UPDATED 9/04/08: Both Mark Harris and Episcopal Cafe have comments on Bishop Iker's pastoral request.
A PASTORAL REQUEST FROM THE BISHOP
This message is specifically directed to every priest in charge of a congregation in the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth. However, I am sending it to all clergy, vestry members, and convention delegates on our mailing list so that everyone will know what I am proposing.
As the date approaches for our momentous Diocesan Convention vote in November, many parish clergy have attempted to make certain that their parishioners understand the issues surrounding the proposal that we separate from the General Convention of The Episcopal Church. In several places parish forums have been held, where outside speakers have been brought in to present the opposing sides on the question of realignment. Some of you have preached sermons on this subject, written articles for your parish newsletter, and even in a couple of places brought in General Convention authorities to speak your people.
In addition, several different groups have been formed in the Diocese, including Remain Episcopal, Via Media, and Remain Faithful, which have attempted to educate, organize, and motivate the laity to take sides on the question: “Should we remain with TEC or with the Diocese?” Legal counsel has been engaged, lawsuits are being anticipated, various steering committees have been formed, and outside assistance from the “815” church headquarters in New York is being sought.
An important factor that has often been forgotten in all of the controversy is the need for prayerful discernment that seeks, above all else, to know what God’s will is for us at this particular time in our life together as a diocesan family.
As your bishop and chief pastor, I am inviting and urging that every congregation in this Diocese enter into an intentional 40 day period of prayerful discernment to be concluded the week prior to our Convention on November 14 and 15. This means that our start-up day would have to be either September 28 or 29. Furthermore, I am proposing that we all use the same materials and process that will lead us in this venture. All the information that you will need may be found at this website: http://www.40daysofdiscernment.org/ Please go to that site today or tomorrow and get everything you need in order to begin.
Fr. David Klein has already completed this program at St. John’s Church in Fort Worth, and I am certain that he is willing to commend it to you and to answer any questions you may have about it in advance.
I will not force any of you to comply with this request. At this very tense and troubled time in the life of our Church, I am simply asking each of you to respect and be guided by my pastoral direction and leadership as your bishop by leading your congregation(s) in this discernment program. Ultimately, no one from outside can tell you and your people what you should decide is the best way forward for your congregation. This 40-day program is to help each local congregation, as a body of Christian believers, to enter into a prayerful and reasoned process to help discern a way forward through the crisis that is confronting us.
Please let me know how I can be of assistance as we move forward together as the Holy Spirit leads us.
The Rt. Rev. Jack Leo Iker
Bishop of Fort Worth
September 3, 2008
This message is available on the diocesan Web site.
I am very glad Bishop Iker isn't going to "force" us all to participate in this, given that he has no power to force anyone except clergy to do so.
But as usual, he makes no effort to be even-handed. Just look at how he phrases the question: “Should we remain with TEC or with the Diocese?”
Many of us plan to do both, bishop, since you can't "take' the diocese anywhere.
The question should be "Should we remain with the Episcopal Church, or leave it for some other entity?" The diocese stays right here, and will reorganize itself, elect a new bishop, and get on with God's work in this part of Texas.
The materials the bishop mentions have been produced and copyrighted by The Falls Church and Truro Church Virginia, both of which have left the Episcopal Church to join CANA, the Convocation of Anglicans in America. They claim Martyn Minns, former rector of Truro Church, as their bishop, he having been consecrated by Peter Akinola, Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Nigeria.
I guess I should be glad that at last, Bishop Iker is encouraging discussion of the issues here. But you know, somehow, I just can't bring myself to trust that anything produced by this group wasn't created to produce the outcome they want -- acquiescence to Bishop Iker's desire to leave the Episcopal Church.
Because that is the intent. To leave the Episcopal Church. That's what "separating from the General Convention of the Episcopal Church" means.
And, how insulting is this? "An important factor that has often been forgotten in all of the controversy is the need for prayerful discernment that seeks, above all else, to know what God’s will is for us at this particular time in our life together as a diocesan family."
I've got news for you, Bishop Iker. A whole lot of us have been prayerfully trying to discern what God's will is in this situation for several years now. In fact, far from forgetting prayer, it has been all that has kept some of us going at times in the face of the bullying behavior of some of the clergy here and the massive amounts of disinformation about the Episcopal Church disseminated by you and your supporters.
I cannot speak for Remain Faithful, but I can for Fort Worth Via Media, North Texans Remain Episcopal, both in Wichita Falls and Granbury, and for the Steering Committee North Texas Episcopalians. Prayerful discernment of God's will for us is the entire foundation of what we are doing.
I expect the same is the case for the Remain Faithful group.
And how do you know what all these groups are doing? Because they operate in the open, a concept that seems foreign to our diocesan leadership.
The bishop writes, "At this very tense and troubled time in the life of our Church, I am simply asking each of you to respect and be guided by my pastoral direction and leadership as your bishop by leading your congregation(s) in this discernment program. Ultimately, no one from outside can tell you and your people what you should decide is the best way forward for your congregation."
Gee, let's see. Why is this such a tense and troubled time? Oh, that would be because of all the lies people have been told about the Episcopal Church and all the rumors we hear about what your intentions are. For years you assured us that you had no intention of leaving the Episcopal Church. So did Bishop Pope, right up to the day before he left the Episcopal Church.
So now it's clear you DO intend to leave the Episcopal Church, but to go where? Are you "going to the Southern Cone" or are you "going to Rome"? It's hard to know what to believe when senior priests say one thing and you say another. Frankly, the recent back-and-forth between you and your own loyal clergy over their presentation to the Roman Catholic bishop didn't do a lot for your credibility.
Bishop Iker, while I certainly respect your office, I respectfully decline to be guided by your pastoral direction and leadership on this matter. You have made your intentions clear -- you plan to leave the Episcopal Church, and in so doing, violate the vows you took as a priest and as a bishop to the church that ordained and consecrated you.
During your episcopacy you have not missed one opportunity to say something negative about the Episcopal Church. Indeed I cannot recall you EVER saying anything positive about it in any public forum.
You have refused to worship with other Episcopalians time and again.
The legal arguments you advance to bolster your case are tissue-paper thin.
Your actions are tearing congregations apart, and breaking the hearts of more people than you can imagine. What is being done to the people of this diocese is a sin.
But you are indeed right that no one can tell a priest or a layperson what is right for their congregation. Only the individual priest and layperson can decide that. A parish cannot decide to leave the Episcopal Church. Neither can a diocese.
Even if you say it again and again, it doesn't make it true.
So thanks, but no thanks. I won't be participating in this program. It's too little and waaayyyyy too late, and too slanted to be trusted.