The Texas Supreme Court has decided that a property dispute between the Episcopal Church and a breakaway diocese leadership should be reheard at the lower court level.
The Court ruled in a five to four decision last Friday that the case should be sent back down to a lower court for reconsideration. Given that in the initial lower court ruling the Episcopal Church was declared the rightful owner of the property, many TEC leaders expressed "disappointment."
The Rt. Rev. Rayford B. High, Jr., recognized by TEC as the bishop of the Diocese of Fort Worth, wrote in a pastoral letter that the "continuing Episcopalians" should persevere.
"Now I, other diocesan leaders, and our legal team, including representatives of the Church and its legal team, have to make decisions about our next steps," stated High. "For now, we all must don the mantle of patience and forbearance. I ask for your prayers and urge us all to stay focused on the saving gospel of Jesus Christ in the days ahead."
Katie Sherrod, spokeswoman for the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth (TEC), told The Christian Post that it was "was neither a win or a loss."
"It would have been nice to have a definitive decision…The Texas Supreme Court changed the criteria for a decision," said Sherrod. "But our congregations have always concentrated on their ministries and mission, and they will continue to do so until this litigation is finally resolved."
In November 2008, a majority of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth's clergy and lay representatives voted to leave The Episcopal Church over theological differences.
Led by the Right Reverend Jack Leo Iker, the Fort Worth Diocese leadership opted to join the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), a newer and more conservative member of the global Anglican Communion.
In January 2011, Judge John P. Chupp of the 141st District Court of Texas ruled in favor of The Episcopal Church and ordered the Fort Worth Diocese (ACNA) to "surrender all Diocesan property as well as control of the Diocese Corporation" and "not to hold themselves out as leaders of the Diocese."
The ACNA diocesan leadership filed an appeal with the Texas Supreme Court, with oral arguments heard last October.
In a statement released as a pastoral letter, Rev. Iker expressed "gratitude to the justices of the Supreme Court for the hard work that went into these two cases, as evidenced by the time it took them to reach a decision."
"We rejoice in today's ruling by the Texas Supreme Court overturning the summary judgment in favor of The Episcopal Church," stated Iker. "…while today's opinions are not a final victory, they indicate that a final victory is only a matter of time."