The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, meeting in its 24th annual convention on November 17 and 18, adopted four resolutions, including one that withdraws the diocese's consent to membership in Province VII of the Episcopal Church, and another that provides a mechanism for parishes to remove themselves from membership in the conservative Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes, also known as the Anglican Communion Network (ACN).
"Debate was heartfelt yet orderly and uniformly courteous, as the delegates listened respectfully to a wide variety of viewpoints and concerns," said the Rev. Charles A. Hough III, Canon to the Ordinary.
The convention was held at the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, in Arlington, Texas. Live audio and video streaming of the Saturday business meeting were provided through the diocesan website. The diocese's guest preacher and convention speaker was the Rev. Canon Daryl Fenton, Canon for Operations of the ACN. Fenton told the convention that outreach and church planting were priority activities for the Network, of which the Diocese of Fort Worth is a founding member.
Though church membership, structure, and polity were much on the delegates' minds during the business meeting, Bishop Jack Leo Iker stressed in his annual address that "Our highest loyalty is not to a denomination, but to the Lord Jesus Christ." Anything else, he said, is "idolatry," adding, "It is troublesome to me when some talk more about why they are an Episcopalian than why they are a Christian."
The bishop illustrated his point by describing his personal affection for the Episcopal Church.
"I love the Episcopal Church most," Iker said, "when it talks least about itself and more about Jesus Christ. I love the Episcopal Church most when it is true to our heritage as a biblical church, standing under the authority of the Word of God, not as an American denomination, but as an integral part of the historic church of the ages that is one, holy, catholic and apostolic."
Nevertheless, Iker urged the convention to adopt Resolutions 1 (an appeal for Alternate Primatial Oversight) and 2 (withdrawing consent to membership in Province VII) because, he said, "We are seeking differentiation. We seek to dissociate ourselves from the direction being taken by the Episcopal Church. We are faithful Episcopalians who stand in opposition to actions taken by the General Convention of this Church that have divided and alienated us from one another as never before."
The two resolutions were approved by about 80 percent in both lay and clerical orders. Neither action constitutes removal of the diocese from the Episcopal Church.
Resolution 3 took up the matter of parishes wishing to withdraw from membership in the Network. Membership has been automatic for all congregations since the diocesan Standing Committee voted to join the Network in 2004. A two-part substitute for the original resolution was introduced and passed with amendment, saying that those of minority viewpoint "remain valued members" of the diocese and providing for any parish to withdraw its membership in the Network with the approval of a two-thirds majority of its vestry, as well as a two-thirds majority of its qualified voting members, with member balloting to take place during an annual or special parish meeting.
Resolution 4, as submitted, proposed that a diocesan commission on human sexuality be established. A substitute resolution was adopted affirming the Windsor Report and Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference as "the official teaching of the Anglican Communion on Human Sexuality."
Iker spoke about both resolutions in his morning address. "Surely we will want to find a way to recognize and honor the minority position of our brothers and sisters in Christ in this diocese," he said. "All baptized believers are valued and loved members of the family of God and are welcome in our fellowship.
"We must listen to one another and care for one another as a way of life, and we must seek to work and minister together. Pastoral support and care for one another, including gay and lesbian people, is a way of life for us. But it is not a six-week program or a carefully orchestrated 'process' of open hearings and the like. Nor is it the task of a commission or committee. Careful listening to one another is an attitude, and it is not something that can be assured by a resolution. I certainly want to commit myself to such listening and openness of spirit as chief pastor of this diocese and to minister with compassion and concern for all our people."
Iker assured the convention that "We as a diocese will remain a constituent member of the Anglican Communion."
In other business, the diocese adopted a Canon on Holy Matrimony prohibiting clergy from using rites for the blessing of same-gender unions. Approval was given to reduce the number of deputies to General Convention from 4 to 2 in each order; the change must be approved at a second reading in 2007. A $2.035 million budget was passed with a .5% reduction in assessment on the first $50,000 of a congregation's income.
Friday dinner for the delegates was prepared by members of the Brotherhood of St. Andrew at the host parish. Saturday's enchilada luncheon was prepared by members of Iglesia San Miguel, one of the diocese's two Hispanic mission churches.
The diocese of Fort Worth consists of 55 congregations in 24 North Central Texas counties, with about 20,000 total members.
The full text of Iker's address, as well as the text of all resolutions and vote tallies, budget detail, and other supporting documents, can be found here.