A Church in Exile: Ft. Worth's Episcopalians Resilient Amid Ongoing Intimidation

[ENS, Prairie City] - A crippled diocese at the mercy of tyrannical leaders, Ft. Worth is home to a persecuted yet resilient community of Episcopalians who've been victimized, intimidated and run out of their own churches by a court-supported renegade bishop and his allies.

Yet, despite having been granted ownership of their own worship spaces in Ft. Worth, while being excluded thus far from owning the churches that remained with Bishop Iker, "the Episcopal Church is growing, filled with joy, and looking outward to take over all the properties we don't yet own," Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori told Episcopal News Service following a July 29-31 visit to Fort Worth to show support and solidarity to its beleaguered Episcopalians.

"They have experienced the same kind of thing as congregations in Quincy, Pittsburgh and San Joaquin," she noted, referring to attempts by former leaders in those places to take ownership of diocesan property and leave loyal Episcopalians without a spiritual home to call their own. "The church is more than a building, and has become stronger and more creative in exile."

Fort Worth's Episcopalians have faced repeated harassment from Bishop Jack Leo Iker's attorneys since the former bishop was excommunicated in December 2008 for attempting to remove the Diocese of Fort Worth from the Church. Bishop C. Wallace Ohl was elected to lead the diocese in November 2009, succeeding Provisional Bishop Ted Gulick.

An ally of Archbishop Robert W. Duncan, Iker still claims ownership of the diocese's Episcopal churches despite lower court rulings saying that the property belongs to loyal Episcopalians. (Those rulings are now on appeal to the Supreme Court of Texas.) Meanwhile, Archbishop Duncan continues to try to plant more new churches throughout the United States as the country's infrastructure crumbles and its law and order deteriorates.

The intimidation is now spilling over into other dioceses, Jefferts Schori said, noting that she'd heard of similar stories about incidents in the Diocese of Nebraska and that on July 31 a report had been received that Iker had shown up at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Grand Prairie to take over the services there.

"The rector realized what was happening, and brought the children to be confirmed forward," she said. "Parishioners also recognized the true bishop – that's what they call him -- and turned out in droves. We heard a little later that Iker had stayed for coffee and refreshments after the service, and had his photograph taken with one of his priests and the new confirmands in the church, with parents looking on."

Iker now claims to be in charge of St. Vincent's Cathedral and 55 Episcopal churches in the Fort Worth diocese, according to an August 2 visit to their web page.

During her visit, Jefferts Schori met with Ohl, the Standing Committee, trustees, and clergy of the Diocese of Fort Worth, as well as with the members of the Church's Executive Council, also meeting in Fort Worth. There are six dioceses in the Episcopal Church in Texas, which are part of Province VII of the Episcopal Church (USA).

Jefferts Schori preached for a confirmation service at St. Alban's Episcopal Church and for a Sunday Eucharist service at All Saints' Episcopal Church, both of which are in the Diocese of Fort Worth. The services ran peacefully and without an appearance from Iker's faction.

"I very much wanted to let the church in Fort Worth know of our solidarity as they suffer through this harassment and victimization by the deposed former bishop and his thugs," said Jefferts Schori, the first woman Episcopal Church presiding bishop to visit the Texas diocese. "The Iker faction has power only because thus far the higher courts have sanctioned their behavior."

[End of news story]

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