|From the Bishop
THE BISHOP’S ANNUAL ADDRESS TO THE CONVENTION
“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit
Greetings and welcome to this opening Eucharist for our 36th Annual Diocesan Convention. Our theme this year is “Hope and a Future.” It comes from Jeremiah 29:11 –
They are words of encouragement and the promise of restoration to a defeated Israel at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, when the people were led away in captivity to Babylon. The prophet reminds them in those dark days that God will not forsake them for ever, for the plans He has for them are for good, not harm. In the midst of despair and defeat, God promises His people hope and a future.
Little did I know when I chose this theme in early August that it would come to take on such personal meaning for me just a few weeks later. I had chosen it in the months following the shocking reversal by the Second Court of Appeals of our earlier district court victory in the TEC litigation. After two years of deliberation in a case we were confident would be affirmed in our favor, the appellate court reversed the decision and declared all our building, property and assets belonged to The Episcopal Church. As you know, we have appealed this flawed decision to the Texas Supreme Court, where we expect to be vindicated, in due course. In spite of the possibility that we could eventually be evicted from all our churches, I wanted us to hear the promise of God to give us hope and a future, come what may in the courts.
Part of this plan was to announce on August 20th, my decision to retire as Diocesan Bishop at the end of 2019 and to call for the election of my successor in June of next year – a plan for hope and a future. Having celebrated the 25th anniversary of my consecration in April and approaching my 69th birthday on August 31st, I discerned the time was right for me to make plans for the election of a Bishop Coadjutor and for me to step down at age 70, and to make way for a new leadership under a younger Bishop.
It was a shock to be notified by my doctor on my birthday, just 11 days after announcing my retirement, that I been diagnosed with cancer, which later tests would confirm is stage IV non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and not only that, but I had what is called a “double hit”, meaning that I not only had Diffuse Large B-cell lymphoma, but a second more aggressive form of a different unnamed strain, which was life threatening. Hope and a future, indeed. I could use a little of that!
I began immediate treatment to try to kill off the cancer in my lymphatic system and to get it into remission, if possible. This treatment requires chemotherapy five days in a row, repeated every 21 days, for a total of six sessions. It has not been easy. I have known times of misery and discouragement, along with five days in the hospital to deal with side effects of the chemotherapy. I have also known times of encouragement, peace, and acceptance. I have asked the Lord to give me hope and a future, by the grace of His healing presence and mercy. With His help, I will beat this.
I want to thank all of you for your prayers and cards and good wishes over the past several weeks, not only for me, but also for Donna, our children, and our grandchildren as my treatment continues. I have been humbled and grateful to hear from so many of you, both within the diocese and far beyond.
I am especially grateful to Bishop Wantland and Bishop Ackerman for making all of the confirmation visits to our churches when I have been unable to keep my scheduled visitations. No confirmation visit has been cancelled, though a few Sunday visits were cancelled in places where there was no one to be confirmed this year. I anticipate this will continue thru the end of January, at the least, and perhaps for several more weeks after that. Time will tell, as I respond to the chemotherapy in the months to come, with some of these treatments being done on Sunday mornings at the UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. Thank you for being patient with my recovery time and for accepting my limitations at this point in time as to making regular Sunday morning visitations. Having such a weakened immune system as I do, my doctors advise that I avoid crowds for the coming few months.
The most important legislative matter to come before Convention this year will be to dissolve two parishes that have discontinued services at their churches and have made the request to be closed. This matter has been referred to the Standing Committee for their concurrence, and tomorrow they will move that this Convention act favorably on both requests.
The first congregation is the Church of the Good Shepherd in Brownwood (founded in 1955), which has voted to merge with St. John’s Church (founded in 1886), about three miles away from their property. This decision is based on good stewardship, a sound missionary strategy of pooling resources to work together instead of in competition, and of witnessing as one united Anglican Church in Brownwood, instead of two. It is a wise and godly decision that we will want to commend and to approve.
The second congregation requesting dissolution is All Saints’ Church in Wichita Falls, which stopped conducting services this past spring. Founded in 1951, All Saints’ had reverted to mission status in 2014, due to declining membership and income. As more and more older members continued to die in recent years, and were not replaced by new parishioners, a spiral of decline began that could not be turned around. When most of the parish income went to property upkeep and utilities, the remaining membership voted to close, based upon good stewardship of what resources remained. Efforts have been made to welome these faithful members into Good Shepherd in Wichita Falls or St. John the Divine in nearby Burkburnett. Here too the Standing Committee recommends dissolution.
In due course, the properties will be sold and all assets will revert to the Corporation of the Diocese, to support mission growth in other areas of the diocese where there are demonstrated opportunities for new churches or to provide additional financial support to growing missions, where promise is shown.
Any losses in numbers the Diocese has experienced in these two closures have been more than offset by the rapid growth and continued success of our newest parish church, Christ Church in Waco. Founded in 2009, Christ Church purchased the old Lutheran Church in downtown Waco and achieved self-supporting, full parish status at Convention last year. It was a joy for me to consecrate their new church on April 7, 2018, and to institute Fr. Lee Nelson as the First Rector of this vibrant congregation. It is a joy of long term episcopal ministry that I also sent Lee to seminary, officiated at his marriage, and ordained him both as deacon and priest.
True to their vision of orthodox Anglicanism ministering in the midst of a university environment, Christ Church is well along the way in planting a new church in College Station and reaching out to the Texas A&M community and to surrounding areas. This exciting new work to the campus and to the community is being led by Fr. Greg Crosthwait and is showing great signs of success and growth. Pray for their continuing witness and mission in the years to come, for a growth in the numbers of people coming to faith in Christ, and for evangelistic zeal among all its members.
With the completion of the search process for a new Rector at St. Andrew’s Church in Fort Worth, there are only two vacancies for Rectors in the Diocese at this time, the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul and St. Mark’s Church, both located in Arlington. An active search process will begin in both congregations after the election of new Vestry members at their Annual Parish Meeting in January. It was a joy to announce in August that the new Rector at St. Andrew’s is Fr. Jake Worley, whose Institution as their 16th Rector took place on Sunday, October 28th. He is a great addition to our Diocese, and he will be introduced and welcomed by Convention tomorrow morning, along with all of our new clergy. They are signs to us of God keeping His promise to give Hope and A Future for our Diocese.
Certainly the most exciting report to be received at this year’s Convention will be that of the Nominating Committee for the Election of a Bishop Coadjutor, chaired by Fr. Ed Kresowaty. It is a wonderful, talented, diverse group of 28 elected members, 14 clergy and 14 lay members, chosen from throughout the Diocese. Their task is to present no less than three qualified candidates to stand for election at a Special Convention on June 1, 2019, at St. Vincent’s Cathedral. This slate of nominees will be announced by Easter, and all clergy and lay delegates to the Electing Convention will meet them at a question and answer forum in early May. Pray daily for this special discernment process as we seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit in calling a godly priest and spiritual leader to become our next Bishop and Chief Pastor. By God’s grace and inspiration, he will be a worthy, faithful successor to the Apostles, who will lead us in mission and ministry for many years to come. He will be a sign for us of Hope and A Future.
Thank you again for your friendship, encouragement and support over the years. I am blessed to be your Bishop and Father in God. In the year coming year, may God bless each and every one of you as we move forward in mission together, equipping the saints for work of ministry, and for building up of the Body of Christ. We have great hope – We have a great future.