Fort Worth votes to secede from Episcopal Church

Monday, 17th November 2008. 11:16am

By: George Conger.

The Anglo-Catholic movement in America is dead, the Rt Rev Jack Iker said following the secession of the Diocese of Fort Worth from the Episcopal Church on Nov 15.

Fort Worth votes to secede from Episcopal Church

By a margin of almost four to one, the 225 members of the Fort Worth Synod meeting at St Vincent’s Cathedral in Bedford, Texas, on Nov 14-15 passed the second readings of five constitutional amendments severing America’s last traditionalist Anglo-Catholic diocese from the Episcopal Church and adopted a motion affiliating with the Province of the Southern Cone.

Over the last 12 months three other American dioceses: San Joaquin, Pittsburgh and Quincy have quit the Episcopal Church over its innovations in doctrine and discipline to take temporary refuge in the Province of the Southern Cone, pending the formation of a Third Province in North America for traditionalist Anglicans. Fort Worth was the last diocese in the Episcopal Church, after the defection of Quincy last week and San Joaquin in 2007, to decline to license or ordain women to the priesthood.

Its departure marks the end of the traditionalist Anglo-Catholic movement in the US church Bishop Iker said. “The Anglo-Catholic branch is more than just wearing fancy vestments,” he explained. “It is the use of the Vincentian Canon;” the fifth century monk St Vincent of Lerins taught the mark of the Catholic Church was that it held a once-for-all received faith, witnessed everywhere and by all. [Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est.]

Anglo-Catholicism in America “has been dying for 30 years,” Bishop Iker said in a press conference after the secession vote. “Now it is virtually eliminated.” With the secession of the last three Anglo-Catholic dioceses and the traditionalist diocese of Pittsburgh, Bishop Iker said the “centre” of the Episcopal Church “keeps moving to the left and the right is redefined as of today. Now the dioceses of South Carolina, Dallas, Albany, Central Florida and Springfield are the radical extreme right wing of this church.”

The unilateral declaration of independence by the four dioceses is the first secession from the Episcopal Church over matters of doctrine and discipline. No other dioceses are expected to quit the Episcopal Church in 2009, though calls made by several dioceses and liberal leaders to repudiate any Anglican Covenant, authorize gay bishops and gay marriage rites, relax the rubrics of the Prayer Book to permit Communion of the unbaptized, and redefine the church’s teaching on the nature and person of Christ may cause further defections.

In 1862 the Southern dioceses quit the Episcopal Church to form the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States of America. The Southern dioceses withdrew to form their own church in independent Confederate States as a matter of ecclesiology, rejoining the American church in 1866 following the military defeat of the South. Other dioceses formed in Mexico, Central America, Brazil, Liberia and the Philippines have withdrawn with the approval of the Episcopal Church’s General Convention to form their own or affiliate with other provinces, while international politics has seen Cuba forcibly removed from the US Church. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has argued that while individuals may leave the Episcopal Church, dioceses may not. Following the vote she issued a statement saying, “The Episcopal Church grieves the departures of a number of persons from the Diocese of Fort. Worth. We remind those former Episcopalians that the door is open if they wish to return. We will work with Episcopalians in the Diocese of Fort Worth to elect new leadership and continue the work of the gospel in that part of Texas. The gospel work to which Jesus calls us demands the best efforts of faithful people from many theological and social perspectives, and The Episcopal Church will continue to welcome that diversity.”

Bishop Iker said Saturday’s vote to secede offered “no surprises,” and the mood of the synod had been “respectful, generous and loving.”

Parishes who wished to affiliate with the national Episcopal Church may do so, while clergy have been offered the option of transferring out of the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of Fort Worth to “another Anglican jurisdiction.” Litigation is expected from the national church offices to prevent the breakaway diocese from effecting an orderly departure. In his synod address, Bishop Iker said he expected the national church “will move to depose not only me, but every deacon and priest here present who votes for realignment at this Convention.

“I call upon the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church and her colleagues to halt the litigation, to stop the depositions, and to cease the intimidation of traditional believers,” he said.

“Let us pursue a mediated settlement, a negotiated agreement that provides for a fair and equitable solution for all parties, and let us resist taking punitive actions against our opponents. Christians are called to work out our differences with one another, not sue one another in secular courts,” Bishop Iker said.

However, “the Episcopal Church we once knew no longer exists,” he said. “To contend for the faith as traditional Episcopalians has brought us to this time of realignment in the Body of Christ,” the Bishop of Fort Worth said.

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