The once and future Diocese of Fort Worth

Via Media of Fort Worth envisions what the future Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth might look like after the upcoming convention vote.

Katie Sherrod writes on her blog:

On Saturday, Fort Worth Via Media held an event entitled The Once and Future Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth — Dealing with the present, planning for the future.

A panel of professional counselors both lay and ordained offered tools for coping with the stress, anxiety, anger, grief, and fear many have been suffering as we move closer to our diocesan convention. That’s when our leadership will urge delegates to pass illegal resolutions they claim will realign the diocese with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone. Regardless of the illegality of their move, the effect on the ground will be split parishes, split friends, even split families. The grief already is palpable.

The panel offered much good advice, including using humor and visualization, and stressed the importance of staying in community through the coming days.

We broke into small groups, each facilitated by a counselor, to give individuals a chance to express their feelings about the impending split. There were some tears, some anger, and much much sadness.

But then we moved on. Each group was next asked to talk about their dreams, hopes, and vision for the reorganized continuing Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth.

What we came up with said as much about the current diocese as it does about our hopes for the future.

Every one of the six groups expressed hope for a diocese that is Christ-centered and Spirit-led. We want a diocese that focuses on spiritual growth for all, that focuses on what unites us, not what divides us. We want diocesan-wide activities built around worship, bible study, and spiritual growth. We want a diocese that is mission-focused — focused outward, not inward.

All expressed hope for a diocese that is accepting, that will honor a diversity of opinions, that is welcoming to all, that will be open to a diversity of worship and community, that will be a “safe place to worship, learn, give,” that will respect all members. We want a diocese that will be open to new ideas, that is comfortable with differences.

One group expressed it like this — “a joyous and welcoming community of the Body of Christ – a beacon of hope in action – participating the Kingdom of Heaven.

Another group expressed it as “lay-led, clergy guided, Christ-centered.” We want clergy to be pastoral, inspired and accountable. As one group put it, we want “strong honest clergy; leaders who feed their sheep.” The first group that mentioned wanting a diocese “open to priests who are women” was greeted with loud applause in the room and remarks of, “At last we can say it out loud.”

A desire for an enhanced respect and a larger role for lay people – especially women — was a strong theme in all the reports. We want EFM to be common and accepted. We want the Baptismal Covenant taken seriously by all in the diocese. We want lay people to feel empowered to speak up!

We want better Christian Education programs, for all ages.

Again and again, the desire for a diocese where “we can be joyous, we can have fun, we can celebrate” came up. One group wrote that they wanted a diocese where “joy is now acceptable.”

Another group wrote that they want a diocese where we can have “the audacity of hope.”

All the groups wrote that we needed to educate people about the Episcopal Church’s history, beliefs, and polity, to counter the misinformation that’s been so prevalent for so many years. We need to “reclaim the brand,” one person said. Everyone wanted to “rejoin the mainstream of the Episcopal Church,” especially to make use of national and provincial resources for youth.

Youth – the word was heard again and again. That we had to invest money in youth ministers, that we might have to combine resources to have a diocesan youth minister at first, but that it must be a priority. We want to have “more kids in our church and more church in our kids.”

We want a diocesan center for social justice issues that will gather resources to help parishes work on issues of the elderly, employment, health, homelessness, hunger, people in prison, housing, immigration. The desire for diocesan leadership on social justice issues, including the MDGs, was expressed again and again.

We want better diocesan-wide communication, not only from the diocesan leadership, but also among parishes. We no longer want to be isolated from one another, divided by fears of differences.

We want our diocesan canons and constitution brought back into alignment with those of the Episcopal Church. We want to use the language of love when talking with and about one another.

We want the continuing diocese to welcome back those Episcopalians who have been worshipping elsewhere as well as those who may choose to leave with the bishop, but change their minds later.

We want our diocese to participate in inter-faith, inter-denominational dialogues in our community. We want a diocese that does outreach to the community, that lets our community know we are here to do the work of the Gospel, not fight over who’s out and who’s in.

We want a bishop who is freed to do the job of chief pastor to the clergy, teacher and shepherd to us all. We do not want a bishop to become a CEO. We can hire someone to do that [and we can fire them, too.]

We want a diocese that grows, although several cautioned not to judge our success by numbers, especially at first. We want a diocesan office on music and worship that will gather resources for parishes. We want a diocesan choir.

We want a diocese based on the two great commandments – to love God with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our might; and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Pray for us as we move through our convention this weekend and on toward building this vision in the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth.

In other words, the participants want a diocese that acts like a diocese.

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