Fort Worth Episcopalians vote to join Texas diocese after losing $100M property battle

Bishop J. Scott Mayer of The Episcopal Church in North Texas, leading worship at St. Alban's Theatre in Arlington, Texas. | Katie Sherrod

A group of Episcopalians in Texas who recently lost a legal battle with a breakaway diocese over church property valued at $100 million have voted to join another Episcopal diocese.

The Episcopal Church in North Texas (ECNTX), formerly known as the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, unanimously approved a proposal Saturday to join the Episcopal Diocese of Texas.

At a special meeting of the Diocesan Convention at Trinity Episcopal Church of Fort Worth, the ECNTX voted 69 to 0 in favor of a "reunion" with the Diocese of Texas.

Bishop Scott Mayer said during a sermon that the special meeting was "not about closure" but "an outward visible sign of faith, hope, and love by a liberated people."

"You did more than weather the storm. You did more than survive the journey. You chose life and love," said Mayer regarding the years of litigation over the Fort Worth Diocese property.

"The communities and people you serve can testify that your presence and witness matters in this world. You make a difference. And you are great."

The ECNTX vote came several days after the Episcopal Diocese of Texas's Diocesan Council voted 526-14 in favor of the plan, in which ECNTX would become the Houston-based North Region of the Diocese of Texas.

The majority of the Fort Worth Diocese voted in 2008 to leave The Episcopal Church over a disagreement with the mainline denomination's progressive theological views following the ordination of the first openly gay Episcopalian bishop. The separation led to years of legal battles over trademark and property disputes.

In February 2021, the Anglican Church in North America secured control of the Diocese of Fort Worth after several years of litigation against The Episcopal Church and ECNTX. The U.S. Supreme Court let stand a state court ruling allowing the breakaway diocese to take control of up to about $100 million in church property. 

Currently, the Episcopal Diocese of Texas has around 160 congregations and about 72,000 active members, while the ECNTX has 13 congregations and approximately 5,000 active members.

In April, the Diocese of Texas and ECNTX released a joint statement announcing that they were pursuing reunification, as ECNTX originally was part of the diocese in the 19th century.

"Just as they did in the immediate aftermath of the 2008 schism, the resilient faithful people of the diocese found new places to worship and missed not a beat in carrying on the vital ministries and outreach to their neighbors," the joint statement reads.

"On April 12, the Standing Committee of ECNTX voted to engage in conversations with the Diocese of Texas about potential reunification. On behalf of the Standing Committee, Bishop Mayer reached out to Bishop Doyle with an invitation to visit ECNTX and open formal conversations between the dioceses."

The next step in the process will be for the merger to be approved by the Episcopal Church General Convention, which is slated to meet in Baltimore, Maryland, on July 8-11.

If both the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies approve the reunification, it will become effective following the end of the General Convention.

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