A week ago, the Reverend Thomas B. Woodward was in the Diocese of Fort Worth to present two programs to those wishing to remain in the Episcopal Church or at least to explore the questions. Father Jake carried an announcement, along with some background information and recommended sources for news about developments in the Diocese of Fort Worth. Here, Father Woodward provides a personal reflection about a meeting that occurred before the two public meetings.
Upon receiving an invitation to speak to Via Media people in Fort Worth and in Wichita Falls January 18-20, I wrote to Bishop Jack Iker to request a meeting with him to hear whatever concerns he might have about a dissident coming into his diocese to challenge his consistent message to his flock.
I could not have been happier with his response. He would see me shortly before lunch on the day I arrived in Fort Worth. In preparation for the visit, I bought a six pack of Santa Fe Brewery Pale Ale and a couple of pounds of Hatch roasted green chilies as a love offering from me, though in spirit from the Diocese of the Rio Grande. I also was careful to inform Bishop Iker of the sorts of things I would be talking about, referring him to some of what I have written for The Episcopal Majority, including the booklet The Undermining of the Episcopal Church.
We spent the first part of our meeting exchanging pleasantries, and I expressed my regret that his experience in the Episcopal Church was such that he felt he must leave it. Then I asked if he had any concerns about my speaking to his people. He said that he did not mind debate and arguing about matters of theology and the Bible – but that he did not like the demonizing that often accompanied it. He then mentioned several of the phrases that were most hurtful to him. I assured him that I had not used any of that language about him – but have stepped over the line more than once with my rhetoric, but always grateful when others mentioned that so I could apologize and, hopefully, learn something. He noted that he, too, has stepped over the line from time to time.
I assured Bishop Iker that I intended no disrespect for him during my time in his diocese. We then shared stories of blessing and of hurt in our life in the church. At the end of our time I asked for his blessing. We stood and he put his hands on my shoulder and prayed a most beautiful prayer, asking God’s blessing on my son in his recovery, asking God’s blessing on my time in Fort Worth and on my talks to his people.
I carry several things away with me from that meeting. First, what a joy it is when two people, so opposed on so many critical issues and concerns, can spend time relating to the best in the other with the best of ourselves. That is not the whole truth, but it is part of the truth. Second, I do not discount the hurt and sometimes the humiliation my friends and others in Fort Worth have suffered when +Jack has stepped over the line, nor the havoc his beliefs and attitudes about women’s ordination and our “Anglican agonies” have wreaked. Third, at this point the two of us are in the same church and attempting to follow the same Lord. Fourth, there is certainly pain when we encounter the worst in each other, but the pain is worse when we encounter their best, for it is then that the deep ache sets in as we wait for a time when our several wounds are healed and our fears are stopped in such a way that our best is our consistent selves. We are obviously not there yet.
The talks did go well, both in Fort Worth and in Wichita Falls. They were followed by time with the Steering Committee of Via Media Dallas. While I had requested time with Bishop Stanton for an earlier trip that had to be cancelled, there was no time for such a visit this time. I did, though, revel in my time with several of my heroes and heroines in the church, including Dixie Hutchinson, Katie Sherrod and Gayland Pool.
I will have more to say about the talks themselves. One thing is probably worth mentioning here. I had done some thinking about what the faithful could do to sustain themselves, and the thought about singing “We Shall Overcome” during communion at diocesan gatherings had stuck in my mind. However, reflecting upon all that is at stake in our struggles to remain in the fullness of the Episcopal Church, an even more appropriate song came to mind: “They Can’t Take That Away from Me.”
Santa Fe, NM
Postscript: Fort Worth Via Media posted a synopsis by Susan Reeves of Father Woodward's January 19 presentation , and Katie Sherrod provided a reflection after his presentations.