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Bishop Gulick seeks loyalty from 70 Diocese of Fort Worth clerics

Bishop Gulick seeks loyalty from 70 Diocese of Fort Worth clerics

By Mary Ann Mueller in Houston
Virtueonline Special Correspondent

FORT WORTH, TX---The royal purple-edged letter arrived in The Rev. Christopher Culpepper's vicarage mailbox on June 22. It bore the letterhead and seal of "The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth", but after reading the first paragraph, Fr. Culpepper knew it was not from his bishop, The Rt. Rev. Jack Iker, but rather from The Rt. Rev. Edwin Gulick, Jr., the provisional bishop of the North Texas Episcopal diocese. Editor's note: The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth is the legal name for the Anglican diocese headed by Bishop Iker.

"In my letter of May 26, 2009, I made myself available for conversation related to your status as a priest or deacon in the Episcopal Church. I have heard no response from you and conclude that your decision to depart from the discipline of the Episcopal Church is final," Bishop Gulick's letter stated. "This letter is to inform you that I will ask the Standing Committee of The Diocese of Fort Worth at a meeting which will be held on July 2, to certify that you have in fact, under the provision of Title IV, Canon 10.1 of the Episcopal Church abandoned the communion of this church. I will ask the Standing Committee to join me in issuing a letter of Inhibition.

"If you still consider yourself to be an Episcopal Priest of Deacon in good standing, and under my authority as the Provisional Bishop of Fort Worth, I hereby give you a PASTORAL DIRECTIVE to contact me in writing by July 2 and declare your loyalty to the doctrine, discipline and worship of this church and to me as your bishop," the letter concluded.

The letter was signed: "Faithfully, The Right Reverend Edwin F. Gulick, Jr., Provisional Bishop of the Diocese of Fort Worth."

Fr. Culpepper was not the only priest and/or deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth to receive that missive, all his brother priests and sister deacons in the Diocese received the same letter asking them to come under the episcopal authority of Bishop Gulick.

"He (Gulick) is not the bishop of The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth," Fr. Culpepper told VOL during the Inaugural Provincial Assembly for the Anglican Church in North America which was being held in Bedford during the same time that he received the bishop's letter. "He is slightly confused. He is the Episcopal Bishop of Kentucky. He has no jurisdiction over me."

Communications Director of the North Texas Diocese, Katie Sherrod confirmed that in all, about 70 active priests and deacons received the same letter. Apparently, it was the second in at least a series of three letters that Gulick intends on issuing in his attempt to bring the clergy in the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth under the authority of the North Texas Episcopal diocese.

The first letter, issued on May 26 stated in part: "In this Paschal season. I greet you in the Name of Jesus Christ crucified and risen. I also greet you as a brother in Christ and rejoice that no issues or divisions within the body of Christ are as strong or defining as the bond and covenant that the living God establishes in the waters of Holy Baptism...

"I want to begin by thanking you for your service as a priest or deacon in the Episcopal Church. I know that many have benefited from your devoted service and the effect of your faithful ministry continues in the lives you have touched. I know that many of you have searched your hearts and conscience and have come to a decision to join with Bishop Iker to realign your allegiance with Anglicans in the Southern Cone. It is not my intention in writing you this letter to trespass upon your conscience in this mailer or to offer any new arguments or words of persuasion. However, before I begin to exercise certain canonical responsibilities regarding the status of those who have left the Episcopal Church, I feel compelled to offer to meet with you, if you wish, for a conversation related to your own discernment and decision.

"Since the convention of the Diocese of Fort Worth in November the primates have met, the Anglican Consultative Council has met, and legal decisions, have been rendered in several jurisdictions in the United States which may well impact and inform realities here in Texas. In fairness to you, I would like to be absolutely sure that your decision to leave the Episcopal Church is final and that your conscience and soul are at peace. If that is in fact the case, then any canonical action that I am forced to perform as Provisional Bishop of the Diocese of Fort Worth will simply be the declaration of a reality that exists...

"If on the other hand, there is still an open ended space for further discernment, I stand ready to be available to consult and pray deeply with you about your relationship to the Episcopal Church. If you would like to have a conversation with me, you can be assured that the content of the conversation will be held in confidence. I am preserving the following dates for appointments: I have afternoons free on June 9, 10,. 12 and 15. If I do not hear from you by return mail, I will assume that you have made your decision. Please know that I join with you in Christ's prayer that all may be one and in the hope that this present season of brokenness in Christ's one body will be healed by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit..."

"I have not responded to either letter," Fr. Culpepper noted. He said he intended to relegate both letters to File 13.

"I am a priest in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church," said Culpepper.

The young priest, a graduate of Nashotah House, was priested on Holy Cross Day 2005 by Bishop Iker at All Saints Church in Fort Worth. He is currently working as a missionary priest and is founding vicar of Christ the Redeemer, a relatively new congregation in Southwest Fort Worth. The new church was planted in January 2008.

"I am a mission-vicar priest deployed by the bishop for the purpose of establishing a new mission in the diocese," he explained.

Neither of Bishop Gulick's letters to Fr. Culpepper has really upset him. He has taken Bishop Gulick's advice with a grain of salt and shook off his letters like water rolling off a duck's back. The cleric is secure in who he is as an Anglican priest under the spiritual and temporal leadership of Bishop Iker along with his special place in the wider Anglican Communion, both in the Southern Cone and through the most recent establishment of the Anglican Church in North America.

Fr. Culpepper is excited about his mission at Christ the Redeemer. He feels committed to bring the Gospel message to a new generation using all the technological advances available to him.

"Technology allows us to engage the next generation," he said. "We can may dynamic presentation of the ancient message."

The Fort Worth priest travelled to his diocesan cathedral in Bedford to watch the birthing of the Anglican Province.

"I came to be encouraged," he said. "It's nice to be here."

Fr. Culpepper has no intention of responding to Bishop Gulick's latest letter. Therefore, according to the bishop's own prognostication, the Fort Worth priest can expect a third letter from the North Texas bishop early next month wherein he will be "informed" of his "inhibition" for "abandonment of communion" as outlined in Title IV, Canon 10.1 of the Episcopal Church.

That third letter, too, will in all likelihood, find its way into File 13, as Fr. Culpepper is secure in the exercise of his priesthood in the Anglican Church in North America.

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

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