Bishop Iker's Address

to the 21st Annual Convention
of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth

Saturday, Nov. 8, 2003

 
           
 

“Called, Empowered, and Sent” This is the Biblical pattern of Christian discipleship, and this is the theme I hold before you today as the focus for our life together as a diocese.

It begins with the call of Jesus – the call to discipleship. He has called us each by name, into a personal relationship with him as Savior and Lord. As he reminded the Twelve Apostles in the 15th chapter of St. John’s Gospel: "You did not choose me, but I chose you." It is first a matter of his divine initiative and then, our willing response. You and I are here today because Jesus has called us to follow him and has given us grace to respond.

But remember that though he calls us individually, one by one, he also calls us into a community. He calls us to be members of his Body, the Church, which means that he has called us into relationship with one another. We are members of one another, through baptism. Because we have one God as our Father, we are all brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. Because we belong to Him, we also belong to one another.

The calling is the beginning of a new way of life - a life lived for God and a life lived for others. Those whom He calls, God also empowers and enables. By the grace of the Holy Spirit, He makes it possible for us to serve Him and to reach out to others in His name. He equips us for the work of ministry, for the building up the Body of Christ and for the expansion of His Kingdom in the world.

So the called become the empowered, and the empowered are then sent out in mission to the world. We are his hands and feet and voice. We are the channels of his grace and love in the world about us, for he has entrusted to us the ministry of reconciliation. Ours is a ministry of evangelism - calling others to discipleship and new life in Christ. It is also a ministry of equipping, as we teach and train every baptized person for ministry, in the power of the Holy Spirit. And last, we are to be a sending church - sending out missionaries to do the work of God in daily life. This is why our liturgies conclude with a dismissal, is it not? It is not a declaration that the service is over, but rather a proclamation that now the real service is to begin. “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”

This is the Church of God. This is our mission as a Diocese. And this is the story you will hear today in the various reports made to this Convention about what God is doing in and through us all. We have been "Called, Empowered and Sent." Returning to the words of Jesus in John 15:16 - "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide." I call upon each of our congregations to be places of continual calling, empowering and sending, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In the remainder of this Address, I want to look at two particular challenges that confront us as we seek to do just that. One is a challenge from within the diocese - the challenge of mission development. The other is a challenge from beyond the diocese, and it has to do with our ongoing relationship with the worldwide Anglican Communion in a time of dissension and division.

As I look at the ongoing missionary work that is before us here in the diocese, I am particularly aware of the need for additional financial support for our three newest congregations: San Miguel, St. Philip, and St. Barnabas. All three are off to a very good start, and we can all be proud of what each of them has been accomplished. But they now need their own churches in order to foster further development and growth. They lack the monetary resources right now to do it on their own. Land and buildings are very expensive and are especially burdensome for newly founded congregations. But the diocese right now lacks the necessary funds to give them significant assistance. How can we as a diocese, with very limited financial resources, help them build and grow?

Well, one very practical way we can do this is by pressing on to complete the collection phase of our capital funds campaign of a few years ago - "Directed by Faith: A Vision for Growth." Funding new missions was a high priority of that endeavor. At present, the total balance of unpaid pledges to the campaign amounts to just over a half a million dollars - $506,445.00 to be exact. My, what we could do with that to help meet the needs of these three growing missions! I want to encourage all of you to continue to give to the capital needs of our diocese. If you still have a balance due on your pledge, please do everything you can to pay it. If you have already completed paying off your original pledge, would you consider continuing to make additional gifts for the next year or so? Financial losses in the stock market have caused some donors to alter their original plans, and this is understandable. But the needs for mission support are still great and will be with us for some time. Please encourage the people back home to join you in doing all that we can to help.

One practical step we are taking at this Convention to help meet this need is to provide funding for a part-time position of a Planned Giving and Development Officer for the diocese. In fact, Suzanne Gill, our part-time Communications Officer, has already begun some work in this field, and you will be hearing more about it in the future. We want to encourage every member of the Church to make provisions in their wills for the support of their local congregation and the diocese following their deaths. We need an aggressive plan to help grow our endowments and to provide additional funds for land purchase and church construction in the future. These are not our last missions, but simply our most recent ones. How can we, as a calling, empowering, and sending diocese, help plant and grow new churches? That is challenge number one.

The second challenge before us, of course, concerns our future relationship with the Episcopal Church and the worldwide Anglican Communion. I need not rehearse the controversies brought about by certain actions of the 74th General Convention, nor do I need to remind you of our firm response to them at the Special Convention held on September 27th. Likewise, I trust that all of you have read and considered my Report to the Diocese, dated October 24th, and that it has been distributed to all the members of your congregation. But time marches on, and events have taken place just this past week, which have fractured the unity of the Church and left the Anglican world more broken and divided than ever before.

On Sunday, Nov. 2, in defiance of the stated teaching of the Anglican Communion and in spite of the clear warning of the Primates’ Meeting not to do so, a practicing homosexual was consecrated a bishop in the Diocese of New Hampshire. The response from around the world has been swift and direct. Primate after Primate has denounced the consecration, refused to recognize the ministry of Gene Robinson, and declared impaired or broken communion with the Episcopal Church. This Convention will be asked to make our response by adopting a resolution to be presented to us immediately after lunch today. Those who have participated in this consecration are in open rebellion against the Anglican Communion and have declared their independence from the stated boundaries of Anglicanism. As a result, I will not recognize the ministry of Gene Robinson, nor will I permit any bishop who consented to his election or participated in his consecration to exercise any ministry within this diocese. In this way, we seek to maintain not only our theological integrity, but also our unimpaired communion with the rest of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Quite honestly, I feel the need to tell you that I am tired of this controversy and weary of the continual battles revolving around it. I resent being placed in the position of always having to respond to the latest revisionist attack on orthodox Christianity. I am tired of being interviewed about it, issuing statements on it, and going to meetings about it. All of this is a huge distraction from the mission of the Church and very harmful to the healthy functioning of the Body of Christ. I am deeply troubled by the anguished pleas from faithful members of the Episcopal Church, both here and elsewhere, who now feel compelled by actions of General Convention and the Diocese of New Hampshire to join other faith communities. At the same time, I am acutely aware of the responsibilities of my vows as a bishop "to guard the faith, unity and discipline of the Church." The controversies before us at this time are an assault on all three – faith, unity, and discipline. The secular culture of modern society is undermining the basic tenets of the faith, with the full support of many church leaders.

Weary of the battles and debates that I am, I will not be silenced or intimidated. I will not give up or give in or go away. Like many faithful Episcopalians across the United States, I am alarmed by the relentless efforts in this Church to create a new religion – call it "Episcopalianism" – which is increasingly at variance with the teaching of Holy Scripture and historic Christianity. I am tired of the "General Convention religion" that attempts to give us a new and improved version of Christian faith and practice every three years. One thing that I have discovered in the past decade as a bishop is the incredible sense of institutional loyalty to the Episcopal Church on the part of many of our members. They seem to place General Convention on a higher level of authority than the Bible. They give greater weight to the majority votes in the Episcopal Church in the USA than to the overwhelming majority of the rest of the Anglican Communion. And they tend to become very upset, even angry and accusatory, when others contend that ECUSA is wrong and the rest of the Church is right. Apparently they ascribe to the General Convention an attribute that we deny to the Pope himself – infallibility in matters of faith and morals.

I have been amazed at the hateful words and angry denunciations that have been directed at me personally, often in letters to the editor or in terse e-mails, simply because I defend the Church’s traditional teaching on sexuality. I do not hate homosexuals, nor do I fear them. To say that the Christian Church opposes the blessing of same-sex unions is not a hateful thing; it is speaking the truth in love. To say that the Scriptures forbid the ordination of persons involved in sexual relationships outside the bonds of Holy Matrimony is not bigoted or prejudiced. It is a faithful expression of the Apostolic Teaching of the Church. Why is such animosity and anger directed at those who simply uphold what has been taught “always, everywhere and by all” in the Christian Faith? I am not disloyal to the Episcopal Church, but I will not sit on the sidelines while this Church attempts to dismantle orthodox Christianity step by step, defy the clear teachings of Holy Scripture, and separate us from the moral consensus of the historic catholic church for over 2,000 years.

So where is all of this leading us?

Late last week, the Archbishop of Canterbury announced the members of the newly appointed Commission to advise him on dealing with the divisions brought about by the Robinson consecration and the authorization of same-sex blessings in several dioceses in ECUSA and one diocese in Canada. It is important for you to know that this Commission is a direct response to the appeals that we (and others) made to the Special Primates’ Meeting in London. This Commission is to address the concerns of two of the Resolutions adopted by of our Special Convention:

Resolution #3 - requesting "intervention in the pastoral emergency" in the Episcopal Church caused by schismatic acts of the General Convention, and

Resolution #4 - asking the Primates “to address the matter of episcopal oversight and care, across existing diocesan boundaries, to those clergy and congregations committed to the historic Faith and Order, in dioceses where the offending actions of the 74th General Convention have been approved or implemented.”

Specifically, the Archbishop of Canterbury requests the Commission to address the
following:

1. the legal and theological implications of "impaired and broken communion" and the ways in which Provinces of the Anglican Communion may relate to one another when maintaining the fullness of communion with one another is no longer possible
2. practical recommendations on the provisions for episcopal oversight where there is impaired or broken communion within a Province
3. how the Archbishop of Canterbury might "exercise an extraordinary ministry of episcope (pastoral oversight)" in Provinces where full communion with the rest of the Anglican Communion is no longer possible

Please note that this is not another commission on human sexuality, nor is it to study the issue of homosexuality. It is a commission that is to make recommendations on the realignment of the Anglican Communion and the provision of episcopal oversight in places where Communion has been impaired or broken with a diocesan bishop. The Commission’s work must be completed by October 2004. Archbishop Robin Eames, chairman of this new Commission, has said: "We are moving into unknown territory. I don’t think you can prevent a realignment. I sincerely hope we can prevent what you call a split." The question is not, "Will there be a division in the Church?" A serious division has already occurred. The question is, "What will be the nature of the inter relationships in the Church that is evolving?"

There are difficult days ahead for all of us who call ourselves Anglicans. The divisions and the controversies are not going to go away, nor will they be resolved any time soon. But faithfulness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ has never been easy or convenient. There is always a cross. There is always difficulty. There is always sacrifice. For now, we will make common cause with others to establish what is being called "A Network of Confessing Dioceses and Parishes." We ask that congregations and dioceses redirect their financial support away from the General Convention Budget and Program toward orthodox ministries and agencies, beyond our own needs internally.

In closing, I want to make an appeal to you and to give you an assurance. My appeal is that we continue to work together and remain together as a strong, unified diocese, focused on the mission of the Church. My assurance to you is that the Diocese of Fort Worth will remain obedient to the Scriptures, faithful to classical Anglicanism, and committed to orthodox Christianity. We will not succumb to the new religion. We will not accept efforts to change the Church’s historic teaching on sexual morality. We will not allow controversies to distract us from the main mission of the Church. I am confident of the prayerful support of every one of you and of the pastoral leadership of our clergy in the trying days that are ahead of us, as we witness to the historic Faith and Order of the Church. I ask each of you as leaders in this diocese to place your renewed trust and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. After all, this is His Church, not ours, and He is Lord of the Church, even in dark times. The outcome of it all, though hidden from us, is in His gracious hands. He will not forsake us nor fail us. He is the one foundation, upon which all else is built. As that wonderful hymn says:


Mid toil and tribulation, and tumult of her war,
by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed;
yet saints their watch are keeping, their cry goes up, "How long?"
And soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song.
[Hymn 525]

So now, brothers and sisters in Christ, let us move forward together in mission, in the power of the Holy Spirit. By God’s grace may we become more and more, a calling Church, an empowering Church and a sending Church.