Sunday, November 16, 2008

Contending for the Faith

I took time out from my vacation to go to the 26th Annual Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, held last Friday and Saturday at St Vincent's Cathedral in Bedford. Here are some pictures I took, along with some of my favorite excerpts from the bishop's convention address.

This past year has been a tense and at times contentious period in the life of our diocese. Every one of our congregations has engaged the controversies that are before us, some more than others. Most of our churches have hosted forums and conducted study groups on why we are doing what we are doing. Differences of opinion remain in our church family, but we cannot avoid the decision that is before us. Some can no longer remain within the structures of The Episcopal Church, and others cannot bring themselves to leave TEC, even though they may disagree with the direction it is headed. Some have encouraged us to stay and fight as the faithful remnant in TEC, to work for reform from within. I can only reply by quoting the saying that “the definition of insanity is to keep on doing the same thing, expecting different results.” The time has come to choose a new path and direction, to secure a spiritual future for our children and our grand-children.

Today we shall make the decision in the only way we can – by the constitutional, legislative process of this Diocesan Convention, which is the only body that can speak with authority on behalf of all the congregations of this Diocese. No Vestry can override or disregard what is decided here today. Once the vote is cast, we have decided what we will do as a Diocese. If some must separate from the Diocese as a result, then so be it. But let the parting of the ways be as between friends in Christ, without rancor or ill will, without trying to punish or force one another to do what we cannot do.

I have chosen “Contending for the Faith” as the theme of this year’s Convention, for it speaks to the heart of the matter that is before us. It comes from the Epistle of Jude, a letter written to warn the faithful against false teachers who had made their way into the church of the first century. Though we are not told much about the content of their teaching, we are told that they were immoral and covetous men, who rejected authority and created divisions in the Church of God. St. Jude urges his readers to “contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (verse 3) and to stand firm against false teaching and immorality. And so we shall at this Convention, for the controversies that surround us have to do with standing for the truth of the Gospel.

I am certain that in the months ahead, leaders of TEC will move to depose not only me, but every deacon and priest here present who votes for realignment at this Convention. Sad to say, some of you here in this Convention hall will cooperate with and facilitate those plans. It is my belief that such a course of action is not only unreasonable and uncharitable, but violates our ecclesiological understanding of what the Anglican Communion claims to be. If we are a worldwide Communion of Provinces who share a common faith, practice and ministry, then it does not make sense to depose clergy who move from one Province to another. No one is abandoning the Communion of the Church by realigning with another Province. The far better way to proceed would be for TEC to accept the fact that a realignment has occurred, to recognize the transfer of this Diocese to another Province of the Anglican Communion, and to wish us well in the name of the Lord. There is something deeply disturbing about a Church that would prefer to litigate and depose rather than to negotiate a peaceful, amicable separation among brothers and sisters in Christ who can no longer walk together. 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. Instead, 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.

I call upon those who dissent from the decision we make today as a Diocese to remain as faithful worshipping members in your local congregation. If we could welcome diversity and still worship with those who disagree with us before this Convention, then surely we can continue to do so after this Convention. Your church family will still be there for you tomorrow and next Sunday and the Sunday after that. I urge you to remain fully active in your church home, where you have been nurtured and fed, where you are still wanted and loved. I urge you to resist the appeals to go off and find alternative meeting places so that you might worship separately from the rest of your parish family in the weeks ahead. Regardless of the decision of this Convention, there is no reason why we cannot continue to worship together in the future just as we have in the past. Let us strive to maintain the unity of the Spirit, in the bond of peace, in every congregation of this Diocese, where there is room for everyone.

You can read the whole speech here, or view it below.

It was such a blessing to have Bishop Godfrey of Peru with us at the convention, who brought greetings from his clergy and people.

As was shown in the convention video, the front lines of both mission and humanitarian work are their everyday concern.

David Weaver of St Alban's, Arlington gave the report of the Constitution and Canons Committee. It was a pleasure to see so many familiar faces from our parish, including our former rector, Fr Mark Cannaday.

There were also many young clergy and young families present. Thank you to everyone who gave my wife and daughter (pictured below) a warm welcome.

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