By Katie Sherrod
Let’s talk about what makes a “real church.”
In 2008, the former bishop of this diocese and many diocesan leaders left the Episcopal Church to become part of another church. They left because they refused to ordain women and to welcome out LGBTQ people into the full life and ministry of the Church, claiming their interpretation of Scripture was the only right one.
But even though they left the Episcopal Church they continued to claim Episcopal Church property and the name “Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth.”
At that time, many Episcopalians in this diocese were forced out of their Episcopal church buildings because they wanted to remain a part of a loving, inclusive church instead of realigning with another church.
They had to find new places to worship. These congregations of displaced Episcopalians were creative and courageous, and they found worship space in unusual places such as storefronts, in wedding chapels, in a woman’s club, in a theatre, in a social service agency. And in those unusual spaces, they created holy spaces that were, and remain, “real churches.”
In 2021, as the result of the U.S. Supreme Court declining to hear our cases, the judgment of the State of Texas Supreme Court was allowed to stand. The Texas state court decided it has the right to decide who is the real Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, and so the state decided it was the group who left the Episcopal Church in 2008.
So, April 19, 2021, Episcopalians who had remained in six of our buildings were forced out of their historic church homes and forced to find new places to worship. And they have done so.
They are worshiping in spaces offered by Lutheran, Methodist, and Disciples of Christ churches as well as in the chapel on a church school campus, the back room of a real estate office and in an office building on a college campus.
And just so we’re clear — all of them are worshiping faithfully in holy spaces that are “real churches.”
Yes, it’s heartbreaking to be forced out of beloved church buildings. Yes, it’s sad to lose lovely stained glass windows, needlepointed kneelers, and sanctuaries filled with memories of baptisms, weddings, funerals, graduations, ordinations, confirmations, and perhaps most of all, the weekly ritual of worship with the glorious liturgies that shape and feed us all.
But here’s what we’ve learned — holy spaces can be created just about anywhere. Set up a table, get a cup and a plate, bread and wine, gather faithful people with a priest who begins “God be with you,” — and there it is. A real church.
It happens again and again and again. The ancient words are spoken, the people respond, and the Holy Spirit shows up. Every damn time. People here have never tired of that miracle.
We aren’t yet sure what’s next. We are still a bit in shock, we are still trying to get used to a new and different name, to new and different locations, and we are all pretty tired of having to explain why the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth isn’t part of the Episcopal Church anymore, and why all those ACNA buildings with Episcopal Church still in their names are NOT Episcopal churches aligned with the Episcopal Church.
We do know this, however. We are held in the arms of a loving God who is always present with us, in traditional stone churches, in back rooms, in store fronts, in school chapels, in theatres, in all the places we gather in our beautiful, unusual, and creative “real churches.”
Thanks be to God.
Katie Sherrod is communications director of the Episcopal Church in North Texas.
North Texas Episcopal parishes plan new locations
Six congregations in what is now known as the Episcopal Church in North Texas are sorting out worship locations after being evicted by a breakaway group affiliated with the Anglican Church in North America, or ACNA.
The U.S. Supreme Court in February declined to hear an appeal by the Episcopal Church’s Fort Worth-area diocese of a state court ruling [see the story in the April Episcopal Journal], leaving more than $100 million of diocesan property in the hands of the ACNA’s Diocese of Fort Worth. The court’s decision not to hear the case settled what had been a 12-year legal battle.
In 2008, a majority of clergy and lay leaders in the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth voted to leave the Episcopal Church over disagreements about the ordination of women and LGBTQ people. The breakaway congregations continued to occupy their buildings.
Most congregations that remained in the Episcopal Church found new places to worship after the split, but six congregations in Fort Worth, Hillsboro and Wichita Falls, remained in their buildings.
Since February, the Fort Worth Episcopalians and members of the breakaway group have been going through the buildings in preparation for the transfer. Like the rest of the dozen-year dispute, that’s been “a fairly complicated, fraught process,” said Katie Sherrod, the Episcopal diocese’s director of communications.
The breakaway group is using the name Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, though it is no longer a diocese of the Episcopal Church. The congregants loyal to the Episcopal Church are using the name Episcopal Church in North Texas.
One of the parishes, All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Fort Worth, is moving to the chapel at All Saints’ Episcopal School. Another, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Hillsboro, has been using the back room of a real estate office and plans to move into another commercial building, Sherrod said.
Some of the churches had not held indoor services for a while because of the pandemic. St. Luke’s in the Meadow in Fort Worth had been holding outdoor services and had just begun the process of reopening the building for socially distanced worship when the eviction order came.
This story was prepared with files from Episcopal News Service.