To the clergy and people of the diocese:
On April 14, 2009, the newly formed diocese of Fort Worth, along with representatives of The Episcopal Church (TEC), filed a lawsuit in a Tarrant Count, Texas, court. The suit names Bishop Iker and the five-person Board of Trustees for the Corporation of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth as defendants.
As you might remember, at our 2007 diocesan convention we passed a revised canon outlining a process that could be used if a parish disagreed with the course of the diocese. At the end of the process, if reconciliation were not possible, the canon provided that the church property would be released to the congregation. Even after our 2008 convention, where we ratified our decision to separate from TEC by an 80 percent majority, none of the congregations wishing to remain loyal to The Episcopal Church asked for that procedure to be used.
However, the facts allowed the Bishop and the Standing Committee to investigate, and at the end of our investigation, the properties of Trinity Church, Fort Worth, and St. Martin in the Fields, Keller, were deeded to their respective congregations. At the same time, two other parishes ”“ St. Christopher’s in Fort Worth, and St. Luke’s in Stephenville ”“ were contacted. They had outstanding building loans which were made in the name of the Diocese. The Diocese offered to release their properties to them if they would renegotiate the loans and remove the Diocese from their notes. St. Luke’s renegotiated their note and had their property deeded to them. As soon as we hear from St. Christopher’s, we will do the same for them.
We’ve done everything we can think to do to make a settlement with any congregation that wants to stay with TEC. Bishop Iker and the Standing Committee have no wish to take property from those churches that do not wish to remain with us.
But Kathleen Wells, the chancellor for the new TEC diocese, has said publicly it’s all or nothing. “We’re not feudal lords where the bishops get together and play poker and say, ”˜You have this property, and we’ll keep this one.’
“They’re using our name; they’re holding themselves out to be the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth,” Wells said of us.
The lawsuit filed in April demands that properties held by the Corporation for the benefit of the people be given to them. It also asks that we stop using the name and seal of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth.
Wells says the new diocese is merely a continuation of the one originally organized in 1982, located in a geographic area that includes 24 North Central Texas counties. The new diocese claims all 56 congregations in Fort Worth, Arlington, Hurst-Euless-Bedford, Wichita Falls, Weatherford, Brownwood, Stephenville, and elsewhere in the 24-county area. “That’s the number we had before Nov. 15, [2008,] when our diocesan convention met and some of these individuals left. We still claim all 55 [sic] and their property,” Wells said.
We will respond to the lawsuit with an appropriate defense. Please keep the bishop, Board of Trustees, and the members of the Standing Committee, in your prayers. Pray that we may respond in humility, in love, and in faith.
The Rev. Dr. Thomas Hightower
President, Standing Committee
The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth