|The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth||
Equipping the Saints for the Work of Ministry
Greetings to all of you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and welcome to this year’s Annual Diocesan Convention. I would like to extend a warm welcome to our special guest, Bishop Alberto Morales of the Diocese of Quincy, and to thank him for his sermon last night on our theme “Chosen and Sent.” Please convey our prayers and best wishes to the people of your diocese when you return home. We stand shoulder to shoulder with you in proclaiming the faith once delivered to the saints, and we thank God for your witness to the historic faith and order of the catholic church.
As we begin this convention, I want to remind us of the passing of two key diocesan leaders, who in a very real sense, were the founding fathers of the Diocese of Fort Worth in 1982 – Canon Billie Boyd and Bishop A. Donald Davies. Canon Boyd, who died in March at the age of 88, was the first priest to be canonically enrolled in the new diocese and was serving as Rector of St. Luke’s in Mineral Wells when Bishop Davies appointed him to serve as the first Canon to the Ordinary. He continued in that position under Bishop Clarence Pope, when he became the Second Bishop of the Diocese, and though he had retired by the time I came to Fort Worth, I was able to convince him to return to the office first as business manager and later as chaplain to the retired clergy. Some of you will recall that at these annual conventions, I would joke with Canon Boyd about being the longest serving member of the Bishop’s staff in history and about retiring from ministry and then returning to active duty more than any other priest in the diocese. His contributions to the life of this diocese were so significant that I used to tell him that while others might serve as Canon to the Ordinary, he would always be the Canon Extra-ordinary.
As you know, our founding bishop, who did so much to get this new diocese organized and up and running, died just last month at the age of 91. As the First Bishop of Fort Worth, Bishop Davies demonstrated vision and expertise in a variety of ways, as he put the diocese together on a sound financial and organizational basis. In particular, we are indebted to him for seeing the need for the formation of a Corporation in the new diocese that would hold title to all church property in trust for the local congregations. Those who worked with him will remember him as a strong, decisive leader, who inspired others, clergy and laity alike, to stand firm with him for the historic, biblical faith of orthodox Anglicanism. He was always a man of action, who did whatever he believed needed to be done to further the mission of Christ’s church, and this continued to characterize his ministry long after his official retirement as Bishop of Fort Worth.
Let us stand for a moment of silence in tribute to these two great heroes of the faith, as we remember them with gratitude as the founding fathers of this diocese.
As we look to the future of the diocese, we do so with confidence and optimism. In large part this is due to a number of younger clergy who have taken on new leadership positions in various congregations throughout the diocese in just the past year: Fr. Jonathan Duncan (age 28) was instituted as the new rector at Holy Comforter in Cleburne; Fr. John Jordan (age 31) is the new rector at St. Laurence in Grapevine; Fr. Darryl Pigeon became rector of All Saints’ in Fort Worth; Fr. John Munson became the new vicar of St. John’s in Burkburnett; Fr. Andrew Petta (age 27) is now the new vicar at St. Barnabas, Fort Worth; Fr. Greg Crosthwait (age 41) is to be instituted in two weeks as the new rector of St. Mark’s in Arlington; and Fr. Jeff Stubbs (age 31) has newly arrived as rector of St. Paul’s in Gainesville. The celebration of these new ministries in so many places is a sign of hope and vitality for the future. If people ask you, “What’s going on these days in the Diocese of Fort Worth?” tell them that a number of gifted, young clergy are stepping forward to provide leadership for a very promising future.
In the same way, we celebrate today a real high-point of the Convention in the official recognition and seating of the Church of Christ the Redeemer in Fort Worth as the newest self-supporting parish in our diocese. Founded as a new mission start just two years ago, this congregation under Fr. Chris Culpepper’s leadership has made remarkable strides forward in a very short time. Their level of growth and stewardship has meant not only that they have needed no financial support from the diocese during 2011, but they have also been able to take on a diocesan curate in July, Fr. Mark Polley, which entails their providing one half of the financial package for an assisting priest in a very new congregation. Commendations and congratulations to Fr. Culpepper and all the people at Christ the Redeemer! We hope that in two years time we will be welcoming Fr. Petta and the people of St. Barnabas to Convention as they attain parish status as well. May theirs be an example for other church plants to follow in the years ahead. If people ask you, “What’s going on these days in the Diocese of Fort Worth?” tell them that we are planting new churches that are becoming self-supporting parishes and that the diocese is healthy and growing.
Needless to say, the big disappointment for the past year was the ruling by Judge Chupp in the litigation brought against us by The Episcopal Church. For those of us who attended the hearing in January, his ruling that all our properties and assets were held in trust for TEC came as a surprise and disappointment. Everything that he had said during the course of the hearing, both the questions he posed and various comments he made in open court, had led us to believe he would rule in our favor, and we were quite shocked when his ruling went the other way. I have asked David Weaver, our new Chancellor, who is also the attorney representing our churches in this litigation, to say a little more about where we are later on this morning. In particular, he will be explaining why we have had to post a supersedeas bond of $100,000 with the court and the importance of a new requirement by Judge Chupp that the Diocese, the Corporation, and each of our churches must provide the other side with a monthly “summary of the sources, amounts and payees of any and all expenditures” in the ordinary course of business.
As you will recall, in early summer our attorneys filed a direct appeal of Judge Chupp’s ruling with the Texas Supreme Court. It is our hope that they will take up our case for review, instead of requiring us to first go before the Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth, due to the constitutional issues raised by our case. To date, we have had no decision from Austin on that direct appeal. However, the Court has asked for a full briefing from another case that has some interesting parallels to the issues in our case. This involves the case of the Church of the Good Shepherd in San Angelo, which withdrew from the Diocese of Northwest Texas, and lost on appeal to the Third Court of Appeals. Because of some of the legal similarities to our case regarding property ownership and corporation law in Texas, we are encouraged that the Supreme Court is taking a closer look at that appeal. However, they have not yet decided if they will hear oral arguments in that case or not.
In the meantime, we continue to incur legal defense expenses every month, which surpass the availability of funds on hand for this purpose. I am pleased to tell you that since our appeal for gifts to the Legal Defense Fund in September of last year, we have received more than 665 gifts in the amount of over $388,000. It is also good to report to you that friends of the diocese have already posted the $100,000 supersedeas bond set by the court last month. You will notice that through cost savings in several areas of this year’s budget, we have been able to re-allocate $100,000 of operating income for litigation expenses in 2011, and that the same amount is provided for this purpose in the operating budget for 2012 as well. However, it is important to realize that our defense costs will exceed what we are able to budget and that special gifts for litigation expenses are still needed and requested. I hope that these expenses will be shared by all households in the diocese rather than being regarded as the responsibility and concern of someone else.
At the conclusion of a conference call with our attorneys this past Wednesday, our lead attorney in the appellate process, Scott Brister said, “Bishop, I have a word of Scripture for you to give your Diocesan Convention this week. It’s Psalm 37:36:
Wait upon the Lord and keep his way; he will raise you up to possess the land,
Watch out when it’s the lawyers quoting Scripture to the Bishop rather that the other way around! Let me say again how blest we are to be served by such a devoted group of Christian men as our legal advisers and advocates. We must remember to pray for them – and to thank God for them- every day. Please join me in expressing our gratitude to Shelby Sharpe, David Weaver, and Scott Brister.
As we move forward into our 30th year, let us not be distracted by the litigation, important as it is. But let us remain mission focused and ministry minded, with our eyes set on Jesus Christ our Lord, who goes before us, calling us to fight the good fight and not to grow weary, as we labor for the extension of His Kingdom and the building up of the Church both here and abroad. As the Epistle to the Hebrews says:
Lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees…and let us run
There were several significant manifestations of our focus on mission during the past year, and I will recall just a few. In late February, we held the Bishop’s Conference on Mission, with widespread clergy and lay participation from throughout the diocese. Every congregation took something away to strengthen their ministry locally, in the diocese, or overseas. In March I was visited by the President of Habitat for Humanity, Gage Yager, who presented me with a plaque recognizing and thanking our Diocese for the many contributions we have made in providing new homes for needy families through Habitat for Humanity in various communities. The new Bishop of Northern Malawi, our good friend Bishop Fanuel Magangani also visited us that month, and met with groups in the various deaneries, strengthening our companion diocese relationship that has grown and deepened over the years.
In May, Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, the former Bishop of Rochester and a recognized authority on Islam, included Fort Worth as one of four cities which he would visit in a teaching mission to the United States, entitled “Hold Fast: An Urgent Call to the Western Church.” In addition to leading a clergy day, he also addressed a crowd of around 300 people in an open meeting at the Will Rogers Center on the challenges of Islamic fundamentalism to the Christian faith. This tour was jointly sponsored by Sharing Our Ministries Abroad (SOMA) and the American Anglican Council (AAC).
In June, a delegation from our diocese traveled to Malawi to share in a great celebration marking the 150th anniversary of the arrival of Anglican missionaries in that part of Africa. You will be hearing more about that in today’s report from our World Missions Committee.
I could go on and on about a number of other mission trips sponsored by several of our congregations, by Camp Crucis, and by various youth groups, in Mexico, in Cambodia and Thailand, and in various parts of the United States. All of these remind us that the real story about what’s going on in Fort Worth these days is not about the litigation, but about the vital mission and vibrant ministry that you will continue to hear about in the many written and verbal reports that are to be made to this convention today.
Forward in Mission! It is not just the name of our diocesan newsletter. It is the rallying call of our commitment and our resolve for the year that lies ahead of us. Thank you for your support, your witness, your encouragement, your faithfulness to the Gospel, and your prayers. May the Lord Jesus Christ, who has begun a good work in us, continue to guide and empower us by the Holy Spirit in bringing to fulfillment His glorious plan of salvation in and through us, in this diocese and beyond.