Editor’s note: For context to this opinion piece, see the news analysis piece also published today titled “Dissident Episcopalians awarded $100 million worth of property as U.S. Supreme Court declines to take up Fort Worth case.”
We lost our church today.
We were required to hand over the keys to our beloved building — a marvel of limestone and exquisite stained-glass. A church founded and built by Episcopalians and grown over the decades. Taken away today.
It was our house of worship, the place where for more than 75 years generations of Episcopalians engaged in spiritual sustenance. We were evicted today.
A place where our faithfully ordained priests presided over daily Holy Eucharist. A building that houses our magnificent pipe organ which each Sunday would toll the chords of ancient hymns and our gifted choir would bring to life melodies and harmonies lifting hallowed music to the rafters and beyond. Forced out today.
A people that celebrated hundreds of weddings and baptisms and confirmations and funerals and Lent and Easter and Advent and Christmas. Kicked out today.
An undercroft where children learned that God is kind and loving and forgiving. A parish hall where we studied the Gospels and Bible history, prepared for mission trips, packed weekly food for neighbors in need, wrapped Christmas gifts for nearby school children, readied for pilgrimages, ate donuts and drank coffee, enjoyed bingo nights and crawfish boils and Shrove Tuesday pancake dinners and Mother’s Day brunch. Expelled today.
A community that honored our sacred tradition of the Episcopal liturgy and sacraments, and also embraced our ideology of welcoming everyone. It was our sacred space imbued with the history and hopes and dreams and prayers of our people who worshipped there and who give of themselves to create a thriving community dedicated to mission and ministry. No longer ours.
The building was taken by those who left the church 12 years ago in disagreement with Episcopal Church doctrine. There was a bishop who didn’t want to welcome everyone. He didn’t want to abide by the hierarchy of the Episcopal Church, despite having taken a sworn vow to do so. He decided to re-write bylaws to his own liking and pull people away from the Episcopal Church and into his personal belief that women should not be priests and that LGBTQ folks have no place in the church.
“The building was taken by those who left the church 12 years ago in disagreement with Episcopal Church doctrine.”
Over those ideals he was willing to break apart whole communities of congregants and, in fact, split an entire diocese. He and his ilk broke away from the Episcopal Church and yet sought to own the very property they had walked away from. After years and years of litigation, the courts decided that the bishop who was no longer affiliated with the Episcopal Church would be awarded property owned by the Episcopal Church. It was an unbelievable conclusion, but unfortunately and irrefutably legally binding.
We lost our building today.
In recent days we sat in our pews and celebrated our last Eucharist in our Nave. We sang our last hymn. We said our last prayers. And as a fellow Episcopalian Katie Sherrod said, “For one last time we celebrated the all-encompassing unconditional love of God for all humanity. We will walk out … carrying with us the memories of the hundreds of faithful lay people and clergy who built it up for mission and ministry of the Episcopal Church. We grieve that this building, made holy by the love it housed, will now be in the hands of those who believe women are not proper matter for ordination and that LGBTQ people are somehow disordered. We will pray for them. But we will carry on, ministering to our neighbors, all of them, no exceptions. If the cost of inclusion is to lose our buildings, so be it. We will move forward, holding on to one another and to God. Pray for us.”
So, with broken hearts and deep sadness we leave our church home, the holy place we have loved. But we recognize that the building is not the church, the people are the church. And the people of All Saints’ Episcopal Church are faithful and strong and united. We will go forth in courage to love and serve the Lord with gladness and singleness of heart. Thanks be to God.
Wende Dwyer-Johnsen is a member of All Saints Episcopal Church in Fort Worth, Texas.