Here’s the thing -- in places such as Virginia, Georgia, etc., the diocesan bishops are using diocesan resources to help people who want to stay in The Episcopal Church. They seem to be getting ample help from the national church.
But in the Diocese of Fort Worth, the bishop and all the diocesan leadership and nearly all the clergy are using diocesan resources to try to take all the diocesan property out of The Episcopal Church.
So here it’s a bunch of lay people who are struggling to keep our property in TEC. Mostly it has been Fort Worth Via Media working on this. Even the clergy who might want to stay in TEC don’t trust us [the bishop has branded us liars, thieves, and troublemakers since the day we formed the organization] or the other clergy enough to band together with us.
This has made meeting Bonnie Anderson’s challenge to saddle our own horses, well, a challenge.
We have limited resources, say, to hire our own attorneys or to counter the barrage of misinformation the diocese is putting out in the runup to our diocesan convention at which the bishop wants to pass constitutional and canonical changes that will “take the diocese out” of TEC.
See them here:
And here is the note from bishop’s chancellors about their claims on property ownership:
To All Diocesan Clergy and Convention Lay Delegates:
Over the past several months, a great deal of interest has been expressed concerning the ownership of church property in the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth. A fair amount of misinformation has been bandied about in various forums.
In the interest of clarifying this matter, I have asked the Diocesan Chancellors to issue an explanation that I could share with you. Their very helpful statement is below. If you wish to refer to our Constitution and Canons in greater detail, they are available on the Diocesan Web site. Please share this statement with your vestries, as well as any other interested parties.
The Rt. Rev. Jack Leo Iker
Bishop of Fort Worth
October 15, 2007
cc: Standing Committee, Executive Council
HOW REAL PROPERTY IS HELD
WITHIN THE DIOCESE OF FORT WORTH
In the early 1980s, a decision was made to carve a new Diocese – the Diocese of Fort Worth – from the old Diocese of Dallas. It would include Tarrant County and 23 other western and neighboring counties.
At this same time, there were discussions on how to retitle the property within the new diocese. Prior to this time the property had been held in the name of the Bishop of the Diocese of Dallas or his successor in office. This was traditional in most dioceses of the Episcopal Church and had served well for literally decades. In these new times, however, there were occasions when our bishop would be away from the diocese for extended periods. Therefore, real estate closings had to be continued until such time as the bishop was back in residence. Today fax machines, e-mails and FedEx would help us keep things going but those were not universally available, if at all, in the early 1980s.
A new plan was adopted to retitle the real property of the diocese in the name of a corporation which would be called “Corporation of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth.”
This not-for-profit corporation was set up to hold and service the real property within the diocese, and it became infinitely more efficient than waiting for the bishop to return from an extended trip since the corporation was always open for business. It did, however, take a far-sighted and gracious bishop to agree to relinquish the real property traditionally held by him.
It would have been a strenuous task to deed all of the real properties of the diocese from the bishop to the newly formed corporation. Consequently, a lawsuit was filed in the district court of Dallas County, Texas. Its purpose was to obtain a court order that all real properties formerly standing in the name of the bishops of the Diocese of Dallas but now physically located within the 24 counties comprising the new Diocese of Fort Worth would henceforth be held in the name of Corporation of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth. That Judgment was later recorded in all of the 24 counties of the new diocese.
At the primary convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth on November 13, 1982, Article 14 of the Constitution was adopted to support the new corporation.
Article 14 of the Constitution as amended to date provides in part as follows:
The title to all real estate acquired for the use of the Church in this Diocese, including the real property of all Parishes and Missions, as well as Diocesan Institutions, shall be held subject to control of the Church in The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth acting by and through a corporation known as “Corporation of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth.” All such property as well as all property hereafter acquired for the use of the Church in the Diocese, including Parishes and Missions, shall be vested in Corporation of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth.
The second provision restates that the corporation holds title in trust for such parish or mission but that the income and expenses attributable thereto belong to the parish or mission.
The third provision holds that there shall be no conveyance or encumbrance of any kind unless executed by the corporation or as otherwise provided by the canons.
Canon 18, TITLE TO PROPERTY at Section 2, as amended to date, provides in part that:
Real property acquired by the Corporation for the use of a particular Parish, Mission or Diocesan School shall be held by the Corporation in trust for the use and benefit of such Parish, Mission or Diocesan School. It is immaterial whether such acquisition is by conveyance to the Corporation by a Parish, Mission or Diocesan School now holding title, by the Bishop now holding title as a corporate sole, by a declaratory judgment upon division from the Diocese of Dallas, or by subsequent conveyance to the Corporation, so long as such property was initially acquired by a Parish, Mission or Diocesan School by purchase, gift or devise to it, as a Parish, Mission, or Diocesan School.
Sec 18.4 as presently amended, provides in part as follows:
Property held by the Corporation for the use of a Parish, Mission or Diocesan School belongs beneficially to such Parish, Mission or Diocesan School only. No adverse claim to such beneficial interest by the Corporation, by the Diocese, or by The Episcopal Church of the United States of America is acknowledged, but rather is expressly denied.
The Honorable William T. McGee
Chancellor, Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth
Rickey J. Brantley
Assistant Chancellor, Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth
N. Michael Kensel
Chancellor Emeritus, Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth
October 15, 2007
I confess to being baffled at how much difficulty we are having getting legal advice on all this from the national church. What’s more, they don't say, "Well, we can't help until you get your own lawyer," or "Here are the steps you need to take before we can help you," or "Jump through these hoops to prove you are worthy of our help."
We would gladly do whatever we need to do -- if we had the slightest idea what that is.
We are not canon lawyers. The lawyers we are talking with are not canon lawyers and will have to do research on this. Texas courts are very reluctant to intervene in a church fight and, we are told by lawyers here, they always defer to the canons of hierarchal churches. Well, that sounds good. But nothing I've been able to find talks about what to do when a bishop is trying to take everything in a diocese with him.
That changes the dynamic in ways 815 doesn't seem to grasp.
Everyone tells us it will have to be fought out in court. OK. But when? And by whom? And with what money? And what should we be doing in the meantime?
Most of the clergy here are in the bishop’s pocket. Those who are not are few, and pretty beat up.
So it is us lay people [basically Fort Worth Via Media] who are struggling to find ways to stay in TEC. We do not have diocesan resources to help us, and few of the parishes are willing to use their resources to help us. Trinity, my parish, is clear it wants to stay in TEC but it’s not getting any more help than FWVM is getting.
Other parishes whose congregations might want to stay in TEC are being led by clergy in Bishop Iker's pocket and so those people are essentially being told to sit down and shut up.
Bishop Iker is systematically changing the titles on all the property to the diocesan corporation- even parking lots. He has his own lawyers who are operating on a legal theory that has NEVER been tested in court, but of course, he's not telling anyone that.
The diocese is putting out a barrage of misinformation, and it's hard work to counter that. They have already announced the pre-convention deanery meetings will be tightly controlled -- only clergy and lay delegates will be allowed to ask questions. I have personally been warned that visitors will be ejected if they don't behave. [I'm not sure what they think I'm going to do. . . ]
Here's the bishop's announcement:
PRE-CONVENTION MEETINGS for each deanery are scheduled for Thursday, October 25th. Please remember that these are not open hearings or forums for thegeneral public, but are to provide information for the voting lay delegatesand clergy at a canonically prescribed meeting called the Deanery Council.Any visitors and observers (including alternate lay delegates) do not haveseat, voice or vote at the meeting. The place for open forums is in thelocal congregation as called for and scheduled by the priest in charge.
Of course, most priests in charge do not allow any open forums on it either. There is almost NO DISCUSSION on this that is not tightly controlled by the diocese. And the local newspaper is not covering this well at all.
So we've been writing letters to the editor, sending out personal letters to various people, having meetings in private homes, and announcing FWVM meetings as widely as we can. We are making contacts in every parish that we can.
We are bringing Tom Woodward on Oct. 29 to speak and there will be a Q&A session after that. We are buying ads in the newspaper to publicize it.
We will be handing out information at every opportunity, which, of course, the bishop will attempt to stop.
This is all incredibly labor intensive and EXPENSIVE.
We know that all this will pass at diocesan convention -- although by a much slimmer margin that the bishop expects, I think.
Then, of course, we have to have a second convention to pass it all again.
So, here we are -- a bunch of lay people who are struggling to stay in TEC.
Does TEC care?
Helpful advice, strategies, suggestions can be sent to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.