By Mary Ann Mueller with David W. Virtue
The rector at All Saints Episcopal Church, the Rev. Christopher Jambor is holding his parish spiritually hostage by using a loyalty oath to coerce his clerical and lay staff to toe the line. The axe has fallen on one priest, The Rev. Zeke Rogers; Youth Minister Matthew Maples; and at least three known vestrymen, Dennis Ward & Chris Swartz, and William Brackett. More vestry resignations are anticipated.
They have been fired for failing to sign the Oath of Office for Service, which states "no person may be a member of All Saints' Episcopal Church who is not a member of The Episcopal Church."
The problem is All Saints is canonically no longer a member congregation of The Episcopal Church (TEC) of the United States. The parish's canonical ties with TEC were formally severed when the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth voted to realign itself with the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone of the Americas under The Most Rev. Gregory Venables - an Anglican ecclesiastical province in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Following its 2007 Diocesan Convention, The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth implemented Canon 32. At that time, a number of Diocesan Canons were amended to help facilitate the anticipated 2008 realignment process. One of those amended canons was Canon 32, which calls for an equitable way for dissenting parishes to leave the Diocese with their property intact.
Under the Canon, parishes such as All Saints are free to leave the Diocese, following a parish-wide vote of the membership aimed at assuring Bishop Iker that it is the collective mind of the parishioners to remain with TEC. This action is not to be taken on the will of the rector and vestry alone. The Episcopal Diocese of Dallas has a similar canon in place.
Canon 32 calls for the dissenting parish to:
(1) explore formal separation from the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth; to
(2) make sure the church's financial obligations are met and current; and to
(3) hold a parish-wide vote which demonstrates that it is indeed the collective will of the members of the departing parish to realign with another ecclesial body. "
Based upon Canon 32, the All Saints rector, does not have the canonical authority or power to singularly override a validly voted upon Diocesan Convention decision.
He is stonewalling his people and forbidding them to call the question and vote on whether his parish wants to remain with the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth or retrocede back to TEC, headquartered at 815 Second Avenue, New York.
"A parish-wide vote would be welcome," Bishop Iker told VOL via e-mail. "It is the only means to determine where the parish membership stands on this. We would respect a 2/3 vote of the parish membership."
Fr. Rogers was unavailable for comment. Maples said, "I am sorry that I am unable to talk about this."
Through their silent actions, the departed All Saints leadership has indicated that they could not in good conscience sign something going against their deepest held core beliefs as Anglican Christians.
Jambor did not respond to repeated telephone calls and e-mails from VOL.
All Saints Episcopal Church remains canonically a part of the realigned Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth. The parishioners of All Saints have not called for a vote in order to voice their collective mind in this matter.
STATUS OF THE EPISCOPAL DIOCESE OF FT. WORTH AS A CORPORATION
The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth is a legal entity as well as a religious jurisdiction. It was incorporated on Feb. 18, 1983, as a domestic non-profit corporation with the current chief operating officer being the Rt. Rev. Jack Iker, the third Diocesan bishop, with the parishes and missions around the Diocese being subsidiary to the Diocese.
The charter, bylaws, constitution and canons govern the actions of the corporation of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth. No other governing document may have legal preference over these, according to a Texas-based attorney who blogs on "The Commonweath Report".
Accordingly, as an incorporated entity in the State of Texas, the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth is therefore free to enter into any association it wants and to also disassociate itself from any organization it has previously joined.
"No nonprofit corporation is required to remain in association with any organization with which it does not wish to remain," explained The Commonwealth Report blogger.
He also explained that any legislation - such as the resolution to realign -- passed by duly chosen representatives of the corporation - such as the delegates to Diocesan Convention - is binding on all constituent members of the corporation - such as parishes, missions, clergy and church members - even if they voted against or do not agree with the action.
The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth was perfectly within its legal rights to disassociate itself from TEC.
"The only corporation that the Episcopal Church has is the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society which is only incorporated in New York and not authorized to do business in any other state, "explained the Rt. Rev. William Wantland, retired bishop of Eau Claire and assisting bishop of Fort Worth who is also an experienced civil attorney, and a noted Episcopal canon lawyer.
"Canons of TEC outline the procedures for a diocese to be associated with the New York religious corporation, but there are no canons in place to direct the disassociation of a diocese From TEC," he said.
"There are no prohibitions in the canons of The Episcopal Church for a diocese leaving The Episcopal Church," 'Immortalitas Equestris' said, explaining the silence of canon law rules under the Law of Silence.
Following the realignment of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, a group of Episcopalians within the Diocese, desirous of returning to The Episcopal Church, circulated a "Handbook for Vestry Members". In it, a group calling themselves the North Texas Episcopalians Steering Committee issued a warning about Canon 32: "Don't go there." They argued that it was an attempt on the part of the Diocese to land grab.
Liberal Internet blogger Katie Sherrod, in her "Desert's Child" blog on the "Wilderness Garden" website, attempted to perpetuate that fallacy. She wrote: "Canon 32 is an illegal canon, passed by those intent on leaving the Episcopal Church and taking its property with them."
The truth is the Canon was put into place as a compassionate undertaking by Bishop Iker in order to pastorally release the members of All Saints and any other Episcopal congregations in his Diocese, who sought reaffiliation with TEC while allowing them to retain their church properties.
By his actions, Bishop Iker has endeavored to make possible an equitable separation between the realigned Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth and those congregations that want to retrocede back to TEC.
However, a number of parishes are attempting to put a stumbling block in the smooth execution of Canon 32. They have been advised by the Steering Committee of the North Texas Episcopalians not to cooperate with the guidelines that have been put into place to assure a congregation's separation from the realigned Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth.
To date, there are seven intact churches, five dislocated congregations and one blended group seeking to return to The Episcopal Church. In addition to All Saints, Fort Worth,, St. Christopher's, Fort Worth; St. Luke's-in-the-Meadow, Fort Worth; St. Martins-in-the-Fields, Keller; St. Stephen, Wichita Falls; Trinity, Fort Worth; and St. Luke, Stephenville are all seeking to return to TEC.
The dislocated congregations are All Saints, Wichita Falls; Good Shepherd, Granbury; Good Shepherd, Wichita Falls; St. Alban's, Arlington; and St. Stephen's, Hurst. The blended group, the Episcopal Church in Parker County, consists of members from St. Francis of Assisi, All Saints, and Holy Apostles, Episcopal churches in Fort Worth, Weatherford, and Willow Park.
The key to the successful implementation of Canon 32 is the parish-wide vote to ascertain the collective mind of the membership of a particular church.
On Page 6 of the Vestry Handbook, the leadership of the North Texas Episcopalians urges dissenting rectors not to call for a vote, either of the vestry or of the parishioners; to not invoke Canon 32; and to do nothing in the face of the secession of the Fort Worth Diocese to the Southern Cone other than to "adjust your thinking".
"Get used to thinking about yourself as the continuing parish, not a new parish, and a continuing diocese, not a new diocese," the handbook says.
The handbook calls for an "Oath of Office".
The rector of All Saints has circulated an "Oath of Office for Service at All Saint's Episcopal Church, Forth Worth". Apparently, this document is to be signed by all clergy, as well as vestrymen, convention delegates and staff members of the church.
The All Saints' oath calls for its signers to "solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline and worship of The Episcopal Church."
Basically, one's refusal to sign the church oath is a matter of conscience. No one is directed to swear an oath in the Articles of Religion, which merely states that they "may" do so.
The 39th Article of Religion says in part, "As we confess that vain and rash Swearing is forbidden Christian men by our Lord Jesus Christ, and James His Apostle, so we judge that Christian Religion doth not prohibit, but that a man may [not must] swear ... in a cause of faith and charity, so it be done according to the Prophet's teaching in justice, judgment, and truth."
THE CRUX OF THE MATTER
Nowadays, swearing an allegiance to TEC means that one accepts the changes in doctrine, discipline and worship that have crept into the church through the years as brought about by the spiritually questionable actions at General Convention. This is the crux of the disagreement between TEC and the realigned Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth and the other realigned Episcopal dioceses including San Joaquin, Quincy and Pittsburgh.
In a published Oct. 28, 2008 letter from Bishop Iker to the rector and vestry of All Saints Church, the bishop personally invited the leadership of the Fort Worth congregation to stand with the realigned Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth and to move forward together.
"The problem is that the General Convention of The Episcopal Church has not compiled with the Lambeth Resolution on human sexuality and several Bishops and Dioceses of TEC (including the President Bishop) gave acted in defiance if the requests of the Windsor Report," Bishop Iker wrote. "That is why we are in the crises we are in."
The dividing issues at hand are not a matter of social justice, women's rights or gay pride, but of spirituality and one's very salvation. Nowadays, TEC has adopted the spirit of the age and is accommodating the ethics, values and mores of society rather than those of the Holy Spirit.
True Anglican spirituality and doctrine includes the moral teaching, disciple and worship of the church that are based upon the twin authorities of Holy Scriptures and Tradition. This is outlined, articulated and passed on through the classical Anglican formularies which are traditionally understood to be the XXXIX Articles, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and Ordinal, and the Lambeth Quadrilateral.
"We are committed to upholding and propagating the historic faith and order of the apostolic church ..." the Bishop continued. "For in doing so, The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth continues to stand with the vast majority of Anglican Christians around the world. Please stand with us."
The Episcopal Church means a church with bishops. The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (DFMS) does not have a lock on the word episcopal.
Several provinces in the Anglican Communion use the word "Episcopal" in their titles or identities including the Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil (Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil); Nippon Sei Ko Ku (the Anglican Episcopal Church in Japan); and Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui (Hong Kong Anglican Church [Episcopal]). Also: the Episcopal Church in the Philippines; the Scottish Episcopal Church; the Episcopal Church of the Sudan; and the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East.
Therefore, it is perfectly legal for the realigned Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth to retain its proper name and yet be canonically attached to the Province of the Southern Cone because all the legal documents are titled with the name Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth.
TEC is spread beyond the shores of North America with several dioceses switching their canonical status from another Anglican province to the American province. Living up to her name as the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, TEC has dioceses in the Virgin Islands, Haiti, Taiwan, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Honduras, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela. Also the Convocation of American Churches in Europe, with congregations in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Kazakhstan, Austria and Switzerland are a part of TEC. History records show that the Protestant Episcopal Church absorbed the Anglican Church of Hawaii upon the American annexation of the Islands. REORGANIZING A DIOCESE
Since the name "Episcopal Diocese of Ft. Worth" is already a legal Texas entity on the incorporation papers held by Bishop Iker, they will have to find a new name. The Episcopal Diocese of North Texas is too close to call. Both episcopal dioceses cannot use the same name.
Secondly, the Ft. Worth and surrounding area parishes, which the Steering Committee of the North Texas Episcopalians are working with, are still canonically a part of the realigned Episcopal Diocese of Ft. Worth which is now affiliated with the Southern Cone. There is not a default principle that can bring the unhappy parishes back into TEC. The key to disengaging from the Southern Cone is Canon 32, which the steering committee refuses to recognize and will not allow congregations to call the question and officially vote to ascertain the mind of the parish.
TEC primate Katharine Jefferts Schori has no canonical authority to come to Texas to convene a diocesan convention.
"The canons specifically outline the presiding bishop's authority, which is confined to the general convention, where she presides over the house of bishops, and joint sessions of general convention with the house of deputies. As primate, she is also to take order for consecrations of bishops; visit each of the more than 100 dioceses at least once during her term of office; and to be the spokesperson for the church on various issues," said Bishop Wantland.
"There is no authority to preside over diocesan conventions," said Wantland, Ft. Worth's assisting bishop, "nor is there any provision for the presiding bishop to convene a [diocesan] convention."
---Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline. David W. Virtue contributed to this story.