Episcopal News Service today references a letter from the Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to Presiding Bishop Venables of the Province of the Southern Cone. She writes, "The actions contemplated by some leaders in Forth Worth are profoundly uncanonical." No doubt she is referencing the changes in the constitution and canons of the Diocese of Fort Worth, some of which will require a second vote this fall. Executive Council has already ruled that constitutional changes that remove the accession to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church are invalid, null and void, as are Diocesan canons that deny the validity or applicability of the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church in any of its specifics.
But the actions contemplated by some leaders in Fort Worth include plans for farming out the oversight of parishes that do not wish to join the Bishop and others in "discontinuing its (i.e. the Diocese of Fort Worth's) association with The Episcopal Church" to the Diocese of Dallas.
This last weekend I received an anonymously sent and unsolicited copy of a Draft proposal for "The Fort Worth Plan" dated 4/09/08, and marked Confidential, although without any attribution as to author or source of the request of confidentiality. Accompanying that was a draft of "Canon 41, Associated Congregations" which is referenced in "The Fort Worth Plan" as a proposed canonical change in the Diocese of Dallas. Both documents are scanned as jpeg pages and are available HERE.
The objectives of the Fort Worth plan are listed as follows:
"Through Canons adopted by both EDFW (Fort Worth) and EDD (Dallas), we will create a vehicle for EDFW Parishes to formally associate themselves with the EDD within TEC.
Such arrangement needs to be transparent, pastoral, voluntary, and flexible, creating a "safe harbor" for those Parishes and schools wanting to continue to be Episcopalian. At the same time, the arrangement needs to provide Parishes appropriate pastoral oversight and a means to participate fully in the life of the EDD, subject to limitations imposed by the Constitution and Canons of TEC."
The Plan is proposed as a pastoral response to those parishes wishing to remain part of the Episcopal Church. The plan clearly states that "Nothing in this Plan is intended to sanction or promote EDFW's disassociation from TEC." But of course it assumes the success of such effort, in that it is meant to provide a contingency plan for parishes that wish to remain part of the TEC IF EDFW leaves TEC. Without impugning the motives of the authors of this Plan, and assuming it exists for pastoral purposes, it is still quite an amazingly misguided proposal.
Several things to note:
To suggest that Episcopal Parishes ought to become part of an adjoining Diocese rather than stay where they are, maintaining that they are parishes of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth (EDFW), is a convenient way to get them out of the way, so that the leaders of the current EDFW can claim that all their parishes have gone with them to the Province of the Southern Cone or whatever other Province with which they may wish to align. This saves the current leadership of EDFW from the inconvenient truth that they have left the Episcopal Church and may no longer have rights to hold the property of the EDFW, etc. It also turns the parishes in question into petitioners – asking for admission elsewhere – when in fact they are the remaining members of the real EDFW.
Whatever the pastoral motivations (and I am sure there are some), this Plan has the effect of reducing the authority of these parishes to zero as regards the EDFW and its future and places them in a position of powerlessness as regards both the leadership of EDFW and EDD – being the ones leaving the first, and petitioning the second for admission. However, as it stands now those parishes wishing to remain part of The Episcopal Church ARE the EDFW if and when most of the leadership, clergy and parishioners leave for other venues. There is absolute value in the stance that these parishes REMAIN EPISCOPAL.
As to the Canons, etc. The Episcopal Diocese of Dallas (EDD) (according to the section "Plan 1") "will advise the Presiding Bishop of TEC of this Plan and solicit her concurrence." Under what authority might she give such concurrence? Article 5.6 of the Constitution of the Episcopal Church provides for the possibility of jurisdiction for some territory of one diocese to be ceded to another. What is required in such cases is concurrence of General Convention to the request made by both Dioceses of such changes. While it is not stated there, it seems that the territory ceded from the one to the other is expected to be contiguous.
There is no provision for parishes to become "Associated Parishes" of a Diocese in which they are not physically located, nor indeed for the ceding of territory to be made on the basis of parishes at all. On the matters being proposed in the Fort Worth Plan there seems to be no guidance from the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church.
The matter of canonical residence for the clergy wishing to remain part of the Episcopal Church is even more confused.
The Presiding Bishop said, apparently of the contemplation of those actions that will lead to an attempt to capture the flag and march off to the Southern Cone or elsewhere, that they "are profoundly uncanonical." In pursuit of those ends it is not surprising that the leadership of Fort Worth with help from friends in Dallas would put forward The Fort Worth Plan. Under the guise of being a pastoral provision it reduces the congregations and clergy of the EDFW wishing to continue as Episcopalians to powerless petitioners devoid of any authority, save that of refugee.
Worse, of course, it gives the current leadership of EDFW apparent authority to declare the jurisdiction of the current diocese their own and in turn that territory (now vacated by those terrible Episcopalians) as part of this or that intruder Province.
Quite a plan!
The answer to all such plans must be NO. Episcopalians have every reason to be in Fort Worth; Episcopal Church parishes have no reason to seek cover in Dallas; all of this is totally unnecessary. They have the authority to be the Episcopal Church in place and the power that derives from the ministry of all baptized persons to be the church in place. The Plan is a diversion and confusing. It is the product of people making it up as they go along.
Episcopalians in Fort Worth have only to organize and claim their authority to constitute a continuing Episcopal body in that jurisdiction. The Living Church article on the Presiding Bishop's visit to the Diocese of Dallas had this to say, "Bishop Jefferts Schori assured her questioners that a plan similar to the one employed in San Joaquin has already been prepared. When the Fort Worth delegation declared that they have been forgotten in this battle, the Presiding Bishop replied, "Have you been watching San Joaquin? They were not forgotten and now show dynamic signs of new life. You will not be forgotten, either."
Fr. Jake has been following events in Fort Worth, particularly the development of the Standing Committee of North Texas Episcopalians, and frequent visits to his blog will be important in the next few days. I can attest from personal experience in a visit to meet with many in the diocese who intend to remain Episcopalians that there are those who have every intention of staying where they are and being the Episcopal Church in Fort Worth.
Go for it!