Story Highlights

The following is a transcript of Bishop High’s address to the 2013 Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth

In years past, when I was rector of three different parishes, I always looked forward to our annual parish meetings where the community would gather – we even got folks from the 8 a.m. service to show up! We shared what we were doing to build up God’s kingdom in Victoria, or McAllen, or Waco, how we cared for each other, feasted on food from secret recipes – I even shared some of my barbequed Javelina and I didn’t even let people know what it was – they cleaned the plate! We also came together to celebrate our life together as God’s church, hear the vestry’s report on the past year and I would offer some thoughts of where I felt God’s Holy Spirit might be leading the congregation in the coming year. And I would thank our wonderful staff of secretaries, assistant clergy, sextons, and those lay leaders.

So, I have revealed my game plan for this my Bishop’s Address. That’s what I’m going to do. So here we go.

First and foremost, I want to take this opportunity to thank publicly several people who have labored long and hard in this part of the Vineyard of the Lord we affectionately call the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth.

Demi Prentiss in the past few years has worn so many different hats to keep us running and has taken on some new responsibilities this past year as congregational and stewardship point person.

Our faithful, faithful volunteer treasurer, Bob Hicks for his financial insights and his gift of ministry among us; and his very capable assistant Adriana Cline, who so ably works with Bob.

Eleanor Doty, our good and gracious point person in the diocesan office who is the first to greet callers.

Janet Waggoner, our new canon to the Ordinary, who has been so helpful to me and the office staff the short time she has been in office – who would have believed, a female canon to the Ordinary, in Fort Worth!

Katie Sherrod and her communications team for keeping the diocese and the outside world informed about the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth and our good ministry.

Amy Haynie, who led the effort these past few years for InReach and her work with the youth of our diocese.

And I wish to give special recognition to one of our faithful, long time priests, who has retired for the 2nd or is it 3rd time – Court Moore. He finished an interim in our sister Diocese of Dallas. I know, after a brief respite, Court, you will be anxious to do some work in your home diocese! Please stand to let us acknowledge you.

And to my dear friend Bishop Sam Hulsey for his wisdom, his presence, leadership and his friendship not only this year but for the past years here in Fort Worth. What a blessing you are to us.

Finally, and most importantly for me, I want to recognize my wife Pat, who has traveled with me throughout the diocese, spent time with me at vestry gatherings, and visited with many of you. She is a blessing to me and has been for over 49 years.

Forgive me if I have failed to recognize some, but there are so, so many of you who give a great deal of yourselves to the mission and ministry of this great diocese, especially those elected and appointed leaders of the Diocese of Fort Worth. My heartfelt thanks for all you do.

Some thoughts – In-House

Some of you may remember last year’s convention in Stephenville, on the opening weekend of deer season, our former Bishop, Wallis Ohl said, as he drove throughout the diocese he would see those orange signs “Under Construction.” In Texas, we still see those signs, and the other orange sign, “Expect Delays.” As Bishop Ohl said, this is our diocese. I believe we are and will continue to be “Under Re-Construction” by God’s Holy Spirit. Just as our roads and highways are under construction to improve our lives in Texas, we, as a diocese, are under re-construction to better serve God’s people, be better congregations, expand and have more lanes – more congregations.

Yes, it’s good for Texas and good for the Diocese of Fort Worth to be under construction! And, yes, we heard at the very end of August, the Texas Supreme Court sent our litigation back to the District Court in Fort Worth, in my mind, to start over. There was no closure. As I have said, we remain grateful for the many points that the Texas Supreme Court acknowledged in support of our legal position. And of course, we remain disappointed that the Texas Supreme Court did not give us a clear, quick path to end our state court litigation and to move directly to the U.S. Supreme Court for ultimate review. So, subject to our motion for rehearing, we are now redirected to a few more years of litigation. Even so, we remain confident that the U.S. Constitution and Texas law ultimately supports our position, under either deference or neutral principles analyses, in resolving church property disputes.

Interestingly, I have heard from a number of you all who said they were relieved by this decision: We are free to move forward, not waiting any longer for a decision, but free to go ahead and do what we believe God is calling our congregation to do: that is respond to the Great Commission of Jesus Christ Himself: Matthew 28:18-20 – “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”

I really believe we have been given an enormous gift from God, a gift of time, to really begin to think about:

  • Who are we, really?
  • What do we want to be?
  • What ministries do we really think we ought to be putting our energy, effort and resources into?

Let’s don’t define ourselves as being different from the ACNA, the splinter group – we can do better than that.

And, finally, and I have spent more time this morning on this subject than I intended:

From my reading from The Rule of Benedict, commented on by Joan Chittisser, I quote:

“In truth, those who are patient amid hardships and unjust treatment are fulfilling God’s command: “When struck on one cheek, they turn the other; when deprived of their coat, they offer their cloak also; when pressed into service for one mile, they go two” (Matt 5:39-41). With the apostle Paul, they bear with “false companions, endure persecution, and bless those who curse them” (2 Cor 11:26; 1 Cor 4:12).

To bear bad things, evil things well is for Benedict, a mark of humility, a mark of Christian maturity. It is a difficult notion for the modern Christian to accept. The goal of the twentieth century wass to cure all diseases, order all inefficiency, topple all obstacles, end all stress, and prescribe immediate panaceas. We wait for nothing and put up with little and abide less and react with fury at irritations. We are a people without patience. We do not tolerate process. We cannot stomach delay.

Persist. Persevere. Endure, Benedict says. It is good for the soul to temper it. God does not come on hoofbeats of mercury through streets of gold. God is in the dregs of our lives. That’s why it takes humility to find God where God is not expected to be.”

Housekeeping matters

I want to share with you all some of the Good News, good things that are happening in our diocese. Many of our congregations continue to move forward in mission and ministry where they are.

  • Several of our congregations tell me of their great outreach ministries they are doing in their local communities. In fact, more than one congregation tells me they are the best in the diocese at outreach! Now, that’s not bragging – that’s proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ to all people, his love, through action.
  • I have had to return, in the same year, to make a second visit to congregations because they have another class to be confirmed and received into The Episcopal Church. That’s great news! Keep on inviting people to worship with you, to experience that welcoming, accepting spirit.
  • A couple of our congregations are talking about looking at a different place to worship. “We need more space, we need more exposure to the community, we need facilities that will allow us to do better outreach in Christ’s name.”
  • I am grateful to Trinity Church, and their members, who have helped re-start our campus ministry at TCU and for other college students. TCU is excited to have us back on campus and I am excited about the future possibilities there. Last week, we received word our campus ministry programs at UT Arlington, Tarleton State and TCU will receive a grant of $3,500 from the General Convention budget this year.
  • We have six congregations who are enthusiastically engaged with The Episcopal Church Building Fund, looking at “recasting their assets” to do God’s work in this diocese.
  • Early this fall, we had our first Worship Leader training workshop for our lay people, with 30+ folks participating from around the diocese. Thanks to Canon Waggoner and the Rev. Dr. Andrew Wright for their inspiring leadership and teaching. These folks will not only continue to serve in their home congregations but some will be available to assist in leading worship in other places in the diocese.
  • At the invitation of St. Francis vestry in Parker County, we had Bob Schorr from the Diocese of Texas with us for four days to discuss church planting (congregational development), welcoming visitors and keeping them (congregational leadership) and marks of healthy congregations. He spent time with the leadership from several congregations and the Standing Committee, traveled to the southern part of our diocese to see where the growth along the new Chisholm Trail toll road will be. I think it was a very fruitful time for us, as we begin to focus our attention on the future possibilities for the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth.
  • At the start of the summer, we brought together a group of gifted laity in the area of stewardship to help us focus more intentionally on this not only as a diocese but as individuals and as congregations. Our diocesan group is available to assist and work with congregations as they move forward in stewardship.
  • At last year’s convention, we passed a number of canon changes, and I am grateful for the work done by the dedicated Constitution and Canons Committee. I want to encourage them to continue to look at our canons, to strengthen them, expand them if needed, and consider appropriate additional canons. These folks do good work in our behalf. We passed Canon 10, a big revision of our Executive Council, its make-up and its way of working. So this year, in addition to this newly created Canon 10, throw in a new bishop and what do you have – well, it’s been fun and interesting at Executive Council!

Speaking of Executive Council, I plan to bring to them in December a restructured deanery plan for their concurrence. Folks, this is a long overdue change for us. Over the last year or so, many of you have shared your ideas with the leaders of the diocese how best to restructure, redraw the deaneries. The Standing Committee and its president, Marti Fagley, have spent a lot of time and energy on this, as has the Executive Council.

My guiding criteria fall into these simple categories:

  • Honesty about the numbers of our functional congregations
  • Geographical integrity
  • Fair distribution of size, resources and leadership
  • And, let’s not forget, this can be changed when needed.

So, we’ll do it – God willing!

There are so many more good things I could highlight about the diocese, but time does not permit it.

So, where do we go from here, as a diocese?

Let me address an area which was presented at last year’s convention – beginning the search process for an election of a bishop.

I am of the opinion we are not quite ready to begin the process right now because of several factors, money being the least of our concerns.

I do not think we are ready for the process because I’m not convinced we honestly know who we are, what our mission is and what we are looking for or what we think need in the next Bishop of the Diocese. I just do not think the time is right.

I also want to hasten to say I am certainly not trying to hang on to this great job. I have to remind myself often I am retired and this is a bit more than a part time ministry!

God’s Holy Spirit will lead us not only to the person, but the when and the how of the process.

Let me tell you what I would like to do:

I plan to visit each deanery, the newly redrawn ones, to sit down with not only the elected representatives but with anyone in the deanery, from any congregation to have a very frank discussion about our life together. I will ask the Standing Committee to work with me on this as we explore and learn from you all. Here are some of the things I would like us to talk about:

  • What ministries are you doing?
  • What are we not doing, that we should be doing or would like to be doing?
  • Where is your passion in ministry, as individuals and as congregations?
  • What do we need to work on?

Let’s dream together. Let us trust the Holy Spirit to lead us in this venture.

At the end of these visits, I will share the findings from you all with the Executive Council to see what this looks like, how we should best proceed and what we need to do to move forward. This will go hand in hand with our mission conversations we will be having shortly. We will put all of this together.

We need to plan for the future, right now.

Using our present structures, I can envision two groups working together in this area of church growth and evangelism. I want to invite the Congregational Development Work Group and the church planting groups along with any outside resource persons to help us plan to move forward. I also am asking our Finance Work Group to develop some new and creative ways to enable us to find and secure strategic property sites for our diocese. I would propose to you all we commit ourselves as a diocese to begin the process of planting one new congregation within the next year! We can do it!

From the moment I set foot in the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, all I could see was opportunities for evangelism, growth, new ministries. And I am grateful to the good folks at St. Francis in Aledo and Willow Park, down in Parker County – for their courage and insight in taking that first step by inviting Bob Schorr from the Diocese of Texas, their strategic development person who works with church planting.

Last year we discussed a resolution on health insurance for clergy and laity and the General Convention’s resolution on parity for lay and clergy. I am asking our Finance Committee to put together a work group from the Finance Committee and folks from the outside to tackle this issue, to come to a conclusion and move toward compliance with the General Convention resolution on parity. There has been significant work done by the compensation group under the leadership of Rev. Chris Jambor. This good work will flow into the work on health insurance. I have complete confidence we have the people and resources to deal with this challenging area in the life of our diocese.

It is time for us to stop talking about Hispanic Ministry and to move forward. I don’t know the answers as to “how” but I know folks who are willing and able to assist us. I am asking our Executive Council to form a work group made up of people on and outside the Executive Council who have the passion and desire to work on a way forward for us and report their progress to the Executive Council and ultimately back to our next convention.

Conclusion

As the writer of the Gospel of John states in the last two verses of the twentieth chapter:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book, but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.

There are “many other signs.” I would like to have shared with you all this morning about the miraculous things taking place among us but I am out of time.

I close by saying in all humility, what a grand privilege it has been for me and Pat to have served you this past year as your bishop and as the bishop’s wife. We have been so blessed by you all as we traveled through the diocese. Thank you for your hospitality, welcoming spirit and love. We are eagerly awaiting what God has in store for all of us this coming year.