[Episcopal News Service] All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Fort Worth, Texas, has filed for bankruptcy protection, partly citing the “bad faith and scorched-earth tactics” of the Anglican Church in North America’s Fort Worth diocese, which in April took possession of the Episcopal congregation’s church and rectory.
All Saints’, with about 1,500 members and annual plate and pledge revenue of $1.5 million, is the largest and best-resourced congregation in the diocese now known as the Episcopal Church in North Texas, formerly the Diocese of Fort Worth. On Oct. 15, officials from the Anglican Church in North America, or ACNA, sent a letter to Frost Bank requesting possession of All Saints’ accounts with the bank. The bank declined that request but responded by freezing the accounts, the Rev. Christopher Jambor, All Saints’ rector, said in an Oct. 22 declaration filed in bankruptcy court.
ACNA “has refused to withdraw its demand on Frost Bank, and Frost Bank has refused to unfreeze” the accounts, Jambor said in his written declaration, filed in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Texas. His congregation now “is unable to collect and remit funds or pay its employees.”
In an interview with Episcopal News Service, Jambor said his church’s bankruptcy case is not an indication of long-term insolvency. Rather, All Saints’ is seeking some “breathing space” as it, as the debtor, asks the court’s help in determining what personal and financial property rightfully must be turned over to its creditors.
“Our biggest creditor, so to speak, the guy knocking on the door demanding payment, is the ACNA group, and the payment is ‘everything you’ve got,’” he said. “This gives us a bit of respite, so we can work out the details in federal bankruptcy court.”
Most of All Saints’ financial resources and several additional real estate properties are held by a nonprofit corporation that was not a party to the lawsuit won by ACNA. The ACNA diocese is seeking some of those holdings as well, Jambor said, in addition to the vacated church and rectory, which had been held in trust by the Episcopal diocese.
All Saints’ was one of six Episcopal congregations evicted from their worship spaces in April after the Fort Worth-based diocese lost its 12-year legal battle to ACNA this February.
In 2008, a majority of clergy and lay leaders in the former Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth voted to leave The Episcopal Church over disagreements about the ordination of women and LGBTQ+ people. 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, Texas, remained in their buildings.
After those six were evicted this year, all but one found temporary homes and resumed worship. All Saints’ began worshipping in the chapel at All Saints’ Episcopal School, which is on a separate campus from the congregation’s former church property. The school was not part of the lawsuit. An ACNA congregation moved into the church building and has begun worshipping there.
The Episcopal Church’s diocese lost more than $100 million in diocesan property to ACNA, which prevailed in the Texas Supreme Court in May 2020. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up the case in February.
In August, The Episcopal Church agreed to pay the ACNA diocese $4.5 million, covering legal costs accrued by ACNA in the court case. Since then, Episcopal congregations and ACNA congregations have continued to argue in a lower court over what other property needs to be turned over to ACNA.
“We’ve been trying to work with them for literally months,” Suzanne Gill, the ACNA diocese’s communication director, said in an interview with ENS. “At a certain point we need to ask authorities to take steps so this will be brought to a conclusion. We’ve been at this a very long time.”
The Episcopal Church in North Texas counters that it is following court orders, which specify that ACNA is only entitled to property – including bank account balances – from the date that The Episcopal Church filed its lawsuit, April 14, 2009.
“As far as we know, we have complied with everything we have been told to do. We have given them everything we have been told to give them related to that initial [Texas] Supreme Court judgment,” Katie Sherrod, the North Texas communication director, told ENS.
North Texas filed a court motion on Oct. 20 on behalf of four of the six congregations evicted this year, estimating they had $274,000 in financial assets in April 2009. Most of that money was in a reserve account for maintenance of St. Luke’s in the Meadow in Fort Worth. The diocese said it can turn that amount over to ACNA if the court accepts that figure as what is owed.
The All Saints’ bankruptcy proceedings will be handled separately.
– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.