FT. WORTH, TX: Bishop Iker reaches out to All Saints Parishioners

david at virtueonline.org david at virtueonline.org
Tue Jan 27 17:04:28 EST 2009

FT. WORTH, TX: Bishop Iker reaches out to All Saints Parishioners 
Special meeting brings Bishop to his wounded flock

By Mary Ann Mueller with David W. Virtue
VirtueOnline Special Correspondent 
January 23, 2009

With fuchsia zucchetto in hand, Ft. Worth Bishop Jack Iker reached out like a spiritual father seeking to bring both understanding, reconciliation and healing to the spiritually wounded parishioners at All Saints Episcopal Church in Fort Worth.

Addressing the All Saints church members as his "Dear Friends in Christ," Bishop Iker wrote in his pastoral letter of Jan. 12, that he was inviting them to a special evening meeting. More than 100 members, including the church's attorney Avery McDaniel, responded to the Bishop's invitation at a meeting that took place on Jan 22 at Holy Apostles Church in Ft. Worth. 

Parishioners heard their bishop and the Diocesan Standing Committee explain the ins and outs of the legal opinions and canonical understandings between the Diocese and the leadership of their beleaguered parish.

In particular, the Bishop and Standing Committee members sought to explain the provisions of Canon 32, which allows for a dissenting parish to disengage from the Diocese. The Diocese of Ft. Worth is now ecclesiastically attached to the Province of the Southern Cone, rather than be affiliated with The Episcopal Church (TEC), headquartered in New York City.

Last November, the Episcopal Diocese of Ft. Worth voted to sever its ecclesial ties with The Episcopal Church and realign with Province of the Southern Cone, which is theologically more inline with classic Anglican thought and theology. 

That vote was binding upon all parishes and missions within the Diocese unless the individual congregation voted, as a whole, to implement Canon 32 which allows for the parishes to return to TEC with their church property. The overall vote to realign was 78% in the clerical order and 80% in the laity vote. Four of the seven lay delegates from All Saints voted to realign. 

"No parish Vestry has the canonical authority to repeal or ratify constitutional and canonical actions of the Diocesan Convention," advised the Bishop in his letter of invitation. 

Reports then circulated that All Saints rector, the Rev. Christopher Jambor along with his hand-picked Vestry, were steadfastly refusing to permit a Canon 32 vote allowing the congregation to voice its collective mind in the matter of provincial allegiance. 

At the meeting called by Bishop's Iker, many of the All Saints parishioners said that the rector and the parish vestry were marginalizing them. They took the opportunity to vent their frustrations with Bishop Iker.

Presently, All Saints Episcopal Church is attached to the Southern Cone through its legal and canonical association with the lawfully constituted Episcopal Diocese of Ft. Worth, a fact that Fr. Jambor, his Vestrymen and even TEC's Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori all refuse to acknowledge. 

The meeting was held in a neutral location, Holy Apostles, because of a letter from attorney Frank Hill (signed on Christmas Eve) warning the bishop that any deliberate trespass by Bishop Iker on All Saints property would be dealt with by the law. (Hill is a member of the Arlington law firm of Hill Gilstrap.)

"You must not trespass on All Saints' property ..." said Hill. "Our firm position is that if you were to come onto any property of All Saints' Episcopal Church with the intent to interfere in anyway in the business of the operation of the church and all properties, then you would be trespassing and this trespass will be dealt with according to the law."

He said the prohibition extends to Bishop's Iker's planned annual visit to the parish in February.

The congregation was invited to meet with Bishop Iker at an off campus location so that all members of All Saints could have full and open access to information allowing them to make a prayerful and informed decision about the fate of their congregation.

Sources told VOL that much-distorted misinformation regarding the cannons and legal principles has been circulated at All Saints. They have been used to vilify Bishop Iker's concerns among members of the Diocese. Even those who theologically do not agree with his guidance of the diocese, into a more spiritually healthy association within the wider Anglican Communion through the Southern Cone, acknowledge his pastoral concerns.  

On Friday evening, Jan. 23, the Internet was alive with information coming from the All Saints meeting at Holy Apostles. Bishop Iker and his Standing Committee members heard first-hand accounts of the spiritual, psychological and emotional abuse going on at All Saints. 

One blogger, "Martin5", at a conservative blog reported that several fellow attendees voiced such concerns as volunteers being told by All Saints leadership that they were to take a two-week vacation. Furthermore, several parishioners were denied early access to the property of All Saints when they wanted to prepare to serve in various lay ministries. Another member of the vestry resigned, bringing the total number of resignations to four. 

Other vestry persons were forbidden to attend an executive session unless they first signed a letter of support affirming that The Episcopal Church and Fr. Jambor were the legitimate parish leaders. Some vestry members were threatened with litigation, while other parishioners were denied their annual meeting parish vote because they had not formally pledged. The blogger expressed fears that no unbiased observer would be allowed to witness All Saints Annual Parish Meeting this coming Sunday, January 25th . 

Bishop Iker's primary concern is that All Saints members have not been given the opportunity to voice their collective mind. Parishioners have been hampered and forbidden, by their rector and the vestry, from following canon law. because the authoritative powers within the church have stacked the deck.

"If All Saints does not want to continue as a parish in union with the Diocese, "Bishop Iker explained, "then Canon 32 provides the only legitimate means for a separation to occur." 

The Rev. Christopher Cantrell, rector of Holy Apostles and who blogs on "Apostolicity", commented on his website,: "I had the honor of representing the Diocesan Standing Committee alongside Bishop Iker at a hearing held in my parish hall for the members of All Saints' Parish, Fort Worth.

"Their rector and most of their vestry are intent upon the parish being in TEC and not in the Diocese of Fort Worth. They are refusing to abide by the decision of our Diocesan Convention to constitutionally secede from the General Convention and join the Province of the Southern Cone.

"It was indeed an honor to participate in last night's  hearing," Fr. Cantrell continued. "But it was not at all pleasant to hear of what has been transpiring at the mother parish of my parish."

A statement by the realigned Episcopal Diocese of Ft. Worth, posted on the Diocesan website early Friday evening, explained that "all those who spoke expressed dismay at the situation in the parish under its current pastoral and lay leadership, as well as their support of the diocese.

"Several speakers noted that they were interested in serving on the vestry, but were unable to run because they could not sign the loyalty oath." 

No ecclesiastical action was taken at the meeting. Parishioners expressed their heartfelt thanks for their unique opportunity to speak directly with their bishop about the divisions and turmoil in their church. The bishop concluded by saying that he would listen to their concerns and will provide a compassionate voice. The parishioners of All Saints will remain in his prayers. 

In his pastoral letter , Bishop Iker said, "Please be assured of my prayers for the entire parish family."

---Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline.

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