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The original Fort Worth diocese is to fade into history

By Mary Ann Mueller
VOL Special Correspondent
June 22, 2022

After a short 40-year lifespan, the original Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, temporarily renamed The Episcopal Church in North Texas (TECinNT), is just weeks away from becoming an historical footnote.

The Diocese of Fort Worth's DNA stretches back to 1838 and the Republic of Texas when Texas was considered an Episcopal Church foreign mission field overseen by Bishop Leonidas Polk (I Louisiana) and Bishop George Freeman (II Arkansas).

Historical records show that on Christmas Day 1838, the Rev. Caleb Ives, an Episcopal missionary priest, celebrated the first Episcopal Service of Holy Communion in Matagorda, Texas in the Masonic Hall for a congregation of eight. At the time, the Texas coast was the most southern and most western point that the early 19th century Episcopal Church had reached.

Matagorda was in the then Republic of Texas which, for 10 years from 1836-1846, was a separate sovereign nation wedged between the United States to the east, Indian Territory to the north and Mexico to the south and west. Therefore, Fr. Ives was appointed as the foreign missionary to Texas by the Foreign Committee of the Board of Missions of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, commonly called The Episcopal Church. Since Texas was an independent republic -- with nation status -- Texas was considered a foreign mission field.

The early Constitution of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America, adopted by the General Convention, declared that the "world was to be the missionary field of the church" and entrusted general missionary work to the Board of Missions. So, Texas was considered a missionary field of the early Episcopal Church.

Fr. Ives was a travelling missionary church planter. In 1833, he planted Trinity Church in Demopolis, Alabama followed by St. John's-on-the Prairie in Forkland, Alabama in 1834. After establishing Christ Church in Matagorda in 1838, Fr. Ives also brought his Episcopal ministry to the residents of the Texas coastal areas of Victoria and Brazoria.

Christ Church in Matagorda took root. It is considered the Mother Church of all Texas Episcopal churches because it was the first Episcopal congregation formed in January, 1839.

Meanwhile, the Rev. R.S. Chapman also began holding Episcopal church services in Houston, Galveston, Velasco, and Quintana. A mere two months later (March 1839), Christ Church in Houston was organized and has since grown into a cathedral.

It is from Matagorda and Houston that The Episcopal Church first spread through the Republic of Texas and eventually to the State of Texas.

In 1841, Christ Church-Matagorda banded together with Christ Church-Houston and newly formed Trinity Church on Galveston Island to create The Episcopal Church in Texas. This provided an identifiable and unified Episcopal presence in the short-lived Republic of Texas.

The Episcopalians had established a formal permanent presence in coastal Texas before the Roman Catholics did. The first Episcopal service at Matagorda was in December 1838. The Catholics did not establish their lasting missionary district, called an apostolic prefecture, until 1839 on Galveston Island. However, the famed Alamo in San Antonio is the remnants of the Misión San Antonio de Valero, one in a series of early Spanish Catholic missions that dotted the Texas landscape in the early to mid-18th century.


Santa Anna's infamous 1836 Battle of the Alamo, in present-day San Antonio, was a pivotal event in the Texas Revolution and the battle for Texas' independence.

Santa Anna's brutal scorched earth victory at the Battle of the Alamo galvanized the Texians. "Remember the Battle of Alamo" became a rallying cry and energized the Texians in their battle for independence from Mexico. The famous battle cry has now become etched into Texas' history and psyche.

In 1836, Texans were called "Texians" and "Tejanos." The Texians (sometimes called Texicans) were the Anglos and the Tejanos were of Mexican lineage. Today the word Texan brings the two lineages into one common citizenship.

The Battle of the Alamo was a brutal 13-day siege from February 23 -- March 6, 1836, with 1836 being a leap year.

The Texas Convention of 1836 occurred during the Alamo siege. At That point, the Texas Declaration of Independence was signed declaring Texas' independence from Mexico, thus forming the short-lived Republic of Texas (1836-1846).

With the cry of "Remember the Alamo" on their lips, the Texian Army was able to handily defeat Santa Anna's Mexican troops in a lightning-fast 18-minute battle near Houston. The Battle of San Jacinto became the final and decisive battle of the Texas Revolution, leading to Texas' independence from Mexico. The battle made its way into the history books because of its swiftness.

The Texas Almanac explains: "Since Roman Catholicism was the state religion for Spain and its colonies [including Mexico], Spain stipulated Catholicism as the state religion when Texas was opened to Anglo-American immigration in 1820. All newcomers were required to embrace it, and other religions were prohibited. Religious-civil rites, such as marriage, were not recognized by the government unless performed by priests."

Following Texas independence, Catholicism was not made the state religion for the new Republic of Texas. The Episcopal Church was established and flourished, first in Matagorda then spreading to Galveston Island and Houston, becoming the core of The Episcopal Church of Texas.

Once the Episcopal Church of Texas had a firm foothold, the Episcopal Diocese of Texas was formed in 1849. However, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Galveston was established two years before in 1847 under the watchful eye of New Orleans.


The 1900 Hurricane devastated Galveston. Galveston Island was the bullseye for the powerful Category 4 hurricane. It is estimated that more than 7,000 lost their lives, including the nuns and children of St. Mary's orphanage, making it the deadliest hurricane to hit the United States. Only three children survived and none of the Sisters did.

Twenty-five of the island's 39 churches were totally destroyed and every home in Galveston received damage either from the strong 145 mph winds or the 15-foot storm surge which washed over the island. The highest point on the island was less than nine feet above sea level.

Grace Episcopal weathered the storm because it was built from limestone, but the wooden parish hall was washed away. Following the storm, Grace Church became a refugee center during the immediate aftermath and clean up. However, half of Grace's parishioners died as a result of the 1900 Hurricane.

Trinity Episcopal Church was left standing, but heavily damaged and Saint Augustine of Hippo Episcopal Church was totally destroyed.

St Augustine's was the black church on the island. Fr. Thomas Cain and his wife perished during the 1900 storm when the rectory was washed away. St. Augustine's has been rebuilt and it is considered the Mother Church for the African American community in Texas. Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori visited the Galveston church on Martin Luther King Day 2011.

St John's Episcopal Church was also one of the 25 churches destroyed on Galveston Island on September 8, 1900.

Today three Episcopal churches serve Galveston Island: St. Augustine's was rebuilt, Trinity and Grace were repaired, but St. James was not rebuilt.

Following the Great Storm of 1900, the Catholics moved their chancery to Houston. The Episcopalians always kept their seat of power in Houston.

Now the Personal Ordinariate to the Chair of Saint Peter is also home-based in Houston.


In 1875, the Missionary District of Northern Texas was formed as a missionary outreach of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas. Twenty years later in 1895, the Missionary District of Texas became the independent self-sustaining Diocese of Dallas.

At the same time the Missionary District of Texas was being formed, the Missionary District of West Texas was also being formed. Both missionary formations were from the action of the 1894 General Convention.

In 1904, under the bishopric of James Johnston (I West Texas), the Missionary District of West Texas became the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas.

In 1910, General Convention again looked toward Texas and formed the Missionary District of Northwest Texas, taking parishes from both the dioceses of Dallas and West Texas to create the new missionary endeavor. In 1958, the Episcopal Diocese of Northwest Texas came into being.

The history of the Episcopal churches in far west Texas between the Pecos River and New Mexico is rather murky.

It is not clear whether the action of the General Convention to create the Missionary District of New Mexico and Arizona in 1875 included the Episcopal churches in Texas west of the Pacos.

In 1892, Arizona and New Mexico were made separate missionary districts. Arizona became a statewide diocese in 1959.

But by 1920, the Missionary District of New Mexico and Southwest Texas was an entity. In 1952, the Episcopal Diocese of New Mexico and Southwest Texas came into being. One year later the diocese was renamed the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande and it included the far west Texas Episcopal churches in El Paso, Terlingue, Fort Stockton, Alpine, Marfa, and Lajitas.


In 1970, Donald Davies became the fourth Bishop of Dallas. Under his leadership the diocese grew in numbers as the population grew in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. By 1983, it became apparent that it was time to divide the wide-flung diocese into two, as it encompassed the far northern regions of Texas spreading from the Red River in the north, to the Arkansas-Louisiana border in the east, the Diocese of West Texas border in the south, and the Diocese of Northwest Texas border in the west.

Therefore, the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth came into being and Bishop Davies became the first Bishop of the Diocese of Fort Worth. Bishop Donis Patterson followed him as the fifth Bishop of Dallas.

After Bishop Davies retired from the Diocese of Fort Worth, he was tapped to become the third Bishop of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe. That post was held for three years from 1986-1989.

Bishop Clarence Pope was elected the second Bishop of Fort Worth. It was a bishopric he held from 1986 to 1994.

Bishop Davies was always theologically conservative. He created the Evangelical and Catholic Mission (ECM) and had become involved in the Episcopal Synod of America (ESA), which fought against the encroaching liberalization of The Episcopal Church. He eventually became a missionary bishop for the Episcopal Synod of America.

Both the Evangelical and Catholic Mission and the Episcopal Synod of America are forerunners of Forward and Faith-North America (FIF-NA).

Finally in 1992, he had enough and left The Episcopal Church for a more traditional theological tradition. He eventually became the founding presiding bishop of the Episcopal Missionary Church, a part of the Anglican Continuum.

Bishop Davies was deposed by The Episcopal Church in 1994 for his efforts.

In 2020, the Episcopal Missionary Church signed a Concordant of Communion with the Anglican Church in North America. Archbishop Foley Beach (II ACNA) signed for ACNA and former Presiding Bishop William Millsap (II EMC) for the Episcopal Missionary Church.


Bishop Pope, too, was a conservative traditionalist. He founded the Episcopal Synod of America and later became the first president of Forward in Faith-North America. But after he retired from the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, he left The Episcopal Church to become Roman Catholic.

During Bishop Pope's leadership, Fort Worth was one of the final four Episcopal dioceses that did not ordain women. The foursome included: Fort Worth, Quincy, Eau Claire and San Joaquin.

As the second Bishop of Fort Worth, Bishop Pope, was instrumental in helping St. Bartholomew Episcopal Church in Arlington become a Roman Catholic Pastoral Provision parish. It is now known as St. Mary the Virgin Catholic Church. The former Episcopal parish also became a part of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair St. Peter.

The Episcopal bishop was sympathetic with Arlington's sole Anglo-Catholic parish's Catholic leanings and was instrumental in helping the former Episcopal congregation keep its land and buildings when it became an established Roman Catholic Anglican Use church within the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth in 1994.

Ten years ago, Virtue Online reported on Bishop Pope's death: "Bishop Pope handed the reins of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth over to coadjutor Bishop Jack Iker in January 1995 so he could follow his conscience into the Roman Catholic faith. Bernard Cardinal Law received him and his wife, Martha, into the Roman Catholic Church."

However, the ecclesial transfer was not a good fit. In seeking to reclaim his priesthood as a Catholic under the Pastoral Provision, Bishop Pope was reportedly black balled by the Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge Priests' Council and was not reordained a Catholic priest. He was devastated.

After some cajoling by then-Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning and his own successor Bishop Iker (III Fort Worth), Bishop Pope returned to The Episcopal Church and he was reinstated into the House of Bishops. But that, too, was not a good fit, so he returned to the Papal flock, only to leave again.

Bishop Pope continued to struggle with his place in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. His heart was Anglican, but his soul was Catholic. There is evidence that he swam back and forth across the Tiber for a third time. The bishop lived that tension for the rest of his life struggling to be faithful to the spiritual path God had laid out for him.

He is quoted as saying: "My love of Anglicanism is very deep."

Bishop Pope was remembered at his death by The Episcopal Church, ACNA, and the Church of Rome.


Bishop Iker was the final Fort Worth bishop connected to The Episcopal Church. But in 2008 he, too, left The Episcopal Church bringing the Diocese of Fort Worth with him -- 48 churches, 15,000 parishioners, and about 60 clergy -- setting up a decade's long legal battle for the buildings.

Only eight of the original Diocese of Fort Worth's churches remained loyal to The Episcopal Church. That small group of Episcopalians, backed by the deep financial pockets of the national church, put up a vicious 12-year fight through a series of bruising and prolonged court battles.

When the legal battle was over and the Fort Worth Episcopalians lost to the Fort Worth Anglicans, they realized they didn't have enough people, buildings, or finances to remain a functioning Episcopal diocese even with a new moniker -- the Episcopal Church in North Texas which is basically the Episcopal Diocese of North Texas. It was time to unify with a neighboring Texas diocese.

During the entire time as a rump diocese, Fort Worth's only episcopal and spiritual oversight came through Episcopal bishops provisional: Ted Gulick (I Provisional) 2009; Wallis Ohl (II Provisional) 2009-2012; Rayford High (IIIProvisional) 2012-2015; and Scott Mayer (IV Provisional) since 2015.

So, discernment negotiations were opened to return to the mother diocese of Texas -- the Houston-based Episcopal Diocese of Texas.

In May, the Diocese of Texas voted 526 to 14 to allow the Fort Worth group to fold back into the mother diocese. Over the Father's Day weekend, the Diocese of North Texas voted unanimously, 69 to zip, to be reunited with the larger Houston-based Episcopal diocese.

Now it will be up to the Episcopal General Convention, which meets July 8-11 in Baltimore, to ratify the reunification. Should that happen, the change will become official at the close of Convention and at that point The Episcopal Church in North Texas will cease to exist, and The Episcopal Church's "Diocese of Fort Worth" is to fade into history, although The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth lives on with ACNA.

In 2020, the Texas Supreme Court awarded the name The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth to Bishop Iker's group. At which point The Episcopal Church's remanent Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth had to rebrand itself, thus becoming "The Episcopal Church in North Texas."

At one point, there were three "Dioceses of Fort Worth" -- the Diocese of Fort Worth (TEC); the Diocese of Fort Worth (ACNA); and the Diocese of Fort Worth (Roman Catholic). It all got very confusing. The best way to figure out which diocese was which was to see who the bishop is. TEC's bishop is Scott Meyer (IV Fort Worth provisional); ACNA's bishop is Ryan Reed (IV Fort Worth); and the Catholic bishop is Michael Olson (IV Fort Worth).


Once The Episcopal Church in North Texas folds back into the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas will be totally encased by the larger Houston-based jurisdiction.

The Episcopal Church in North Texas is slated to become a fourth region -- the North Region -- in the Diocese of Texas, just as the Diocese of Quincy became the Peoria Deanery when the smaller Illinois diocese folded into the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago in 2013.

Each region in the Diocese of Texas is made up of several convocations also known as deaneries. Bishop Jeff Fisher (Texas-suffragan) is over the East Region; Bishop Kathryn Ryan (Texas-suffragan) is over the West Region; Bishop Hector Monterroso (Texas-assistant), formerly the third Bishop of Costa Rica, is over the South Region; and Bishop Scott Meyer is expected to remain the bishop over the soon-to-be-created North Region while still remaining the fifth bishop of the Diocese of Northwest Texas.

If General Convention votes to approve the reunification, it is to become effective at the close of General Convention and the Episcopal Church in North Texas is expected to cease to exist as a free-standing diocese. It is slated to become a fourth region -- the North Region -- of the Diocese of Texas.

At that point, all the congregations will become a part of the Diocese of Texas, along with their properties; all the clergy canonically resident in the Episcopal Church of North Texas will become canonically resident in the Episcopal Diocese of Texas; while the staffs of both dioceses continue to hammer out the details, logistics and legalities of the transition.

"We are being welcomed gratefully and gladly into a diocese that shares our values," Bishop Mayer explained. "We believe this reunion will strengthen both parties, equipping The Episcopal Church to reach the people of North Texas, the fastest growing metropolitan area in the United States, more effectively with our message of God's unconditional love."

Uniting with the Diocese of Texas is a better fit for the more liberal Episcopal Church in North Texas then reuniting with the theologically conservative Diocese of Dallas which originally birthed it.

The Diocese of Dallas is a much more traditional diocese than its daughter diocese immediately to the west.

The Diocese of Texas birthed the Diocese of Dallas which then gave life to the Diocese of Fort Worth. The Diocese of Texas then is the mother and grandmother diocese to all Texas-based dioceses in the Lone Star State.

In 1875, the Diocese of Texas formed the Missionary District of Northern Texas. Then in 1895 the Missionary District of Texas became the Diocese of Dallas. Finally in 1983, the Diocese of Fort Worth was birthed out of the western side of the Diocese of Dallas. So, in roundabout way the Diocese of Texas is the grandmother diocese to the original Diocese of Fort Worth.

Both the Diocese of Texas and the now Episcopal Church in North Texas fully embrace diversity, inclusion and equality and women clergy, including bishops. The official Diocese of Texas has had two female bishops' suffragan: Dena Harrison 2006--2019 and Kathryn Ryan since 2019.

While the Episcopal Church in North Texas does not have a woman bishop, history shows that the first female priest was ordained in the original Diocese of Fort Worth in 2009 following the realignment of most of the diocese to the Southern Cone. Within five years, 53% of their clergy were female.

In the celebration of June Pride month, the Diocese of Texas posted this on its website:
"As Episcopalians, we believe in a loving, liberating, and life-giving God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. ... We have a legacy of inclusion, aspiring to tell and exemplify God's love for every human being; women and men serve as bishops, priests, and deacons in our church. Laypeople and clergy cooperate as leaders at all levels of our church. Leadership is a gift from God and can be expressed by all people in our church, regardless of gender, gender identity or sexual orientation. We believe that God loves us all -- no exceptions."

"As we move toward a new future together, we are unified by the Love of Christ Jesus who prayed for us -- 'that we all may be one' and we are thankful for this reunion," said Bishop Andy Doyle (IX Texas).


The 2021 statistics are to be released later this fall.

Here are the latest 2020 statistics for the Episcopal Church in North Texas, the Diocese of Texas, and the combined stats for all Texas-based Episcopal dioceses -- North Texas, Dallas, Texas, Northwest Texas and West Texas.

The State of Texas has more registered Episcopalians (133,846) than any other state home to multiple Episcopal dioceses. Only the State of New York has more church buildings (NY 526; TX 354) but fewer Episcopalians (NY 124,461; TX 133,846) to worship in them.

(Including the 10 Texas churches in the Diocese of the Rio Grande)

STATEWIDE: 133,846

STATEWIDE: 106,827









$$$$ FINANCES $$$$


NORTH TEXAS: $4,871,742
DIOCESE OF TEXAS: $73,412,694
STATEWIDE: $137,665,504


NORTH TEXAS: $4,508,852
DIOCESE OF TEXAS: $92,010,228
STATEWIDE: $167,650,427

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

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