So, Bishop Iker has responded to the letter from Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori asking him to “recede from this direction” – that is, to turn back from attempting to leave the Episcopal Church, taking with him the Diocese of Fort Worth intact. It is no surprise that he’s not inclined; that we expected.
Perhaps it’s also not a surprise that he should try to rewrite history to suit his purpose. I speak of this assertion:
I must remind you that 25 years ago this month, the newly formed Diocese of Fort Worth voluntarily voted to enter into union with the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. If circumstances warrant it, we can likewise, by voluntary vote, terminate that relationship.
Unfortunately, that’s not the way it works, nor was it the way it worked then. I was at the time part of the division of the Diocese of West Tennessee from the continuing Diocese of Tennessee, and can say from experience that the substance of Constitution and Canon have not changed in this.
Article V of the Constitution of the Episcopal Church specifies three ways of forming a new diocese:
Sec. 1. A new Diocese may be formed, with the consent of the General Convention and under such conditions as the General Convention shall prescribe by General Canon or Canons, (1) by the division of an existing Diocese; (2) by the junction of two or more Dioceses or of parts of two or more Dioceses; or (3) by the erection into a Diocese of an unorganized area evangelized as provided in Article VI. The proceedings shall originate… with the approval of the Bishop, in the Convention of the Diocese to be divided; … After consent of the General Convention, when a certified copy of the duly adopted Constitution of the new Diocese, including an unqualified accession to the Constitution and Canons of this Church, shall have been filed with the Secretary of the General Convention and approved by the Executive Council of this Church, such new Diocese shall thereupon be in union with the General Convention.
Note, then, that first and foremost a diocese is formed with the consent of General Convention. Moreover, Fort Worth was formed “by the division of an existing Diocese.” that being the continuing Diocese of Dallas, and not in an “unorganized area. It was, therefore, formed within, and not external to, the existing Constitution and Canons. So, in the current Canons, Title I, Canon 10:
Sec. 1. Whenever a new Diocese shall be formed within the limits of any Diocese, or by the junction of two or more Dioceses, or parts of Dioceses, and such action shall have been ratified by the General Convention, the Bishop of the Diocese within the limits of which a Diocese is formed, or in case of the junction of two or more Dioceses, or parts of Dioceses, the senior Bishop by consecration, shall thereupon call the Primary Convention of the new Diocese, for the purpose of enabling it to organize, and shall fix the time and place of holding the same, such place being within the territorial limits of the new Diocese....
Sec. 3. Whenever one Diocese is about to be divided into two Dioceses, the Convention of such Diocese shall declare which portion thereof is to be in the new Diocese, and shall make the same known to the General Convention before the ratification of such division.
Sec. 4. Whenever a new Diocese shall have organized in Primary Convention in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution and Canons in such case made and provided, and in the manner prescribed in the previous Sections of this Canon, and shall have chosen a name and acceded to the Constitution of the General Convention in accordance with Article V, Section 1 of the Constitution, and shall have laid before the Executive Council certified copies of the Constitution adopted at its Primary Convention, and the proceedings preparatory to the formation of the proposed new Diocese, such new Diocese shall thereupon be admitted into union with the General Convention.
Thus, the Diocese of Fort Worth did not have independent existence before consent. Rather, division was an action of the Diocese of Dallas, and under the Constitution and Canons of Dallas, and therefore under that diocese’s accession to the Constitution and Canons of General Convention. Indeed, Dallas was not divided until after receiving consent from General Convention.
Consent for that division was given in Resolution 1982-B018, titled, meaningfully, “Ratify the Division of the Diocese of Dallas Into Two Jurisdictions:”
Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, That this 67th General Convention ratifies the division of the Diocese of Dallas to create a new Diocese which, until the new Diocese adopts a name, shall be referred to as the Western Diocese with the continuing Diocese to be known as the Diocese of Dallas. The boundaries of the two Dioceses shall be as follows:
a) The Diocese of Dallas shall include 25 counties: Grayson, Denton, Collin, Dallas (excluding the portion of the city of Grand Prairie that is in Dallas county), Rockwall, Ellis, Navarro, Henderson, Kaufman, Van Zandt, Hunt, Fannin, Lamar, Delta, Hopkins, Rains, Wood, Upshur, Camp, Franklin, Titus, Red River, Morris, Bowie, Cass.
b) The Western Diocese shall include 23 counties: Wichita, Archer, Young, Stephens, Eastland, Brown, Mills, Hamilton, Comanche, Erath, Somervell, Palo Pinto, Jack, Clay, Montague, Wise, Parker, Hood, Bosque, Hill, Johnson, Tarrant, Cooke, and the portion of the City of Grand Prairie located in Dallas County; and be it further
Resolved, That this 67th General Convention receive the following evidence supporting this resolution:
1. Certified copy of the resolution, duly approved by the Diocese of Dallas, committing the Diocese to its division and to the formation of a new Diocese;
2. The consent of the Bishop of Dallas;
3. Certificate of the Secretary of the Convention of the Diocese of Dallas concerning the number of Parishes, Missions, Institutions and Presbyters in the continuing Diocese and in the new Diocese;
4. Map of the existing and proposed continuing and new Diocese;
5. Certificate of the Treasurer of the Diocese of Dallas concerning the financial abilities of the continuing Diocese and of the new Diocese, together with supporting financial data;
6. Certificate of the Chancellor of the Diocese of Dallas that all aforesaid documents have been duly executed, are accurate, and are entitled to full faith and credit, and further that all of the appropriate and pertinent provisions of the Constitution and Canons of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in the USA and the Constitution and Canons of the Diocese of Dallas have been fully complied with in respect of this submission.
Thus, the new diocese was consented by General Convention before it had even been named, under the existing Diocese of Dallas, and before the Primary Convention had been called.
I remember the excitement in the division of Tennessee into two, and subsequently three dioceses. I remember the excitement when in convention Tennessee called for the division. I remember the excitement in New Orleans in 1982 when consent was given for formation of the Diocese of West Tennessee. I remember the excitement when the Primary Convention of the Diocese of West Tennessee met – like the new Diocese of Fort Worth, in the fall after General Convention. I remember the process, and so do many others in the Church.
There have, of course, been changes in Constitution and Canons over the years. Much is made, for example, of the fact that the “Dennis Canon,” clarifying the accession of diocesan conventions, constitutions, and canons to national Constitution and Canons, was only clarified in the 20th century. (On the other hand, it was in force when Convention consented to the division of the Diocese of Dallas that resulted in the Diocese of Fort Worth.) However, the process and order of events in forming new dioceses hasn’t changed.
It makes you wonder why Bishop Iker would make an assertion so demonstrably false; or, maybe it doesn’t.
Update: Esteemed colleague Mark Harris of Preludium has provided additional details in reaching the same conclusion. It's worth the time to read.