support such practices. The purpose of the Report was to call our Church and the Anglican Church of Canada to halt these unbiblical innovations in order to allow reconciliation to begin in our fragmented Communion. After two special meetings to discuss the Report, an agreement was reached by our bishops in March that no consents would be given for the election of any bishop, until the General Convention meets in June of 2006. In other words, if we can’t elect gay bishops, we just won’t elect any bishops at all. That is not what the Report requested. As to the matter of a moratorium on same-sex blessings, the bishops agreed not to issue any new rites for such blessings, nor to perform such blessings themselves, until the 2006 General Convention addresses this issue. However, the bishops did not forbid their clergy from continuing to bless homosexual relationships by using a number of liturgical rites that are already in use in many dioceses for this purpose. Again, this is not the halt that the Windsor Reported recommended. So now it goes to General Convention, where we hope for - and will work for - a decisive vote, one way or the other. Our expectation, however, is that there will be a cleverly orchestrated attempt to fudge the issue, to attempt to avoid a clear choice, and to go on with a kind of "live and let live" attitude, in the interest of peace and unity. I do not believe that will work. I do not believe such an attitude will hold us together any longer. For the pattern with innovations in the Episcopal Church is all too clear: first it is done illegally, then it becomes permissive, but in the end it becomes mandatory.
We have already begun to learn to walk apart. A realignment of the Anglican Communion is already under way. Our Communion is fragmented and broken, and the Anglican Communion as we have known it, no longer exists. There is no evidence that the Episcopal Church is willing to turn back from the innovations of the 2003 General Convention for the sake of preserving the Communion. Some deputies to General Convention are already saying, "Who needs the Anglican Communion?"
Many faithful Episcopalians around the country are asking, "Is there any future in the Episcopal Church for us – or must we find another way to remain Anglican?" Is there a future for us in ECUSA if we oppose the ordination of women as priests and bishops? Is there a future for us in ECUSA if we cannot accept same-sex blessings and the ordination of practicing homosexuals? Is there a future in ECUSA for those who uphold traditional language for God and in our liturgical worship, who believe that Holy Scripture is the ultimate authority for morality and theology, who maintain that to be a catholic Christian means believing only what has been believed always, everywhere and by all?
There are difficult days that are before us, and each of us must choose where we will stand. What will be the cost? Where will we be in all of this a year from now? I cannot answer that today, nor can you. Pray for me, as I will pray for you, in the troubled times that are before us, that we may go forward in mission together.
My hope for us as a Diocese is that we will not become discouraged or fearful or divided in our witness. It must be clear to all where we stand, to friend and foe alike. We stand for the apostolic faith and order of the historic Christian Church. We will continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers. We stand against any teaching or practice that undermines the divine authority of the Holy Scripture and divides the Church. We will be a missionary church, committed to teaching the truth and defending the faith, for we are a Great Commission Church, taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all nations and peoples, and we are a Great Commandment Church, loving God above all else and loving others as Jesus loves us. We will continue to walk with the Anglican Communion as part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. We will remain faithful, Biblical, evangelical and orthodox.
Let us go forth from this Convention refreshed and renewed in our commitment by the power of the Holy Spirit, zealous for the work the Lord has given us to do, as we build up the Body of Christ.