The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth
Equipping the Saints for the Work of Ministry
         

newnewnew


The 27th Annual
Diocesan Convention
November 6 & 7, 2009 • St. Peter & St. Paul Church, Arlington

 
 

 BISHOP IKER’S ADDRESS TO THE 27TH ANNUAL CONVENTION
OF THE EPISCOPAL DIOCESE OF FORT WORTH
NOVEMBER 7, 2009

The theme chosen for this year’s Convention is “Standing Firm in the Faith.” It is an allusion to verses in chapter 6 of the Epistle to the Ephesians where St. Paul urges them to continue to stand fast against the powers of evil and for the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In order to do this, he reminds them of the need to “put on the whole armor of God,” so that having stood, they might be enabled to continue to stand - firm in the faith they had received.  

It is never enough for us as Christians to stand against something  – important as it is to oppose all that is evil and false. We must also stand for something – namely the revealed truth of the Christian faith. We must be clear that standing firm in the faith is not something that is static or inactive. It is not simply standing in place. Stand up for Jesus, yes, but don’t stand still! Taking a stand means active engagement in spiritual warfare, evangelism, witnessing, teaching, pastoral care, proclamation and all the rest. Standing firm means mission, outreach and church growth. It means taking the initiative, being on the offense, not just being on the defense in a reactive sort of way.

As a diocese, I am proud to say that we have stood our ground, not only in defense of the Gospel, but also by actively advancing the Kingdom of God. Clearly our work is far from over, and the power of the evil one is great. We must continue to stand boldly in the face of whatever opposition or challenges may confront us. In Jesus, the ultimate victory is won, but the battle is not over. Bishop Samuel Wiley once said: “The Church is the pilgrim people of God, who in the midst of the battle, pause to celebrate the victory.” Having stood in the past, let us renew our resolve to continue to stand firm in the faith once delivered to the saints, without compromise or surrender.

By God’s grace, we are called to build upon and expand what others have accomplished before us.  Faithfulness, steadfastness, firmness have characterized this Diocese since our beginning twenty-seven years ago. We have followed in the brave footsteps of some wonderful Christian men and women who have gone before us. We are the beneficiaries of their labors. In particular, I am mindful of four great priestly soldiers of Christ who have died this past year and gone on to their reward.  We are forever indebted to them for all they contributed to the life and witness of this diocese for many, many years. They were indeed exceptional priests who deeply enriched and blessed this diocese through their ministry and service: The Rev. Canon James P. DeWolfe, Jr., the Rev. William R. Belury, the Rev. Canon Laurens R. Williams, and the Rev. Canon Dr. John H. Heidt.  We thank God for them. They will be deeply missed. I ask you to stand to honor and remember them in a moment of silence. “May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. And may light perpetual shine upon them. Amen.”

Since this past April, the threat of a lawsuit has been hanging over us, seeking to distract us from our mission and make us anxious about the future. As you know, the small minority who separated from us in order to remain in the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America has not been content with our willingness to give them their buildings and property – they want ours as well!  It has been and will continue to be a huge distraction and a great drain on time, energy and resources. I have tried to keep all of you informed, while at the same time not being preoccupied with the litigation, as it has developed. Our focus must be on the mission of the Church, not the lawsuit. Sad to say, there is no end in sight. Once there is a decision by the court, whichever side loses will surely file an appeal, with the likelihood of another appeal after that. So we are talking years, not months, before this whole matter is resolved. I can assure you that we are being very well represented by our attorneys, and I ask that you continue to pray for them as they go about their work, especially our lead attorney, Shelby Sharpe. I am certain that he would want me to remind you, however, that our hope and trust is in God alone, not our legal team. We are engaged in spiritual warfare, as well as a legal battle. I would also remind you that no diocesan funds or parish assessments are going toward our legal expenses. Thanks to the generosity of an anonymous benefactor, all of our legal fees are being paid by special gifts. For this, we are sincerely and deeply grateful, and we say a word of heartfelt thanks at this time.

As the lawsuit makes its way through the courts, we must continue to focus on the mission of the church, to go make disciples of all nations and to minister in the name of Christ to all who are in need. We are called to be a missionary and evangelistic church, as well as a ministering and serving church. But the work of the church is always hampered and weakened by divisions among us. So now more than ever, we must work and pray for the unity of the Church of God. Christ wills for his disciples to be one, and we must do all we can to heal the brokenness in the Body of Christ. It is not enough to simply maintain the historic biblical faith for ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren. We must also share it with others, in order to bring the whole world to Christ. And this work must be done in concert with others, never alone. So let us work and pray for a deeper unity in Christ for all believers, for the sake of mission, that the world may believe.

One of the big highlights of this Convention is our great joy in welcoming into our diocese five new congregations. This is unprecedented in the history of the diocese! So let us greet with joy and thanksgiving those churches joining our diocese today: St. Francis in Dallas, St. Matthias in Dallas, the Church of the Holy Spirit in Tulsa, Oklahoma, St. Gabriel’s in Springdale, Arkansas, and our newly founded mission church here in Fort Worth – Christ the Redeemer. Please join me in giving them again a warm Fort Worth welcome in a round of applause. I am pleased to report that we are in the process of exploring new mission stations in a variety of other locations, both in Texas and beyond, and that we expect to continue to add new congregations to the diocese in the years ahead.

Exciting possibilities are before us as we work for the unity of the Church, and there are three resolutions before us at this Convention that address this concern. The first is a resolution concerning the Anglican Church in North America. Here we seek unity with orthodox Anglicans who have separated from The Episcopal Church in the United States and the Anglican Church of Canada, while maintaining our membership in the worldwide Anglican Communion by our temporary affiliation with the Province of the Southern Cone. We are indeed deeply grateful to Archbishop Greg Venables for taking us into his fold and for providing primatial oversight and protection for us as this new province emerges in North America. While recognizing continuing theological differences among us, which has always been the case among Anglicans, this movement is a realignment that attempts “to maintain the highest degree of communion possible” with orthodox Anglicans around the world, as well as with the Archbishop of Canterbury. We are also grateful to Archbishop Robert Duncan for his tireless efforts, both here in North America and in other parts of the world, on our behalf and in particular for his commitment to an honored place for all who hold the historic, catholic theological position concerning the ordained ministry, the church councils, and the sacraments. The Anglican Church in North America is not perfect, nor is it a solution to all our problems, but it is a positive step forward and one that I believe we must take at this particular point in time.  It is a new alliance; it is not a new church. It is a structure that enables us to maintain our integrity as an authentic Anglican diocese, as expressed in Article I of our Constitution. It is an affiliation that enables us to continue to be what we have always been – biblical, catholic Christians in the Anglican tradition.

The second resolution on church unity concerns the invitation extended by Metropolitan Jonah of the Orthodox Church in America to the inaugural Assembly of the Anglican Church in North America in June. He invited us to consider how we Anglicans might be united in common faith and practice with the great spiritual tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Churches, and this is a very welcome and historic initiative. Conversations have already begun in pursuit of this goal, on both the national and local levels. In addition to an Anglican-Orthodox Dialogue Committee that has been formed by Archbishop Duncan and Metropolitan Jonah on a national level, we here locally have also formed a dialogue committee for our diocese and the Orthodox Diocese of Dallas and the South. Six Orthodox priests and Metropolitan Jonah have invited me and six priests of this diocese to meet with them to begin this conversation on the Feast of St. Andrew the Apostle, Monday, November 30th, at St. Seraphim Orthodox Cathedral in Dallas. Please pray for us that this meeting may yield good fruit and prove to be just the beginning of something that glorifies God.

The third resolution involves our relationship with the Roman Catholic Church, and it addresses the gracious provision announced by the Vatican just a couple of weeks ago whereby Anglicans may come into full visible communion with the See of Rome. The Apostolic Constitution authorized by Pope Benedict has not yet been released, so many of the details and specifics of this arrangement remain unknown. However, we are told that it is designed in such a way that certain elements of the Anglican patrimony will be preserved. For some time now Bishop Kevin Vann of the Catholic Diocese of Fort the Worth and I have been in regular conversations concerning what we have in common and what continues to separate us, as Roman Catholics and orthodox Anglicans.  Just a few days prior to this recent announcement from the Vatican, he and I held the first meeting of a local dialogue committee we have appointed to explore our common faith and differences. Our second meeting is to take place on Thursday, Dec. 3. Please pray also for this meeting that the Holy Spirit would bless and guide our conversations. Pray as well for all traditional Anglicans around the world as they too consider how to respond to this historic invitation from the successor to St. Peter, the Bishop of Rome.

I am well aware that not all of us are in the same place regarding these three conversations and what we expect they might produce. Some have strong preferences for one of these dialogues over the others. I am also aware that in the future these conversations must increasingly involve the laity, not just priests and bishops. After all, the Church is the people of God, not just the clergy. However, if we are to work and pray for the unity of Christ’s Church throughout the world, it must involve all three bodies – Anglicans, Eastern Orthodox, and Roman Catholics. These are the three great churches of the catholic tradition, East and West, who though divided for centuries, have maintained the historic faith and order of the Church as expressed in the Holy Scriptures, the apostolic succession of ordained ministry, the sacraments and the creeds. When the New Testament speaks of the need for unity and truth among believers, it is for all members of the Body of Christ. When Jesus prays for the unity of his disciples, it is “that they all may be one.”

I am well aware of the disappointment and disillusionment of many of us with Anglicanism, as well as a deep level of skepticism about the future of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The proposed Anglican Covenant holds out some hope for improvement in this regard, and that is why we will want to endorse it at this Convention. For those among us who wish to remain Anglicans, the Anglican Church in North America is our best way forward, despite whatever obstacles or frustrations may accompany it. Anglicanism has always been characterized by tolerance, diversity, and a degree of untidiness.  Nothing new about that!  But it has also proven to be a grace-filled way to live the Christian life that many are unwilling to sacrifice or relinquish.

I am also aware that many of us are not very familiar with the theology and spirituality of the great Orthodox Churches of the Eastern tradition. In some ways they seem not only mysterious, but foreign. In times past, however, there has always been a great affinity and deep friendship between Anglicans and the Orthodox. Both have the tradition of autonomous, national churches, united to the universal church by common faith and practice, while resisting papal supremacy and doctrinal additions made by the Church of Rome. Up until a few years ago, members of the Orthodox Churches were encouraged to worship in the local Episcopal or Anglican church if an Orthodox congregation was not in the area, often even receiving Holy Communion in our churches. Up until recent times, there was a very real hope for the recognition of Anglican orders by the Orthodox and the establishment of full sacramental communion between our two churches. But then came the unprecedented break with the apostolic tradition when the ordination of women as priests was introduced by some Anglicans in 1976, and the Anglican-Orthodox dialogues that held so much promise sadly came to an end.  Perhaps God has given us the opportunity to rekindle that relationship and hope in our own time through this renewed dialogue.

Given the make up of this diocese, I am also well aware of differing perspectives among us on how to respond to the recent initiative from Pope Benedict XVI for Anglicans who wish to come into full communion with Rome. Some are elated and see this development as an answer to prayer. They are eager to move forward and make it a reality. Some are frightened by what might have to be sacrificed or are cynical about engaging in conversations with Rome on Rome’s conditions alone, or are perhaps uncertain about how certain serious theological differences can be resolved in order to heal the breach. While others among us simply are not interested in becoming Roman Catholics or perhaps would prefer to pursue closer ties with more evangelical or Protestant bodies. 

My vocation in the midst of all of this is to be the shepherd and pastor to all of you who are under my spiritual oversight. While it is no secret to anyone that I myself am an ardent Anglo-catholic, I promise to strive in the future, as I have over the past 17 years, to be a faithful bishop, friend and father-in-God to all of you. I will also continue to exercise leadership, not just pastoral care, as God gives me the grace and wisdom to do so, in the days ahead. I believe my leadership has demonstrated that I have been willing to take a stand and make hard decisions when the times have required it. I am saddened when I disappoint any of you, but I learned a long time ago that being a faithful bishop is not a popularity contest.

In my capacity as pastor and leader, it is clear to me that all of us will need more information, more conversation with those with a different perspective, more time and much more prayer and love for one another. We must be patient and charitable with each another as things unfold. We must be willing to wait and see what God will do with all of this. We must respect the fact that we are in different places and that not all of us will move in the same direction or at the same time. Let us first seek God’s guidance, and try to accept His timing as things develop. There are no deadlines or timetables. There is no need to rush or hurry to a decision. By God’s grace, we must be careful in the months and years ahead that as we pursue the cause of deeper unity in the Body of Christ that we do not become further separated from one another in this diocese as a result. We must be on guard against fragmentation and refuse to allow civil war to break out amongst us, with brothers and sisters fighting against members of the same family. It is my fervent hope that in the end, we will do what God calls us to do, together, as one diocese, one body.

Pray for me, and for all our clergy, as I will pray for each of you, that God’s will may be revealed and embraced and joyfully done, above all else. These are exciting and challenging times. By God’s grace, may we continue to stand firm – and indeed move forward -in the faith of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

Thank you, and God bless you.

 


 

   
Back to main page
Forms
Nominees
Amendments/Resolutions
Budget
Reference