Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Not Too Subtle Attempt to Mislead

The Presiding Bishop and her Executive Council are currently meeting in Fort Worth, and while Cherie Wetzel saw a milder, gentler tone to the opening of the meeting in her post just linked, that may well be because of all the recent small victories in ECUSA's camp: it prevailed on its motion for summary judgment in Fort Worth; Bishop Jefferts Schori was "invited to join the Obama administration", as ENS put it; and the Primates' Meeting in Dublin re-elected her to the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion. It is all the more odd, therefore, that her appearance in Fort Worth was preceded by some unusual shenanigans which seem to have been designed only to mislead, demoralize or confuse the members of one of the larger parishes in Bishop Iker's Fort Worth Diocese.

First, some background:

The first Episcopal services in Fort Worth were held in October 1860. St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, the oldest Episcopal parish in Fort Worth, was founded in 1875, and its current church at 917 Lamar Street was first used in 1912. Arguably, then it could claim title to being the "mother church" of Bishop Iker's Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth. With a congregation surpassing 1000, it is also one of the largest in the Diocese. Under the leadership of the Rev. R. William Dickson, it uses the 1928 Book of Common Prayer in its services, and was firmly behind the Diocese's decision to withdraw from the Episcopal Church (USA) in November 2008.

Its dissident members who chose to remain in ECUSA now hold evening prayer services every Sunday (with Holy Communion on the first Sunday) on the premises of Trinity Episcopal Church, some five miles to the southwest -- also using the liturgy from the 1928 Prayer Book. With both the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies in town, there was an event held Tuesday evening called "An Evening of Reflection and Conversation," at which the audience was afforded the opportunity to purchase any of Bishop Jefferts Schori's three books and have her sign them, in addition to hearing her meditate on the two creation stories of Genesis and to expound on how God's blessing on Jesus at His baptism should be understood as an equivalent blessing upon all those who are "baptized into Jesus' baptism". (If God is so "well pleased" with each and every one of us who is baptized, then why -- no, I decline to go there.)

A week ago, on February 8, Provisional Bishop Wallis Ohl, who is in Fort Worth ministering to those choosing to remain in ECUSA, mailed a letter to the members of St. Andrew's parish -- not the dissident parish, which meets at Trinity, but the parish which is part of Bishop Iker's Diocese. The letter (which you may download and read in full at this link), three pages long, makes absolutely no mention of the fact that those who were addressed meet for services every Sunday in their church at 917 Lamar Street, as they always have, under the leadership of their rector, the Rev. Dickson. No, the letter was written entirely to inform the members of the Lamar Street church about the services held every Sunday evening at Trinity Church, and also to inform them that they could attend the St. Andrew's annual parish meeting to be held following the evening service this past Sunday!

The letter might be seen as a wholly naive, but innocent, attempt to treat both branches of St. Andrew's as really all one big family, especially since it followed so soon on Bishop Ohl's earlier letter written right after Judge Chupp issued his ruling granting summary judgment. It "might" so be seen, I say, but for the bulk of its content, which is a none too subtle attempt to convince Bishop Iker's parishioners that they should cease and desist trying to occupy and use property which does not belong to them. Consider this passage:
Some Episcopalians have been told that if The Episcopal Church prevails in the current litigation that The Episcopal Church will take your place of worship away from you. Let me state plainly -- that is not true.

You will continue to worship at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church using the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. Your parish will continue to operate under the Canons of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth and The Episcopal Church.

Individuals who choose to leave The Episcopal Church cannot continue to control Episcopal Church property, just as if you leave your place of employment, you cannot continue to occupy the property of your former employer and use their name.
It will doubtless come as news to many Episcopalians that their national Church regards them as the equivalent of "employees", and that their parish property, supported solely by their offerings, is actually the property of the national Church. Apart from the fact that the national Church cannot hold title to any property (only its corporate arm, the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, may do so), there is the fact that the title to the property of St. Andrew's is actually held by an entirely separate corporation -- the "Corporation of the Diocese of Fort Worth", first organized under Texas law in 1983, and firmly in the control of Bishop Iker and trustees elected by his Diocese. Bishop Ohl's analogy to an employer-employee relationship is entirely misleading and inapt. But the letter continues undaunted, with another blatant misstatement:
The Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church (church law) hold that all property is held in trust for the use and benefit of the local diocese and The Episcopal Church.
To see just how false this assertion is, let us compare it to what the Dennis Canon actually says (bold emphasis added):
All real and personal property held by or for the benefit of any Parish, Mission or Congregation is held in trust for this Church and the Diocese thereof in which such Parish, Mission or Congregation is located.
So it is not "all property" in the Church, but only that property which is held "by or for the benefit of any Parish, Mission or Congregation" to which the Canon purports to apply. The property of St. Andrew's at 917 Lamar is not held by St. Andrew's, but by the Corporation of the Diocese. And while the Corporation holds the title for the benefit of the parish, it does so also for the benefit of the Diocese of which the Corporation is an agent. This relationship takes precedence over any implied relationship embodied by the Dennis Canon.

(Explanation for the legally inclined: The Dennis Canon does not spell out any express terms of trust, or duties of the trustee; it simply tries to embody a pre-existing implied trust, which supposedly arose out of the relationship of the parish to its diocese, and the relationship of the diocese to the Church as a whole. The trust on which the Diocesan Corporation took title, however, is a real, express trust, with duties of the trustee (Corporation) toward the parish. The law will give effect to the written terms of an express trust where they conflict with any unwritten or implied trust. So long as St. Andrew's, therefore, remains part of Bishop Iker's diocese, with its land held in trust for it by the diocesan Corporation, the Dennis Canon cannot be enforced contrary to that express trust.)

The rest of Bishop Ohl's letter is the standard chestnut that the Episcopal Church is suing everyone in Fort Worth who disagrees with it in order "to protect the assets built up over 170 years in this part of Texas by generations of Episcopalians for the use of The Episcopal Church so they will be available for use by the great-great-grandchildren of those Episcopalians and for generations beyond." If the parishes had left the Church separately, Bishop Ohl might have a case. Judge Chupp did not grasp the difference between a parish separately leaving and a diocese leaving intact with its parishes. (Similar problems are being encountered with individual judges in the Diocese of San Joaquin cases.) The Court of Appeal should be able, with its resources and a full briefing of the issues, to draw the distinction and rule accordingly.

The problem with ECUSA's approach to the diocese cases (and with Bishop Ohl's rationale) is that it conflates dioceses and parishes under one umbrella: ECUSA itself. To ignore the diocesan entities, however, is a betrayal of how ECUSA itself came into being, through a joinder of already existing dioceses into a confederation, not a single, organic entity into which all the founding and subsequently joining dioceses dissolved. The dioceses were separate when they joined, and remain separate today (as when a majority of them and their bishops have to confirm the election of new bishops). But ECUSA (and Bishops like Bishop Ohl) present themselves to the courts as though the dioceses are mere formalities, instead of the very stuff of the Church itself.

The Reverend Dickson did not passively accept Bishop Ohl's attempt to proselytize and demoralize his parishioners. In a letter to them written February 12th, he wrote:
Last week TEC continued its harassment of the Diocese and our parish in particular.

Bishop Wallis Ohl, who is currently masquerading as the Bishop of Fort Worth under the orders of TEC, sent an absurd letter to St. Andrew's parishioners inviting them to attend their own Annual Meeting latcr in February.

TEC persists in this charade in an effort to confuse the courts and assume control of our churches and our assets. However, be assured that the leadership of St. Andrew's and the Diocese are neither confused nor intimidated.

After more than 100 years, St. Andrew's remains a bulwark of the Fort Worth Diocese under the godly episcopal oversight of the Right Reverend Jack Leo Iker, sound financially, strong spiritually, and conducting traditional orthodox worship and ministry for Fort Worth families.

The conduct of TEC is an abomination; have no fear.


  1. Nothing surprises me or rather anyone when it comes to TEC and their rump diocese of “North Texas”. What I don’t understand is this fascination with St. Andrew’s parish. Could someone shed some light as to why Ohl and his gang have focused on this one parish in the Diocese of Ft. Worth? I realize the historical importance of St. Andrews, being the so-called “mother church” of the Diocese, but come on! The market (taxable) value on it is just under $2.5 million and I'm sure there are certainly other parishes worth more. Were there more members of St. Andrews who chose to leave and go with TEC than any other parish who voted to leave TEC?

    Ohl has this vision of TEC winning at each court level and in the end, owning all the property. He even seems to think that once the battle is won, that everyone will simply continue to worship as members of TEC and all will be well, that those who are faithful to the truth, that is, the real Diocese of Ft. Worth, will abandon Bishop Iker. I hardly think that Ohl and Shori will allow the clergy to “come back” to TEC.

    In the end, there are no winners in this entire property rights case, only losers. In any scenario, TEC looses. If they end up winning from the 2d Court of Appeals and then the Texas Supreme Court (and I guess US Supreme Court), they actually loose. They will gain nothing but a large number of empty buildings which will need to be paid for, up kept, etc. Even IF some of those parishes still have worshipers who just don’t care who they belong to and remain, none will have enough plate and pledges to keep the lights on. TEC will be forced to sell property and we all know they will not sell to the Anglican Diocese of Ft. Worth. They will sell to the likes of wiccans or even Muslim groups. If TEC looses in 2d Court of Appeals and Texas Supreme Court (and I guess US Supreme Court), they lose, but they really lose nothing. They are out nothing. There are only a few, enough to count on my hand, of loyalist TEC parishes who are worshiping in locations other than an Episcopal building. If in the end we (Diocese of Ft. Worth) lose, we only lose physical property as we still have 80% of the members of the Diocese and will end up with 0% of the mortgages, etc.! If we win, we gain nothing in the way of property because it’s already ours. We would; however, gain peace and will gain the ability to do what we are supposed to do, grow Christ’s One Holy and Apostolic Church without having to take time to sit in court battles. So, if TEC wins, they actually loose; if the real Diocese of Ft. Worth looses, they lose only property and if they win, they win nothing they don’t already own.

  2. I found it amusing that Bp. Ohl would let these people use the 1928 BCP. It is so radically different from the abomination of 1979. will he allow the 1940 Hymnal also, as a sop to the 'traditionalists'? One wonders!

    Rdr. james