The day dawned cloudy, the sky heavy with the promise of much-needed rain. That promise was the only one unfulfilled by the end of the day as the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth elected a bishop, a Standing Committee, deputies to General Convention and filled many other offices left vacant when our former bishop and others left the Episcopal Church.
As our new Bishop Ted Gulick said, “The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth is alive and well and open for business.”
The day was bookended by prayer, beginning with a joyous Eucharist at All Saints Episcopal Church. Shannon Worrell and her band of merry volunteers had made the sanctuary a flower-filled ode to joy, with white roses, lilies, and enormous hydrangeas massed at the altar, on the columns, and hung like bunting along the choir stalls. The chapel, the Parish Hall and the parlor were equally gorgeous, with flowers bedecking each large-screen TV that allowed the overflow crowd to participate in the festival Eucharist.
The woodwork gleamed and the stone walls themselves almost hummed with the sense of anticipation and joy as people gathered. People greeted one another with smiles and hugs and cries of “Did you ever believe we’d see this day?” Old campaigners and young happy Episcopalians alike beamed at one another as they sorted out tickets and badges and who was to vest where.
All Saints‘rector, Christopher Jambor, had to have been tired from the intense weeks of planning that led to this day, but you couldn’t tell it by the smile on his face and the pride with which he shone as he watched his parishioners greet worshipers, direct visiting bishops and local clergy to the correct rooms, and sort out where everyone would be sitting.
The quiet arrival of the car carrying Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori almost went unnoticed until she stepped out, and then the small crowd at the entrance broke into applause and cries of “Welcome!” She smiled and waved as she carried the bag with her vestments inside, leaving some young observers – and some older ones – almost breathless.
“She’s here! She’s really here!” a woman said. “This really IS going to happen!”
As the procession formed up, happy choir members and excited clergy almost danced in place as they awaited the signal to begin. Visiting bishops greeted one another and the day began to take on the feel of a reunion of a family too long separated one from other.
Then Bishop Katharine joined the procession. As it began moving, the crosses and candles and colorful vestments and smiles and tears of joy caused one news photographer ask me, “This is amazing. Do you guys do this every Sunday?”
As the procession entered the church, a woman turned and saw Katharine and burst into tears. Katharine stopped, put her hands on her shoulders and said, ‘Everything’s going to be all right.”
The joyful singing almost took the roof off, as the organ was joined by trumpets and tympani. The All Saints Choir outdid itself – and given that many members of that choir have been working for years to make this diocese more inclusive, singing beautifully was no small feat, considering how emotional some of them must have been.
Bishop Katharine was pitch-perfect all day, her low calm voice acting like balm to wounded people. Her sermon, which can be seen here, hit the mark exactly. One priest, a gifted preacher himself, told me later, “That woman can preach!”
No small praise coming from a man who was once one of the diocese’ leading opponents of women’s ordination.
Evidence of such growth and change was everywhere, as people began to move into the sense of happy liberation that was pervading the day.
Several people who were in the parlor told me later that just as Katharine raised her hand in the final blessing, the sun broke through the clouds and streamed in through the middle window of the chapel. And as soon as the service ended, the sun disappeared. One woman said, “My husband leaned over and said, “Did you see that light?”
As the service ended, and the clergy and choir recessed and began to gather outside the big double doors, Bishop Katherine emerged. She stepped to one side until one of the clergy asked for her blessing. As she stepped forward and raised her hand, nearly all the priests spontaneously knelt, surprising her and themselves. One of them said to me later, “I fell to my knees, undone by the power of the moment. I wasn’t expecting that, but it seemed so RIGHT.”
The delegates, clergy and visiting bishops went off to have lunch with Bishop Katharine, and everyone else headed for Trinity, where the convention was to be held.
Trinity also gleamed, with lovely flowers everywhere. Volunteers had registration so organized that there were no bottlenecks. The press was fed lunch and information, the delegates found their seats and promptly at 1:30, Bishop Katharine called this special meeting of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth into session.
We elected Bishop Ted Gulick, installed him, and Bp. Katherine turned the chair over to him. There was much good humor throughout the business session, as delegates worked their way through the elections and resolutions necessary to get us reorganized.
Delegates approved a budget of more than $600,000, based on assessments of the five intact parishes and pledges from the displaced parishes and faith communities and the promise of $200,000 from the national Church.
It was a day of small pleasures as well as of big change. Woman after woman remarked on how nice it was to hear Bp. Gulick address us as "Sisters and brothers," and to speak of "Daughters and sons of God."
After convention adjourned, we moved into Evensong, with acolytes processing in carrying parish banners, many just completed.
We are on our way.
And I am on my way out of town. More later as I get time, and access to the Internet.