Reorganized Diocese of Fort Worth is ‘participating in resurrection’

Episcopalians are learning how to ‘be church,’ not just ‘go to church’

Editor’s note: This is the first in a continuing series about the reinvention of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth. This story was updated Jan. 9 with an explanation of how the Diocese of Fort Worth has calculated its growth statistics.

[Episcopal News Service – Fort Worth, Texas] For Episcopalians who think of “church” as a place to go rather than a thing to be, the continuing Diocese of Fort Worth has some stories to share.

They are stories of more than reorganizing – or even resuscitating – a diocesan and congregational structure after a majority of former clergy and lay leaders voted in November 2008 to leave the Episcopal Church. They are stories of resurrection – of Episcopalians reinventing church and, in the process, themselves.

“We‘re not trying to rebuild an old church,” says Fort Worth Bishop Provisional J. Scott Mayer, who is also the bishop of the Diocese of Northwest Texas. “We are trying to participate in resurrection to become a new body.”

Those people have built new ministries and, in the process, are developing new ways of being the church as they serve their communities.

And, when they “go to church,” some Fort Worth Episcopalians are worshipping in unconventional spaces such as a theater and a strip mall. In one instance, the Wise County Episcopalians are worshipping in a building that began its life as the Episcopal Mission of the Ascension in 1889 and during the intervening years has been a mattress factory and, most recently, a wedding chapel.

Even the bishop’s office is different. While the model of a bishop provisional is being used elsewhere in the Episcopal Church, it is still a relative rarity but one which Mayer thinks illustrates how dioceses could pool their resources.

He notes that Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania Bishop Sean Rowe, who is also the bishop provisional of the Diocese of Bethlehem in the eastern part of that state, points out that in the 1960s the Episcopal Church had fewer dioceses but now has more dioceses and fewer people.

“That may not be a sustainable model for all of us,” Mayer said, adding that while he is not necessarily advocating combining dioceses, the Church may need to find new ways to share diocesan resources.

“And, in this case, the resource to share would be the bishop,” he said.

Mayer is Fort Worth’s fourth bishop provisional. The first was then-Bishop of Kentucky Edwin F. “Ted” Gulick Jr. He was followed by retired Northwest Texas Bishop C. Wallis Ohl Jr. and then retired Texas Bishop Suffragan Rayford B. High Jr.

Fort Worth has 17 congregations, including a Lutheran congregation pastored by an Episcopal priest. In the time since the split, the diocese has seen a 19.3 percent increase in communicant members and an 11.9 percent increase in operating revenue. Since reorganizing in 2009, Fort Worth has annually paid the full amount asked of it by the Episcopal Church to support the churchwide triennial budget.  It is the only one of six dioceses in the state of Texas to do so.

Fort Worth Communication Director Katie Sherrod told Episcopal News Service that after the reorganization of the diocese in 2009, all its records were in disarray since the former bishop was occupying the diocesan offices and other Episcopal Church property. “We spent 2009 and 2010 locating Episcopalians, reconstructing congregations, finding clergy, and locating places to worship. By 2011/2012, we finally had a realistic assessment of membership in the congregations of the diocese,” she said. “It is those figures on which our assessment of our growth is based.”

Transforming the way the Episcopal Church ministers in the 24 counties of north central Texas comes out of necessity, in part, as the Episcopal Church and the diocese seek to recover property and other assets still controlled those who left. The Texas Court of Appeals is considering the case after hearing oral arguments in the case on April 19, 2016.

“It is anticipated, however, that the decision of this court will be appealed to the Texas Supreme Court by whichever party the ruling goes against at the Court of Appeals level,” Sherrod said.

The wider Episcopal Church has supported the diocese’s reinvention. The Executive Council, which has met in the diocese twice since the split, in June offered a combination of a direct grant from the churchwide budget, money raised by the Church’s development office and the presiding bishop, and grants for church planting and mission enterprise zone development through the Resolution 2015-D005 church planting process.

The funding, being matched by the diocese and its congregations, is helping to support clergy who are in charge of fast-growing faith communities.

The 4 Saints Food Pantry, an effort to respond to the needs of and to build relationships with hungry people in a food desert on the east side of Fort Worth, has received a $20,000 Mission Enterprise Zone grant. The ministry will use the money to begin buying equipment required for a licensed food pantry. The pantry will operate out of St. Luke’s in the Meadow Episcopal Church, Fort Worth. Eventually, it will formally partner with the Tarrant Area Food Bank. St. Luke’s; St. Martin’s, Keller-Southlake; St. Stephen’s, Hurst; and St. Alban’s (worshiping in Theatre Arlington), are the four “saints” partnering in the ministry.

Other grant requests, including one to plant a church on the fast-growing west side of Fort Worth, are in process, in an effort to claim additional funds related to D005, Sherrod said.

In the coming days, Episcopal News Service will feature four of the Diocese of Fort Worth’s resurrection stories.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service.

Comments

  1. I appreciate that there are some numbers in this article, as well as godly storytelling. Allow me to encourage more use of numbers, good and bad, in your series – though the good ones are sure nice to see. Congratulations, people of Fort Worth. You rock!

    I certainly was struck by Dio Fort Worth’s paying its full DFMS assessment – and the fact that none of its wealthier neighbors do. This missionary society of ours does less mission as a result. (This of course goes for everyone else in arrears too; maybe mine, I’ll check.)

    Till then I look forward to more godly storytelling from Ms. Schjonberg. We can always use more resurrection!++

    P.S. Is godly storytelling a thing, or did I just make that up? I kind of like the sound of it; if it’s a thing and I’m late to the party, kudos to the better informed. It’s certainly what I hope to hear, see, watch and read from clergy and lay – and the kind of stories I know we try to tell each other, which is why I love this church. Can’t wait for the next episode.

  2. Jon Spangler says:

    “We are trying to participate in resurrection to become a new body.” (Bishop Provisional J. Scott Mayer)

    EVERY church and diocese should be renewing itself continuously in order to “make all things new.” Otherwise we have missed the mark and are not fulfilling the charge Jesus and His Father gave us by the grace of the Holy Spirit. I hope the Diocese of Fort Worth is as successful in court as it has been in “walking the walk” since 2008.

    As a member of St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church (http://www.saintgregorys.org) in San Francisco since 1998, I have seen that this self-renewal and reinvention is not only possible but critically necessary for the success and nurturance of our life together. Keep the faith!

  3. the rev. Ann van dervoort says:

    I am so happy for the diocese of Ft. Worth, the faithful Episcopalians and their clergy, especially the women! I was there during the dark days when the Episcopal Women’s Caucus had to celebrate the Eucharistic in a local synagogue. We were ever so grateful to our Jewish friends. It was a painful time, and I am thrilled about the “resurrection.”

  4. Martha Belury says:

    My father, Father Bill Belury, (former Rector of St John’s Fort Worth, 1980-1994) was very sad to see the split of the church in his home diocese over such a trivial issue. Dad truly walked the walk of feeding the poor, sheltering the downtrodden and loving ALL of our neighbors. I believe that the work of the newly formed Diocese would have brought joy to Dad. And, it is inspiring to me to see people participating in the resurrection.

  5. John Miller says:

    While I am not happy that we, as a church, could not reconcile our differences, I am eager to see the split as a means to rethink what kind of church we want to be. This story is heart-warming. I am in a diocese that went through the same issues. It will cause us to pray for God’s guidance in the renewal of our diocese.

  6. Noreen Lundeen says:

    In some ways a “unity” in a liberal sense is possible, however being a former Lutheran and a seminary graduate and now being an Episcopalian I would stress CARE in any sharing of
    “Clergy” as Lutherans DO NOT ACCEPT HOLY ORDERS and if there are any exchange of
    deacons it should be made clear that LUTHERANS DO NOT CONSIDER DEACONS TO BE
    CLERGY. There are most likely other differences that need to be addressed. Unity, or
    working together is good, care and respect for important differences in rites and tradition
    must be carefully acknowledged.

    • Michael Stone says:

      I attend St.Stephen’s Episcopal Church, in Guymon OK, and we are blessed to be served by an ELCA pastor, whose parish is 20 miles to the south, at Oslo TX, and he is learning the Episcopal ‘ways’ and enjoying it. He has even attended our diocesan convention in OK. Apart from celebrating the Eucharist twice a month he has made visitations and assisted at the funeral of a long-time member.

  7. Maxanna Demko says:

    Congratulatlons to The Diocese Fort Worth in THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH. We are a great CHURCH body and denomination. Too bad that the departing dioceses couldn’t see that. Our diocese has a few slogans. You can check them out on our.website: http://www.dohio.org. May God continually bless The Episcopal Church along with our wonderful Presiding Bishop, The Most Rverend Michael B. Curry, Jr,!!! I love OUR CHURCH!!!

  8. Jeffrey Cox says:

    In my opinion if I worked at 815, Would find a way to reconcile with the other diocese. How? I would allow them to continue to participate in the Pension and Health Insurance Programs, create common Christian education curriculum, drop all law suits, and wait. Reconciliation will come in a natural way. When it is time to come back, the church would be stronger.

    Bishop Rowe is right. The Episcopal Church has too much bureaucracy for its membership. We need 25 percent fewer diocese by 2020. You can have as many Bishops as you need. Let some of them also serve churches or other missions. Stop funding places that are not sustainable. The reminder of FT Worth is not sustainable. The church is holding on to get buildings in a law suit, sell them, and capitalize the profits to sustain the structure. Wrong approach! Our goal should be to grow the “Jesus Movement,” not the church.

  9. Jeffrey Cox says:

    …I meant….grow the “Jesus Movement,” not the church structure.

  10. Melinda Ray says:

    A response, just my personal opinion, to Jeffrey Cox. First and foremost, those who LEFT the Episcopal CHOSE to leave us, not the other way around. And it is like being married. You cannot force someone to remain a part of a marriage if in their heart and mind they CHOOSE to leave. As for sustainable. Our congregation and every other congregation in this diocese have worked long and hard over the past years to return to being self-supporting. AND we pay our assessment both locally AND to the National Church. Many of us have been blessed with increases in membership and are doing well, thanks be to God. Our church has taken VERY little in the way of help, and has become much more fiscally responsible. Indeed in many ways – including spiritually – we are healthier than we have ever been. Who are you to judge us unsustainable? We are a part of the kingdom of God, and the Jesus movement, and we have been blessed beyond measure in too many ways to even begin to list. We may not have big fancy buildings but we have the Love of Jesus Christ, and are determined to continue to be His light and hands and feet in the world. Don’t you dare tell us we aren’t sustainable. With Christ for us, who can stand against us. AMEN.;

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