George Sumner, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas (EDOD), has long been regarded with suspicion by both conservatives and liberals alike. Conservatives feel he is not an orthodox Anglican, while liberals (and many others) dislike Sumner’s high-handed approach to governance. So it is no surprise that Sumner is now trying to run roughshod over the LatinX mission of Holy Family Church in McKinney, Texas. And Sumner’s conduct is nothing short of shocking in its arrogance, duplicity, and shameless abuse of power. Bullying a LatinX congregation is profoundly stupid for multiple reasons, all of which are obvious.
Holy Family is a small church founded by immigrants 75 years ago. Today, most of its membership is third-generation, and worship at the church reflects an intriguing mix of Episcopal and Catholic traditions, including statues of the Holy Family on the altar.
But in January 2023, Sumner decided to move a troubled but larger congregation, Santa Natividad, from its current home in Plano, Tx., into the buildings belonging to Holy Family. And while Holy Family is a mission, and thus it is a diocesan asset, parishioners built the structures on their own.
True to form, Sumner didn’t bother to discuss the matter with members of Holy Family, who first got news of the impending merger on March 12 from their vicar, Fr. Harold Lowe. Lowe also serves as an assistant at Santa Natividad, while his wife is the administrator of that church.
Things blow up
Soon after Lowe’s announcement, Holy Family called an emergency meeting. The church decided to contact Sumner to ask for an explanation about the seeming takeover of their church. Sumner responded by saying he would meet with church members on March 25, and that he was trying to figure out financial issues and questions of sustainability relating to the cohabitation of the two parishes.
That begs the question: Why would Sumner move the church before he understood the financial picture?
The answer became clear to members of Holy Family as details emerged, including:
- The fact that the Bishop’s Committee of Santa Natividad had been asked to vote on the proposal.
- Building plans, in which Sumner would spend $75,000 to improve the Holy Family property while doing so in a way that catered exclusively to the incoming congregation.
In other words, Sumner lied when he depicted the matter as one of cohabitation. Instead, this is a case of replacing a relatively liberal LatinX congregation with one that’s more conservative and undoubtedly more to Sumner’s liking.
But it doesn’t stop there.
Just days later, members of the Santa Natividad congregation showed up and started work on the property, despite having not permitted the changes, done testing for lead-based paint, or made plans for remediation of potential asbestos. Additionally, the plans we have seen do not address accessibility or other vital issues.
As a result, the city issued stop work orders, and the diocese told members of Holy Family it would bring in someone more familiar with the permitting process. That sets off alarm bells—who in their right mind begins work without knowing what permits are required? Or makes plans to spend $75k before assessing sustainability?
One thing led to another, and Holy Family members were locked out of their church at one point. Meanwhile, we have heard multiple complaints of Sumner lying to parishioners, telling them the building belongs to the diocese, screaming at people, and threatening them.
Not surprisingly, Sumner’s conduct also ended an unofficial policy within the parish of trying to approach the issue from a perspective of love and cooperation. And while our interactions with parish members make it clear that they are polite, respectful, and inclusive, it’s also clear members of Holy Family are not going to roll over and play dead. In other words, hold on tight, George and fasten your seatbelt—there’s going to be a whole lot of turbulence in the weeks to come.
George Sumner: threatening, screaming, bullying
Earlier, we mentioned the allegations of bullying behavior by Sumner, including screaming and threatening. But we recognize it’s easy to make claims like this, so here is the exact language from one person who had the misfortune of getting a call from Lord Archbishop George Sumner:
On April 28 @ 3:56pm I received the first call. I answered the phone not recognizing the number. As soon as I said hello this is [redacted], the person who called started yelling at me. I asked hold up who is this. He screamed I am the Bishop of Dallas. He accused me of lying and of trying to sabotage the reconstruction. I told him that on my meeting with father Lowe and the contractor from the diocese we had all agreed that the buildings should in fact be tested for asbestos, mold and lead. The Bishop told me that was a flat out lie. I mentioned that my congregation had asked to me be a part of the meeting because I work in this field. He then started yelling at me saying I was wrong that its not your congregation (This is my congregation not yours and I will decide what the next steps are because I am the Bishop of Dallas.) That is a direct quote from him. I did yell at him and then apologized to him which he replied you should be sorry because I am the Bishop of Dallas. He then went on to question my faith as a person. Again I did raise my voice saying nobody has the authority to question my faith. He then went on and said ( Just because you wanted to be a lawyer and didn’t happen doesn’t give you the right to practice law on this matter) I have never ever wanted be a lawyer and was not trying to practice law against him. I had just mentioned that it’s a requirement from the State f Texas. But for some reason he yelled that at me. I told him (being a man of the cloth wouldn’t you want to take safety precautions for the congregations health. Its only the ethical thing to do.) He then said oh wow i guess you are the best example of someone that has ethics huh?. Which that shocked me very much. He doesn’t even know me or who I am. He repeatedly told me that this was not my congregation that it was his. I asked him lets just come to an agreement between me and him for our own conscious to get the buildings tested for the health safety of the congregation. Again he told me I am the Bishop of Dallas and he decides what his congregation needs and who was i to question him. Again I asked lets just get it tested and he said it didn’t need to be and the contractor from the diocese never agreed for it to be tested. I asked him for a meeting between myself him and the contractor and father Lowe. He replied that will never happen because I am the bishop of Dallas. My daughter was present for this conversation because she had heard the yelling and screaming and was concerned , so she came into my office. I had it on speaker phone ( she is only 15). I then had her hold my other phone so Mr. Montagna could he hear the conversation. I am very concerned that a so called man of the cloth would yell and scream at me this way. When he said I am your Bishop I did reply you are not my Bishop because my Bishop wouldn’t call me a liar, question my faith or question my ethics as a human being. He accused me over and over and kept asking me why I was trying to stop his plans. I don’t even know what he was talking about and I did ask him what he was talking about. Again he told me he didn’t haft to answer me because I am the Bishop of Dallas…Being a Bishop does not give the authority to yell and scream and accuse people and question someone’s faith. I did ask Father Lowe why would the Bishop of Dallas would have called me and accused me of lying and if he had any part of this. He did say that he did not talk to the Bishop about me and my name was never brought up to him. I was only trying to inform the congregation about the plan and what was agreed on when we walked the church grounds with Father Lowe the contractor from the diocese and myself. Again the bishop of Dallas was very rude, he was yelling and screaming at me, questioned my faith and ethics and accused me of lying.. It was like he was entitled to talk to me in this manner since he was the bishop of Dallas…
And while no doubt Sumner would deny this account, everything we know about Sumner suggests this is a 100 percent accurate portrayal of his conduct. We also find Sumner’s projection of his own moral failings telling — he’s one of the least honest bishops out there, and yet he’s going around accusing others of “flat out lying.” Indeed, his lies about Rich Daly’s departure from St. James Texarkana, in retaliation over the latter’s opposition to sexual harassment, are appalling, even for Sumner. And let’s not forget Sumner’s telling description of the project — he calls it “his plans.”
That begs the question: What about the notion of “our plans?”
None of this comes as a surprise to Anglican Watch staff. Specifically:
- Sumner’s role in engaging in illegal retaliation against a church employee who opposed the sexual harassment of an adult woman connected with St. James Texarkana is well documented. That includes lying to church members about the circumstances around the retaliation.
- We have heard of similar behavior by Sumner involving St. Stephen’s, Sherman, which he reduced to mission status by fiat. So much for the notion that the Episcopal Church is a representative democracy.
- Similarly, we’ve heard allegations of shady conduct by Sumner involving the Church of the Resurrection, a mission church that Sumner closed. He also got rid of that church’s priest, Leslie Stewart, who is well-regarded by clergy in the area.
As for the issue of the viability of the Holy Family parish, more than 500 churches in the denomination, like Holy Family, have an ASA of 20 or less. So while this may not be the norm, it’s hardly the exception.
We also find it telling that one church got to vote on the issue while the other didn’t.
Thus, Sumner would be well-advised to look closely at the Title IV clergy disciplinary complaint against Jon Bruno, which involved a property recovered in litigation that was technically a mission. Bruno and his antics didn’t fare too well in that situation, and with one Title IV complaint already pending against Sumner for his role in the St. James Texarkana debacle, he’d be wise to clean up his act.
It’s also foolish to treat a LatinX congregation like it has no right to be consulted or to be a participant in planning. Word gets around, and the days when the powers that be can bulldoze minority communities, all in the name of urban renewal, went out in the 1960’s.
As a result, we won’t be surprised if members of the congregation file a Title IV complaint against Sumner. And we’re prepared to bet the story will land with the major media in the Dallas area.
Time for Sumner to come to terms with the fact he’s no big deal. He’s a minor official in a tiny backwater of a dying church.
Even worse, George Sumner is a sack of scum who signs off on the sexual harassment of women and tries to cover it up by lying.
And at a time when many are working to bring our LatinX sisters and brothers more fully into our communities, it is shocking in the extreme that Sumner thinks he can bully the LatinX community with impunity. Anglican Watch stands with the members of Holy Family, and we will do everything in our power to resist Sumner’s outrageous, appalling, and un-Christian conduct.
Moreover, we call on the diocese to remove George Sumner from office. The sort of behavior described by members of Holy Family is in no way Christian, and Sumner’s arrogance reflects poorly on the entire diocese.
Sumner did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
However, anyone wishing to file a Title IV complaint against Sumner can contact the Bishop for Pastoral Development Todd Ousley here. Just be aware that Ousley routinely ignores the provisions of the Title IV canons, including flat-out refusing to address issues in which bishops decline to follow church canons.
Sumner’s building plan, developed without feedback from the current congregation, is missing just one thing: Space for the existing congregation.