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All Saints Episcopal-Fort Worth tries to derail court ruling through bankruptcy action

All Saints Episcopal-Fort Worth tries to derail court ruling through bankruptcy action
The corporation and the congregation are not the same legal entity

By Mary Ann Mueller
VOL Special Correspondent
October 21, 2021

On Wednesday (Oct. 20) the All Saints Episcopal Church-Fort Worth corporation filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection against its major creditor -- the ACNA Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth.

This did not have to happen. This action, and all court litigation, was totally preventable.

In early 2009, after Bishop Jack Iker (III Fort Worth) shepherded his diocese out of The Episcopal Church and into the Global South, he made the offer to All Saints, and any other Episcopal parish desiring to stay in The Episcopal Church, to enter into an agreement with him which would allow the congregations seeking to remain faithful to The Episcopal Church to keep their buildings and properties. Canon 32 was set up as the vehicle to affect an equitable separation.

"If All Saints does not want to continue as a parish in union with the Diocese," Bishop Iker explained in a 2009 meeting with All Saints parishioners, "then Canon 32 provides the only legitimate means for a separation to occur."

All Saints, and its rector Fr. Christopher Jambor thumbed their noses at their Bishop's generous offer and rolled the dice, opting to proceed with The Episcopal Church's winner-take-all, scorched earth method of litigation.

The crapshoot failed. All Saints lost its day in court -- and subsequent days in court on appeal -- and was ordered to turn over its church property to the now ACNA diocese.

The Episcopal Church doesn't know how to take defeat gracefully or graciously in the ongoing property wars.

This spring, after years of litigation, when the former displaced members of All Saints Church were finally able to regain access to their building, they found that the departing Episcopalians had stripped the high altar of its crucifix and four statues, damaging the reredos in the process.

At the time, Fort Worth Communications Director Suzanne Gill also explained that the parish hall, parlor, classrooms, nurseries, and church offices were all stripped bare.

All Saints was founded in 1946. From 1986 to 1991 it served as the Cathedral of the Diocese of Fort Worth. Currently, the building at 5001 Crestline Road is in possession of ACNA and the rector is Fr. Darryl Pigeon.

Now All Saints' plaintiff congregation, under the leadership of Fr. Jambor, latest attempt to derail the court process and prevent Judge John Chupp's ruling, in favor of the ACNA Diocese of Fort Worth from being fully implemented, is the filing of Chapter 11 bankruptcy. This action halted a scheduled motion hearing.

"A hearing scheduled for 11 a.m. today, Wednesday, Oct. 20, in the 141st District Court was abruptly canceled when a surprise bankruptcy filing was shared with the Court."

Ms. Gill said in a news release. "However, it was not the plaintiff All Saints' Episcopal Church but rather its corporation that submitted the filing. As our attorney's letter makes clear, that corporation has never at any point been a party to the litigation now being concluded before the Court."

The ejected All Saints parishioners believe that their property has been "stolen" through the legal process in court actions and the church is trying to stall, or end, the judge's ruling by using the bankruptcy filing as an end run around.

All Saints contends that: "... the Texas Supreme Court unjustly awarded more than $100 million of Episcopal Church property to people who left The Episcopal Church."

All Saints has resorted to sleight-of-hand in trying to keep hold of its property.

Wednesday's bankruptcy was filed on behalf of the All Saints "corporation" not the "individual" All Saints congregation. The church corporation and the individual congregation are two separate legal entities.

The Diocese of Fort Worth's attorney in the case, R. David Weaver, filed a reply to Judge Chupp's stay.

"The voluntary petition in bankruptcy that was filed on behalf of All Saints' Episcopal Church was filed on behalf of the All Saints' Episcopal Church corporation, not the intervening Plaintiff congregation that is before your Court and that was the subject of the Motions that were to be heard this morning," the attorney carefully explained to the Court. "The confusing feature in this situation is the fact that both the unincorporated congregation and the corporation use the same name, and it wasn't until we had a chance to look closer at the bankruptcy petition that we discovered the error in applying the stay to this proceeding."

Attorney Weaver continued: "The issue of the identity of those who have a right to control the All Saints' corporation currently is pending in litigation before the 17th District Court, and the corporation is, indeed, a party to that suit, and the Automatic Stay would apply to those proceedings. However, the corporate entity is not now, nor has it ever been, a party to the referenced lawsuit that was heard by your Court."

Ms. Gill further explained: "This is the corporation of the parish that stayed with TEC. It never held title to the church house or its furnishings. Additionally, it was never a party to the suit, so its situation, solvent or not, does not affect anything about the litigation. We are not injured in any way by this, and we will continue to pursue the return of property awarded to us by the Texas courts."

The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth is not giving up. The bankruptcy filing is not deterring them from asking the Court to "compel the plaintiffs (All Saints Church) to surrender property and funds awarded to the defendants (The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth)."

Since the original motions hearing was cancelled when the bankruptcy was filed, the diocese is requesting another motions hearing be scheduled.

"Therefore, we are asking for another hearing date in order to proceed as originally planned with motions that were filed to compel the Plaintiffs to surrender property and funds awarded to the Defendants," the news release stated.

The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, now aligned with the Anglican Church in North America, continues to use the name: "The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth."

The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth which has remained with the national Episcopal Church now uses the name: "The Episcopal Church in North Texas (TECinNT)."

Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline.

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