By Kirk Petersen

For the second time this year, a diocese of the conservative Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) has announced plans to expand into the geographic boundaries of a conservative Episcopal diocese. The theological solidarity of traditional Anglicanism is bumping up against the imperatives of emerging jurisdictions.

Since ACNA was founded in 2009 by clerics who rejected the perceived liberalism of the Episcopal Church, there has been an unwritten understanding that ACNA would not compete with the remaining handful of conservative Episcopal bishops.

But on April 16, ACNA’s diocese in the Fort Worth region said it seeks to establish a “Missionary District of Dallas, to operate temporarily as a Deanery of the Diocese of Fort Worth.” The district would include churches inside the borders of the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas, which is headed by the Rt. Rev. George Sumner, a member of the conservative Communion Partners organization, which is opposed to same-sex marriage.

The ACNA announcement “was a surprise to us,” Sumner told TLC. “There is a history of the Diocese of Fort Worth and the Diocese of Dallas sort of working things out.” Choosing his words carefully, he added, “I hope this isn’t a sign that that is no longer possible.”

“We have to share, and not steal, sheep. And we’re not intending to,” said Suzanne Gill, director of communications for the ACNA diocese. “We count Bishop Sumner as someone we certainly don’t want to offend. His friendship is something that matters to us. There’s no intention to take parishes out of the Diocese of Dallas.”

That attitude contrasts sharply with the approach of a different ACNA diocese, which has taken active measures to attract clergy from the Episcopal Diocese of Albany, in New York. Emotions are raw among some clergy and members of that diocese after their bishop, the Rt. Rev. William H. Love, resigned in the face of disciplinary proceedings against him.

Love, the only bishop who refused to comply with the decision of General Convention to allow same-sex marriage rites in every U.S. diocese, stepped down as Bishop of Albany as of February 1, and was released at his request from Episcopal ministry as of March 30. He subsequently was welcomed as an assisting bishop in ACNA’s Anglican Diocese of the Living Word (ADLW).

After Love announced in October that he was giving up the fight and stepping down as bishop, ADLW held an informational meeting in November for clergy who might be interested in leaving the Episcopal Church. ADLW announced in February that it was welcoming some clergy from Albany, and at least two former priests of the Episcopal Diocese of Albany, the Revs. David Haig and David Beaulac, are planting ADLW churches, in or near the communities where they served Episcopal congregations until a few weeks ago.

Back in Texas, Sumner said there is a long history of amicable relations between the dioceses in Dallas and Fort Worth. Before ACNA existed, the Diocese of Fort Worth was created out of part of the Diocese of Dallas in 1983, and the two dioceses became leaders in the conservative movement of the Episcopal Church.

Fort Worth, the more conservative and Anglo-Catholic of the two, refused to ordain female priests, but Dallas provided an ordination path for Fort Worth women. When Katharine Jefferts Schori was elected presiding bishop in 2006, Fort Worth Bishop Jack Iker refused to recognize her authority, and in 2008 led a majority of the clergy and membership of the diocese out of the Episcopal Church, eventually becoming part of ACNA.

Sumner’s predecessor as Bishop of Dallas, James M. Stanton, negotiated an agreement to allow Christ Church Plano, at the time the largest Episcopal parish in the country, to leave the diocese, retain its property, and eventually become part of ACNA. Sumner also said the Diocese of Dallas is renting property on favorable terms to St. Francis Anglican Church, an ACNA parish in Dallas.

But while the Anglican and Episcopal leadership in Dallas were showing signs of collegiality, the factions in nearby Fort Worth settled in for more than a decade of litigation, during which time there were two entities calling themselves the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up the matter earlier this year, and left standing a Texas Supreme Court ruling that the ACNA diocese was the proper owner of that name (and the $100 million of property held by that entity.)

So now, the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth is not part of the Episcopal Church, while the Episcopal Church diocese that continues to be headquartered in Fort Worth has rebranded itself as the Episcopal Church in North Texas.

The Episcopal/Anglican jurisdictional tangle is complicated by the fact that while the Episcopal Church defines its dioceses geographically, ACNA includes overlapping dioceses with both geographic and non-geographic boundaries. For example, when the aforementioned Christ Church in Plano (a Dallas suburb) left the Episcopal Church, it did not join the ACNA diocese of Fort Worth, but rather the Diocese of Churches for the Sake of Others, or C4SO, which has 60 ACNA parishes scattered across nearly a dozen states. The Anglican Diocese of the Living Word has 40 churches in 15 states.

Meanwhile, the aforementioned St. Francis Anglican Church in Dallas is part of the Eastern Deanery of ACNA’s (non-Episcopal) Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth.

Incidentally, another ironic aspect of the plan by the Diocese of Fort Worth to establish a mission district in Dallas is that it stands the traditional pecking order of the two huge cities on its head. Dallas has always been the more prominent member of the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area. For example, the professional football team that plays in the city of Arlington, which is between the two cities but closer to Fort Worth, is named the Dallas Cowboys.