October 22, 2010
By G. Thomas Graves III
“Every diocese is an independent and sovereign state, held in the unity of the Catholic Church by its episcopate, according to the rule of St. Cyprian.” So said the Rt. Rev. Alexander Charles Garrett, the first Bishop of Dallas, on the occasion of the first convention of the diocese in 1895. “The diocese thus becomes the ecclesiastical unit, a full and perfect integer sufficient of itself for all purposes of growth and development.”
As treasurer of the Diocese of Dallas, and until recently senior lay member of its standing committee, I have observed that the people of this diocese understand and take seriously apostolic succession, and value our place in the Anglican Communion. We also treasure the special polity of the Episcopal Church as defined in its Constitution by our founding fathers in the shadow of our country’s successful war for independence. Bishop Garrett understood this unique polity, describing every diocese as “an independent and sovereign state.”
Similarly, the first dean of St. Matthew’s Cathedral, the Very Rev. Hudson Stuck, was well versed in the precedents of church history. “For consider that every organized diocese is essentially an independent, autonomous portion of the church, having all that is necessary for a church,” he wrote in 1895. Statements like this were not made to defeat a “national church,” as none existed then on the terms we now see being proposed. They were made out of enthusiasm for spreading the gospel, because Dallas was complete as a diocese and so suited for the challenge. To quote the Rt. Rev. James Stanton, sixth Bishop of Dallas, sovereignty in the context that Stuck and Garrett used it did not mean going it alone. Garrett made this clear when he said that the “fullness of the apostolic power, to which I have referred again and again as the great deposit of authority, resides not in each individual bishop, but in the complete apostolic college. It resides in the whole body of bishops.” the rest at The Living Church
The revisions to Title IV enacted by General Convention at Anaheim in 2009 turn the principles of the founders of the Diocese of Dallas and those of the entire Episcopal Church on their head.