A group of Episcopalians in Texas who lost a legal battle with a breakaway diocese over church property valued at $100 million are considering reuniting with an Episcopal diocese that they originally belonged to in the 19th century.
In February of last year, the Anglican Church in North America secured control of The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth following several years of litigation against The Episcopal Church and the local Episcopalian presence, known as The Episcopal Church of North Texas (ECNTX).
ECNTX and The Episcopal Diocese of Texas released a joint statement last week announcing their plans to consider a reunion of the two local church bodies.
At present, the Diocese of Texas has over 160 congregations and around 72,000 active members, while the ECNTX has 13 congregations and around 5,000 active members.
ECNTX spokesperson Katie Sherrod told The Christian Post that, as a result of the breakaway Anglican group winning the legal battle, “we lost all but three of our historic buildings and much of our funds.”
“While our people are amazingly creative, resilient, and resourceful — for example, our 4Staints Episcopal Food Pantry did not miss one day of food distribution despite having to move — we now face the challenge of rebuilding and planting churches,” Sherrod explained.
“We need resources and courageous partners who share our values and who understand the gifts we bring to the table. The Episcopal Diocese of Texas is that partner.”
Sherrod believed that “this reunion will strengthen both of us as we carry the message of God's amazing love for all to this part of Texas.”
ECNTX Bishop Scott Mayer and Bishop Andrew Doyle of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas are holding meetings with their respective regional body leaders and others to work out the implementation of the proposed reunification, according to Sherrod.
“Both dioceses will eventually call for special meetings of their diocesan conventions,” she told CP. “Once both conventions approve the reunion, then it has to be agreed to by the bishops and Standing Committees of The Episcopal Church.”
In 2008, most of the Fort Worth diocesan leadership voted to leave The Episcopal Church due in part to differences stemming from the denomination’s increased acceptance of homosexuality.
The leadership decided to join the more theologically conservative ACNA denomination, with litigation ensuing over the dozens of church properties owned by the diocese.
The national church argued that they held the diocesan properties in a trust, while the breakaway leadership argued that amendments to their official documents overruled that trust claim.
Although the Fort Worth Court of Appeals ruled in favor of The Episcopal Church in 2018, the decision was partially reversed in 2020 by the Texas Supreme Court.
In February 2021, the United States Supreme Court refused without comment to hear an appeal in the case, effectively allowing the Texas Supreme Court ruling to remain in effect.
Anglican Bishop Ryan Reed, head of the breakaway Fort Worth Diocese, said in a statement at the time that the court's decision marked "a turning point" for the diocese.
"After directing so many resources to this dispute, we can now put our entire focus on Gospel ministry and Kingdom work," Reed stated last year.
"We are nearing completion on a strategic plan that will keep us focused on sharing the transforming love of Jesus Christ and our mission to equip the saints for the work of ministry."