Episcopal Studies program to adhere to views of national church

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    Brite Divinity School’s new Episcopal Studies Program will be geared toward those who are seeking ordination from the national Episcopal Church, which leans toward ordination of women and acceptance of gays, said the Rev. Fred Barber, acting director of the Episcopal Studies Program.

    Barber said there was much talk about the formation of the Episcopal Studies Program and how it might be beneficial toward the church, especially since Brite already has several other denominational programs.

    “We think it’ll be beneficial for church and seminary by adding a group of students that will bring an Anglican Episcopalian understanding to the community,” Barber said.

    Barber said he hopes the program, which begins this fall, will expand and add more elements in the following years.

    Stephanie Burke, a trustee at the Brite Divinity School and a member of All Saints Episcopal Church located in Fort Worth, said tension grew between the former Episcopalian Bishop of Fort Worth, Jack L. Iker, and the national Episcopal Church because of the national church’s general acceptance of homosexuality and especially because of its ordainment of women.

    “When he (Iker) was asked the question, ‘Who would he take communion from?’, he answered that if it was a gay priest, it was a valid communion but immoral,” Burke said. “He told us if it was a female priest, it’s completely invalid.”

    Suzanne Gill, communications director for Iker’s congregation, said Iker had a lunch with a member of Brite several years ago inquiring about the possibility of adding an Episcopalian program to the seminary’s curriculum. She said Iker declined because he preferred members to attend an exclusively Episcopalian seminary where they could be immersed in the denomination.

    She said Iker believes women can become Protestant ministers but not Catholic priests, and that the same standard applies in the Episcopal Church. Iker has concerns in the validity of women’s ordination as priests because it’s not in the Scripture, Gill said.

    Burke said the election of New Hampshire’s openly gay bishop, the Rev. Gene Robinson, created controversy, but it wasn’t until Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori was elected last year that Iker began to initiate the schism.

    Doug Newsom, professor of advertising/public relations and a member of the Episcopalian Church, said that when Schori was elected as presiding bishop, Iker refused to acknowledge her status.

    “You can’t do that, that’s crazy,” Newsom said. “That’d be like my saying that I’m not going to recognize the chancellor as my boss as an academic.”

    Nancy Ramsay, dean of the Brite Divinity School, wrote in an e-mail that the new program will follow the model of other denominational studies programs at Brite.

    Barber said the Episcopal Studies Program also has the support of the Rt. Rev. Edwin F. Gulick, the provisional bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth endorsed by the national Episcopalian Church.

    Barber said five students currently attending Brite are Episcopalian. The university expects the program to start small and grow each semester, he said.

    Burke said Iker declined previous attempts at creating an Episcopalian program at Brite.

    “He’s very, very conservative,” Burke said. “He was not interested in having any Episcopalians educated at Brite because Brite is very ecumenical. … There are 33 different religions at Brite, and he didn’t want part of that.”

    The Episcopal Studies Program will provide education for clergy and laity in Fort Worth, which has not been possible before, Burke said. Iker would send those in search of education in the Episcopalian tradition to the nearest seminary he approved located in Wisconsin, she said.

    The Episcopal Studies Program will allow candidates for Episcopal priesthood to complete the Master of Divinity for future ordination without leaving North Texas, Ramsay wrote.

    Iker previously limited communication between any of the Episcopal churches in Fort Worth and the national Episcopal Church because the national church held different views than he did, Burke said.

    A school at the University of Dallas in Irving used to be a place for members to pursue education in Anglican theology, but the program became unsustainable because of economic instability and the low number of students, Gill said.

    Newsom said that even though Iker’s congregation is still using the name Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, they are not Episcopalian. She said the group is now Anglican, since Iker joined the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone located in Argentina last year.

    According to court reports, the national Episcopal Church is suing Iker and the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone for continuing to use the name Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth. The court case is currently in progress.