[Episcopal News Service – Baltimore, Maryland] Episcopalians in North Texas are now members of the Diocese of Texas after the 80th General Convention approved the two dioceses’ merger on July 11, the final day of this pandemic-shortened, four-day meeting of the church’s governing body.
The House of Deputies had voted to adopt the resolution on July 9. The House of Bishops’ approval of Resolution D050 was the final legislative action before the bishops adjourned on July 11. Bishop Scott Mayer, bishop provisional of North Texas, and the four bishops of the Diocese of Texas celebrated their new partnership with embraces on the podium while their fellow bishops applauded.
With the adoption of D050, the Fort Worth-based Diocese of North Texas ceased to exist, “but let me tell you,” Mayer said, “that the Episcopal Church in the 24 counties of North Texas is alive and well and is looking forward to a wonderful future.”
The merger followed a process known as reunion because the two dioceses share roots in the historic Diocese of Texas. It also brings to a close a tumultuous nearly 14-year chapter in the history of the Episcopal Church in North Texas, formerly the Diocese of Fort Worth, which had been greatly diminished by a 2008 schism over theological differences.
“I can’t overstate the energy and excitement around what’s next, and I cannot overstate our gratitude for the generosity and the compassion shown by [Texas Bishop] Andy Doyle and the people of the Diocese of Texas,” Mayer said. “And I especially am grateful for the people of North Texas, who chose from the beginning to live rather than survive and chose love over fear.”
Doyle said the process of reunion has offered a “new missionary moment for our diocese with our new family.”
“The blessing of that adventure is being able to join some amazing people in the Diocese of North Texas and their mission,” Doyle said. He and Mayer were accompanied on the podium by Bishop Suffragan Jeff Fisher, Bishop Suffragan Kathryn Ryan and Assistant Bishop Héctor F. Monterroso.
Doyle also put the reunion in the context of two decades of upheaval in The Episcopal Church over human sexuality. “What has been quite miraculous is the healing that the action invited by the people of North Texas has meant for so many of your people in your churches of those dioceses who have also decided to thrive and live instead of survive.”
The reunion talks grew out of North Texas leaders’ discernment about how to move forward after the February 2021 loss of their dozen-year legal battle over diocesan property.
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 Texas Supreme Court sided in May 2020 with the breakaway group, now aligned with the Anglican Church in North America, or ACNA. In February 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it wouldn’t review the case, letting ACNA’s victory stand, and in April 2021, the rest of the Episcopal diocese’s congregations were ordered out or chose to move out of the buildings that had been awarded to ACNA.
Despite the turmoil caused by the schism, “new ministry sprang up, as we began to appreciate the deep hunger here for news of a loving, liberating, life-giving God,” Katie Sherrod, a North Texas deputy and the diocese’s communications director, said in the House of Deputies before the July 9 vote in favor of the reunion. “While we are tiny, we are fierce.”
With 14 congregations and fewer than 4,000 members, North Texas had been in talks with Texas leaders at least since January 2022, when North Texas’ Discernment Committee issued recommendations to its diocese’s standing committee that it pursue a reunion with the Houston-based Diocese of Texas. The North Texas standing committee voted on April 12 to formally engage in reunification discussions with Texas.
Reunions normally require only the consent of a majority of bishops and diocesan standing committees of The Episcopal Church, but because this reunion happened so close to the 80th General Convention, it was introduced for approval of the church’s bicameral governing body, in lieu of bishops’ and standing committees’ consent.
All six dioceses in the state of Texas have roots in the Diocese of Texas, which started in 1838 as a foreign missionary district. Texas, formerly part of Mexico and then an independent country, became a U.S. state in 1845, and the church’s missionary district organized as a diocese in 1849. The northern and western regions of the Diocese of Texas separated to become new missionary districts in 1874 in response to rapid population growth. In 1895, the northern district formed the Diocese of Dallas, which included congregations in Fort Worth and other cities to Dallas’ west.
The growing Diocese of Dallas was split in half in 1982, with the western congregations forming the new Diocese of Fort Worth. Once numbering more than 50 congregations, Fort Worth was long known as one of the most conservative dioceses in The Episcopal Church, particularly for its exclusion of women from ordination. After the 2008 schism, it shifted toward openly welcoming all people, particularly LGBTQ+ individuals.
Today, the Diocese of Texas is one of the largest in The Episcopal Church, with 167 congregations and 72,000 members. It already has two bishops suffragan and a bishop assistant, each assigned to a different region of the diocese. North Texas is set to become the diocese’s fourth region.
Mayer, who also is the bishop diocesan of the Diocese of Northwest Texas, will likely assist the Diocese of Texas in the future.
At the 80th General Convention, the bishops scheduled their adoption of D050 for the final session because parliamentarians were concerned that its adoption earlier would unseat North Texas’ deputies before the House of Deputies finished its business.
“The grace and the love that has been shown between these bishops, these two dioceses, as you well know, is remarkable,” Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said just before the resolution was adopted by acclamation. “In the name of this church, we thank God for you and pray God’s blessing that you may witness the love of God, the way of love that is the way of life. We stand now to affirm you and the people of your diocese, and we are so happy and we shout out: Glory, hallelujah!”
– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.