In an interview after the ruling, Bishop Ryan Reed, Iker’s successor, said that his flock was feeling “a sense of relief.” But he added, “There is no sense of triumphalism. ... This ruling has freed us up to go back to investing in our ministries and our facilities.”
The dispute over church structure was apparent in court filings, where TEC emphasized its structure is “three-tiered,” consisting of local parishes, regional dioceses, and a national convention. No unit of the middle tier—a diocese—had a right unilaterally to withdraw. “That’s the way the canons are set up,” said Kevin Johnson, an Episcopal priest in Arlington, Texas. “Same way in the Roman Catholic Church.”
But Reed contrasted the increasingly centralized Episcopal Church with the ACNA’s structure. The ACNA has limited the size and power of its national bureaucracy and denominational structures and left more to the discretion of regional bishops, he noted.
Even as Anglicans and Episcopalians continue to drift apart, in Fort Worth they will have to learn to live alongside each other for at least a while longer. According to Reed, loyalist congregations are using six diocesan properties. He said it was too early to say what would happen to those parishes. Brister, the attorney, said, “They are going to have to find somewhere else to worship.”
Johnson, the Episcopal priest, said he hoped the two sides “would be interested in engaging in a conversation around how we work this out.” Johnson’s own congregation isn’t directly affected because it already worships at a theater. He noted that he doesn’t speak for the diocese.
There’s a small possibility that the case could drag on in federal courts. A separate federal trademark case over the diocese’s name and seal is still pending, and TEC could still appeal the Texas court’s decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. But Brister noted, “The U.S. Supreme Court hasn’t taken a church property dispute since 1979.”
An attorney for TEC didn’t respond to a request for comment. Scott Mayer, provisional bishop for the TEC-affiliated diocese, wrote in a statement, “I, other diocesan leaders, and our legal team have to make decisions about our next steps.”
Thus far the cost of the litigation is “in seven figures” on each side, according to Brister. Texas courts have ordered TEC to pay the costs for both sides.
Reed suggested the years of litigation have also taken a spiritual toll. “We’ve got to refocus ourselves and rededicate ourselves,” he said. “In the end, as much as I want to celebrate keeping our property, it still is just property and buildings. Those are only tools for us to make disciples of others.”