Bishop Iker’s address to the Convention
delivered Saturday, Nov. 10, to the clergy and delegates
Our Convention gathers this year under the banner of the Cross. The symbol of suffering and shame has become for us the sign of our salvation and the symbol of our victory. On the Cross, our Lord Jesus Christ triumphs over the powers of sin and death. Our theme is “Lift High the Cross,” which is both a challenge to mission and a celebration of our vocation to be bearers of the Cross of Jesus into the world in our daily life and witness. Christianity is a religion of the Cross, and we are to glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, for he is our salvation, our life and our resurrection. Through the power of the Cross, we are saved and made free. St. Paul wrote to the Church at Corinth: “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (I Cor. 1:18) As disciples of Jesus, we are to walk in the way of the Cross, and as we do, we find it to be the way of life and peace. We recite in the Good Friday Liturgy, “We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world….We glory in your cross, O Lord, and praise and glorify your holy resurrection; for by virtue of your cross, joy has come to the whole world.” (BCP, p. 281) Let this be our theme in the year that is before us: to continue to lift high cross and to proclaim the love of Jesus, our crucified and risen Lord, to all the world.
One of the purposes in my annual convention address is to touch upon the high points and low points of the past year and to look forward to our future mission and ministry in the year to come. One of the disappointments in late 2011 was the decision of the Vicar and Bishop’s Committee of St. Timothy’s Church in Fort Worth to leave our diocese in order to become a part of the Ordinariate in the Roman Catholic Church. We were saddened to say good-bye to Fr. Christopher Stainbrook and a majority of the congregation who departed with him, but we were greatly encouraged by a good number of faithful parishioners who remained at St. Timothy’s with the firm commitment of maintaining the traditional anglo-catholic witness for which they have been so well known over the years. It was a God-send and a real blessing when Bishop Keith Ackerman accepted by invitation to step in and provide pastoral leadership as the new Vicar, and we thank him for his willingness to do so. They are doing well in the face of the many challenges that confront them, and as their diocesan family, I am sure we will want to assure them of our love, support, prayers and appreciation. May God bless and prosper St. Timothy’s Church in the year to come.
Another sad time this past year was the sudden death of Bishop Clarence Pope in early January. He had led the Diocese as our second Bishop for ten years and had been a faithful pastor during some tumultuous times in the life of The Episcopal Church and of the wider Anglican Communion. It was during his tenure as Bishop that the Diocese of Fort Worth gained international recognition as a bastion of strength in upholding Biblical faith and order, as an orthodox, anglo-catholic diocese. We give thanks to God for his courage and faithfulness. In many ways, he made it possible for us to stand as we do today, in continuing that witness. I am sure that the Convention will want to send our love and best wishes to his widow, Dr. Martha Pope, at the conclusion of this meeting. Let us now stand for a moment of silence as we remember and give thanks for Bishop Pope as a Guardian and Defender of the faith. “May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. And may light perpetual shine upon him.”
In terms of high points for the past year, it was with great joy that we celebrated the ordination to the priesthood of Fr. Salvador Ordonez on May 20th, the first Hispanic ordination in the history of our diocese. We pray God that there will be many more such ordinations in the years ahead. As the Hispanic population in our area continues to grow, so does the average Sunday attendance in the Spanish speaking churches of our diocese. We commend and honor the work being done at San Juan with Fr. Javier Loyo, San Miguel with Fr. Sergio Diaz, and Santa Ana with Fr. Roger Grist and Fr. Ordonez, all in Fort Worth, as well as at the Church of St. Mark and the Ascension in Wise County under Fr. Dwayne Adams and in our newest Hispanic congregation, Santa Cruz in Houston, under the leadership of Fr. Raphael Villareal.
As we continue to pray for new Hispanic vocations to the ordained ministry, I want to say what a blessing it was in early August when our Commission on Ministry hosted a Vocations Conference at Camp Crucis. This was a weekend for young college age men who wanted to explore the possibility of a call to the sacred priesthood. There were 9 registered participants who attended the Conference and another 5 young men who expressed an interest but were unable to make that particular weekend. This is indeed good news, and we thank God for continuing to raise up faithful servants for the ministry of Word and Sacrament for the future growth and expansion of our Diocese.
We also rejoice in a new ministry initiative with college age students launched in recent months known as “Anglican Aggies.” This group is composed of Texas A&M students who had been meeting together for weekly Bible studies on campus, and last Spring expressed the need to me for priestly ministry on some regular basis. As a result, we now have a small group of priests from the diocese who go down to College Station every other Sunday evening to say mass and preach for this faithful group of traditional Episcopalians and conservative Anglicans who want to continue in the faith once delivered to the saints. When I was there on the first Sunday of October, we had 19 in attendance, and I was greatly encouraged by their enthusiasm and commitment to the Lord.
Another new ministry initiative this past year was the formation of a new mission station in Copperas Cove, Texas, near Austin. Fr. Michael Baumann, a military chaplain at Ft. Hood, is providing priestly ministry, and they have chosen the name of Christ the King Anglican Church. In recent weeks, they have been having conversation with a group of traditional Episcopalians in nearby Belton, Texas, who are interested in forming a new congregation, and it may be that the two groups will be coming together to form a new, united church in the weeks ahead. Pray for their discernment and for God’s guidance for them.
This is now the seventh new mission station to be recognized by the Diocese since our separation from the General Convention of The Episcopal Church in 2008. It has been my pleasure to make a visitation to five of them over this past year, and I am glad to say how impressed I have been with the health and energy and positive commitment that I have found in each one of them. Please join me in welcoming and commending each of them at this time: St. Gabriel’s Church in Springdale, Arkansas, and Fr. John Slavin; the Cross of Christ congregation in Glen Rose and Fr. Bill O’Connell; St. Paul’s in Midland and Fr. Charles Hageman; Santa Cruz in Houston and Fr. Raphael Villareal; and All Saints’ Church in Monroe, Louisiana, and Fr. Mark Bleakley. The two remaining stations that I have not been able to visit this year are: Christ the King in Copperas Cove with Fr. Michael Baumann (as previously mentioned) and Christ Church in Waco (formerly known as King of Glory) under the leadership of Fr. Christopher Culpepper. Welcome to this 30th Annual Convention, and may God continue to bless and prosper each one of you.
It goes without saying that the lawsuits brought against us by The Episcopal Church were once again much on our minds during 2012, for the fourth year in a row. There are two significant high points for us here that I want to comment upon briefly. As you know, in early August we were very pleased with the decision of the Arbitration Panel in our dispute with our insurance carrier for their refusal to pay our legal expenses as provided for in the coverage policy. Though the specifics of the decision are protected by a confidentiality order, suffice it to say that we were very pleased with the results of the settlement, and we give thanks to God for the decision. Though continuing contributions to our legal defense fund are still needed and appreciated, we are in a much better position today than we were at this time last year. God always provides, and we are grateful for His blessings.
This good news was topped by our hearing before the Texas Supreme Court on October 16th for oral arguments in our direct appeal of the local court ruling about who owns our property. We are indebted to our lead appellate attorney, Scott Brister, for the superb case he presented and for the way he responded to questions from the Justices. His brief 20 minutes before the Court had been preceded by hours and hours of work in preparing some excellent briefs that summarized the basis for our appeal in Texas statutes on property, trusts, and Corporations. He was greatly assisted in this work by Shelby Sharpe, counsel for the Diocese and the Corporation, and David Weaver, attorney for the parishes and missions of the Diocese. We will have the opportunity to hear brief reports from David and Shelby later on this morning. Though it is never wise to predict what a Court may or may not do in rendering an opinion, we are hopeful about the outcome of this case, which we believe is sound and well grounded in the laws of this State. We need to continue our prayers for the Justices of the Supreme Court as they deliberate and come to a decision, which we expect to be announced sometime in the Spring. Whatever the outcome, this much is abundantly clear: we will remain faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ, obedient to the Holy Scriptures as the revealed Word of God, constant in our witness to Christian orthodoxy, and devoted to the apostolic teaching of the one holy catholic and apostolic church.