Bishop Iker's Address
to the Nineteenth Annual Convention
of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth
on November 9, 2001
 
  delivered at the Opening Eucharist
at the Church of the Holy Apostles, Fort Worth
 
 

“Rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands...Do not be ashamed of testifying to our Lord...Follow the pattern of the sound words which you have heard from me… Guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.”(II Timothy 1:6, 8a, 13-14)

These stirring words of the Apostle Paul to young Timothy in our Epistle provide an excellent starting point for this Annual Diocesan Convention. They are an exhortation to courageous Christian witnessing in word and action, testifying to our faith and love in Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit. We gather in Convention, not primarily as a business meeting, but as missionary society, to renew our commitment to the ministry which God has given us as the Body of Christ. Our primary purpose tomorrow is not merely to hear reports, as important as some of them may be, but to be re-energized as the people of God in this Diocese for outreach and evangelism in the world. “Come, Holy Spirit, and kindle within us the fire of your love!”

The central theme that I have returned to year after year in these convention addresses has been the same for the past nine years - mission. I have called us to become a truly missionary diocese, focused upon evangelism, outreach and church growth. The vision which I put before you once again today is the vision that we are One Church, not many different, competing churches, each doing its own thing, but One Church, located in many different communities, scattered across 24 counties, but with one common mission and calling: to be faithful to the Great Commission of our Lord (to go make disciples) and to live out the Great Commandment (making the love of God known in every aspect of daily life.) As we are led by the Holy Spirit to be a disciple making church, proclaiming and sharing the redemptive love of Jesus Christ, we are making a difference in the world about us. Lives are being touched and changed by the grace and power of the Gospel. The mission of the church here is going forward and is being blessed by God in marvelous ways.

So it is that I have chosen as the theme of this Convention “Being a Missionary Church.”It is not “Called to Become a Missionary Church”or “How Do We Become a Missionary Church.” No, it is an affirmation and celebration of how far we have come over the years in becoming more mission minded and mission focused, so that we can affirm that we are “Being a Missionary Church.” Our work is by no means complete, but we are on the right course. At this Convention, we are reminded that the purpose of the diocese is to support and enable the mission of each of our congregations and to help us pursue a common mission together as one, united church family, bound together in the love of Jesus Christ and empowered by His Holy Spirit. “There is one Body and one Spirit. There is one hope in God's call to us. One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism. One God and Father of all.” There is one mission, which we all hold in common.

It is for this reason that our Executive Council in September unanimously endorsed my proposal for a new mission statement for our diocese. “The mission of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth is to equip the saints for the work of ministry.” You will recognize it as a quote from Ephesians 4:12, and there are several things to commend it as our mission statement. First, it is Biblical; second, it applies to each of us; third, it focuses upon ministry and mission; and fourth, it is short enough to be memorized by all of us. The old mission statement, which probably none of you can recall, was too wordy and was more of a description of what the diocese is than of a statement of our mission. I hope that every one of you can quote the new one from memory before this Convention is over and that you will go home and teach it to everyone in your congregation. “Our mission is to equip the saints for the work of ministry.”

As you know, in the New Testament the word “saint” applies to every baptized person. All of us are saints of God, in that we have been baptized. And likewise, all of us have been called to ministry and have been given gifts of the Holy Spirit for service and witness. The mission of the diocese, then, is to equip all of us for ministry, in the church and in the world. Much of this equipping takes place in your local congregation, but there are several ways in which the diocese is prepared to lead and assist in that ministry of equipping you to do the work God has given you to do. In the remainder of my address, I want to touch briefly on several specific ways that we are being a missionary church. It has to do with teaching, training, and empowering. And it involves all of us - clergy and laity alike, adults and youth, families and singles, from every part of this diocese.

First, a word about our ministry with young people. They are undoubtedly one of our greatest gifts and resources for mission. I am pleased to say that for the first time in our history we now have a paid Director of Youth Ministry on the diocesan level. She is, as you know, Marie Cullen, who adds these duties to those she already has as the Executive Director of Camp Crucis. She brings many years of experience and training in working with youth to this new position, and she is prepared to train and equip youth workers for every congregation in the diocese. Several of our larger churches (more than ever before) now have paid adult leaders on staff to work in youth ministry. Not every congregation can afford that. However, every congregation of whatever size does need adults who will spend time and energy on youth ministry in the local congregation. The Diocese is prepared to help train and equip your youth workers for this ministry. Marie will be in touch with you about these events in the months ahead. But equally important is the need to provide for leadership development among our young people themselves. We want to raise up and train key young people to be Christian leaders in all our churches. It is my goal in the coming year for us to provide education and leadership training in youth ministry for at least two adults and two young people in every congregation in the diocese, and I ask your cooperation and support in making this a reality.

Many of our most significant events in youth ministry take place, as you know, at Camp Crucis, another one of our great resources for mission. I hope all of you are aware of the many wonderful additions and improvements that have been made at Crucis as a result of our highly successful capital fund drive. In addition to a wonderfrul new swimming pool and slide, all eighteen youth cabins and DeWolfe Hall have been extensively renovated and are now suitable for year round use. A new canteen building is now in use, thanks to the men of the Holy Comforter in Cleburne, and improvements have been made in many other areas of buildings and grounds. Thanks to Marie, the place has never looked better. But the really great news is the addition of the four major new construction projects up near the chapel. A new narthex, restrooms and floor covering have been added to the Chapel itself. A large new adult lodge with eight bedrooms and a fantastic new youth dormitory that will sleep 36 people are now nearly complete, and nearby, we have just started work on a much needed new activity building. Thanks to all who contributed to the capital campaign and our golf tournament to secure the Amon G. Carter Foundation challenge grant, we will have spent almost $2 million in improvements and additions at Camp Crucis by the time we have finished. If you have never been to Camp Crucis or if your last visit was some time ago, I encourage you to go and see the great things that have been accomplished there. Thank you, Marie Cullen, for overseeing all of this in such a fine way!

A second and related area of our equipping the saints for ministry has to do with Christian Education. We have a hard working Commission, headed by Judy Mayo and Fr. Chris Jambor, which is providing a series of Christian Education workshops on the theme of “What Works.” Here too, leadership development and education resources are being provided for the mission of every congregation in the diocese, of whatever size or location. We need to have trained leaders in Christian Education, both for adults and for youth, in every church in our diocese. The next seminar is scheduled for Saturday, February 9th at St. Vincent's in Bedford. Bishop John MacNaughton of West Texas will be the keynote speaker. If you are interested in good Christian Education in your church, be there for this important conference.

In addition, I am excited about the plans the Christian Education Commission has for equipping our new resource library at the Diocesan Center. Their line item in the budget for next year has doubled in order to provide quality materials for both youth ministry and Christian Education, which may be checked out and used in any congregation in the diocese. In time, we will have on computer a complete listing of resources available not only in our own resource center, but accessible to us from other sources as well.

The third area of missionary growth for next year is in the development of new congregations. As you know, Iglesia San Miguel in Richland Hills and St. Philip the Apostle in Arlington were both started in 1999. Both have shown good growth and are now in need of procuring church buildings of their own in order to continue to expand. Assisting them in this need must be a top priority for us a diocese in 2002.

In addition, I want to call your attention to growing Hispanic congregations both at St. Anne's in Lake Worth and at the Ascension and St. Mark in Wise County. Thanks to the missionary efforts of Fr. Sergio Diaz, who started these Spanish speaking services in addition to his work at San Miguel, our ministry in the Hispanic community continues to expand. As a result of these four new start-ups, there are now an additional 275-300 people at worship in our diocese every Sunday.

In the very near future, we will need to start another Hispanic mission church. The only thing preventing us from doing it at this time is funding. We hope that perhaps some of our larger congregations can take this on as a missionary project next year, recognizing that no funds are available on the diocesan level for this purpose in 2002. I want to repeat my own commitment to more Hispanic ministry in this diocese and to say to our Hispanic members what a wonderful addition they are to the health and vitality of this diocese. “Hermanos y hermanas mios. Quiero enfatizar que estoy comprometido al desarrollo del ministerio Hispano. Y quiero que la comunidad Hispana aqui sepa que ellos forman una parte importante de nuestra diocesis. Gracias.”

Among the other accomplishments in Hispanic ministry this past year was the first Spanish language Cursillo in the history of the Dallas and Fort Worth Dioceses. It was highly successful, and a second one is already in the planning stages. This will bring important new leaders to our church from the Hispanic community in the years ahead. I am also pleased that nine of our clergy are just completing a course in learning to say mass in Spanish, and I want to commend Fr. Ryan Reed for being our first Anglo priest provide a Spanish language service every Sunday at his church. May God send us more bi-lingual priests in the years ahead to grow this ministry.

I am also pleased to announce to this Convention that plans are already underway to fund the start-up of a new congregation in the north east part of Tarrant County. As you know, this is one of the fastest growing areas in the metroplex, and the fields are white for the harvest. I am happy to tell you that one of our finest, most seasoned priests has agreed to take on this new church planting ministry, and that he has already been to some training seminars in order to prepare him for this challenge. He is Fr. Louis Tobola, and he has already been making contacts in the area we have targeted for this new work. It is the area between I-35E and Highway 377, north of the 820 Loop. The churches bordering this vicinity have already offered their endorsement and support for this project, as partners in mission. We hope to have three to five families from each of the existing congregations in that area who will agree to go out and work with Fr. Tobola as a church planting team. Please begin to pray now for this exciting new venture, that God will bless it and grant us success in planting it.

The last mission priority that I want to say something about is empowering our laity for ministry. Many things are already available to us in this area and have been for some time. I want to re-iterate my support for ministries such as Cursillo, the Alpha program, the Stephen Series, and others. One of the more recent resources that I want to highlight in called TELET. It stands for “The Episcopal Lay Evangelism Training,” and it is a new seminar developed by our own Fr. Scott Wilson just for Episcopalians. Its purpose is to help ordinary church people become comfortable with sharing their faith in one-on-one relationships with friends, co-workers, neighbors, and even family. It takes place in the context of a weekend away with trained leaders, and it is a resource for evangelism and outreach which I want to strongly commend to you. Three weekends are planned for next year in February, June and October. The registration fee is only $95.00 per person. It is my hope that at least two people from every church in the diocese will participate in one of the TELET weekends during this next year. Our clergy are asked to recruit and send parishioners to these training events. The most effective way to reach the unchurched is one on one, face to face, in personal relationships, and TELET is designed to help with that kind of personal evangelism.

A second opportunity in this area is being provided by our Committee for Lay Ministry, which is chaired by Mary Shannon. They are planning a diocesan-wide conference for laity on Saturday, March 2nd, on discovering your gifts for ministry. Details will be mailed to every church at the appropriate time. Surely we will want to have every congregation participate by sending key parishioners to this important conference.

In all these ways and more, we are being a missionary church, which is committed to teaching, training, and empowering all our people for ministry and service. These ministries here at home, so to speak, give rise to the interest and energy that drives our foreign missionary work, which is being so ably coordinated by our World Mission Committee. Once again I want to say how deeply grateful I am to Lollie Twyman and those who serve with her in the missionary work we are still pursuing in our companion dioceses of Northern Malawi and Northern Mexico. Both continue to have great needs and huge challenges. In particular, it is important that we continue a strong commitment of support for La Gran Familia orphanage in Cuauhtemoc. I hope you will be generous in the offering to be received tonight, which is designated for this ministry. All of us were so deeply saddened and schocked by the sudden death of Fr. Greg David-Spinks who began this crucial ministry, and it is in his honor and in his loving memory that tonight's offering is dedicated. As for Northern Malawi, I am glad to tell you that the diocese is experiencing tremendous growth. Their new bishop, The Rt. Rev. Christopher Boyle, is still learning his way about his new home, and it is important that we renew our commitment to supporting him and the people of his diocese at this time. You will be hearing more about all of this in the report from the World Mission Committee sometime tomorrow at the Convention.

In closing, I want to say that from where I sit, things in the diocese have never been better. Morale is up, giving is up, confirmations are at the highest point in years. And on top of all that, the percentage of the diocesan assessment level continues to go down every year, for the fourth year in a row. By again decreasing the percentage by half a point for next year, over $45,000 that would have gone to the diocesan budget will remain in the local congregation for mission at that level. This is good news indeed, and it will continue in this direction as long as good stewardship continues to be practiced in all our churches.

Thank you for your faithfulness and for your prayers as the people of God in this Diocese. I count it a great privilege and joy to be able to serve as your Chief Missionary and Chief Pastor for many years to come. May God continue to bless us and strengthen us in our mission, as the Holy Spirit equips us for the ministry opportunities that are before us

“Rekindle the gift…Do not be ashamed of testifying…Follow the pattern…Guard the truth…”