The Episcopal Diocese of Colorado’s Statement on Yesterday’s Parish Vote

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The "vote" being taken this week by the secessionist group that now illegally occupies Grace and Saint Stephen’s Church in Colorado Springs has no legal validity or bearing on the current efforts by The Diocese of Colorado to regain rightful control of its property.

Because The Episcopal Church is a hierarchical church, parishes are not established by the vote of a congregation but only by actions taken by a diocesan convention and ecclesiastical authority. Conversely, no vote taken by a congregation or by its vestry can dissolve a parish or change its affiliation to another religious body. For that reason, neither the "vote" taken by the secessionist vestry on March 26 nor the "vote" currently being taken this secessionist group has any legal grounding or effect.

In fact, the secessionist group has not been clear or consistent about what the actions of May 20 and the coming days actually represent. On March 26, the secessionist vestry voted that "Grace Church and St. Stephen’s Parish will leave the Episcopal Church" effective immediately. In a press release that same day, they stated that members of the parish had no choice with regard to this action but would merely "be given the opportunity to affirm" their decision to affiliate with the Church of Nigeria.

The seizing of property rightfully belonging to the Episcopal Church is nothing more than a sadly misguided effort to restore to a position of public trust a priest who is currently under ecclesiastical indictment for the misappropriation of church funds. The diocese has been investigating allegations against the Rev. Donald Armstrong involving serious financial misconduct for more than a year, and in March, the Diocesan Review Committee issued a Presentment of charges – similar to an indictment – against Armstrong on the same day the former vestry of Grace and St. Stephen’s announced their decision to secede.

Last week, the Bishop and Diocese of Colorado filed an answer and counterclaim in response to the complaint filed in El Paso County by a secessionist congregation on Good Friday (April 6). The response asserts that the real property of Grace and St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church belongs to the loyalist Episcopal congregation, and that the secessionist congregation has "wrongfully taken steps to take possession of and exercise control over the Property." It cites the long history of the parish in the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Colorado, and the established legal precedent that Grace Church and St. Stephen’s holds legal title of record to the property for the mission of, and in trust for the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado and The Episcopal Church.

The parish of Grace and St. Stephen’s is one of 114 congregations in the Diocese of Colorado. Currently, at least 200 – 400 members of that congregation who wish to remain part of the Episcopal Church are worshiping at nearby First Christian Church until they can be restored to their property. The vestry of the Episcopal congregation has encouraged members not to take part in the invalid vote organized by the secessionist group. Prior to the move to secede from the Episcopal Church, Grace and St. Stephen’s had a reported average Sunday attendance of 800 people. St. John’s Cathedral in Denver reports a similar average Sunday attendance.



Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal- Anglican: Primary Source-- Statements & Letters: BishopsEpiscopal Church (TEC)TEC ConflictsTEC Conflicts: ColoradoTEC Departing Parishes

30 Comments
Posted May 27, 2007 at 6:11 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. William Witt wrote:

I have been one of the reasserters who has been withholding judgment on the Diocese of Colorado’s claims against Don Armstrong until more evidence is forthcoming, or at least until certain questions are cleared up.

However, if the Diocese’s claims of financial malfeasance are as specious as this press release, I am more and more likely to believe Grace Church’s account.

May 27, 7:27 am | [comment link]
2. NancyNH wrote:

William Witt is correct, as usual. I note the use of the phrase “The seizing of property rightfully belonging to the Episcopal Church.” The “Episcopal Church,” sadly, will never understand the principle that all property is God’s and we are just stewards. The property “rightfull belongs” to our Lord.

And if you had to ask me to make a split-second decision based on what I know right now, I would side with Fr. Armstrong on all counts. To a lesser extent than Dr. Witt, I have been on the receiving end of “Episcopal truth.” Fortunately, I still know right from wrong.

May 27, 7:48 am | [comment link]
3. NancyNH wrote:

Correction: “rightfully, not rightfull.”

May 27, 7:49 am | [comment link]
4. Anglicanum wrote:

Seriously, this is just awful.  I’m not even Anglican any more and it makes me cringe to read this stuff.

Veni Sancte Spiritus!

May 27, 11:28 am | [comment link]
5. David+ wrote:

With 93% of the voters deciding to join CANA, I’d say the bishop’s position (that a parish can not leave TEC) is absurd to say the least.  This congregation did indeed vote to leave TEC.

May 27, 11:57 am | [comment link]
6. Deja Vu wrote:

There is no holiness in it.

May 27, 12:20 pm | [comment link]
7. C.B. wrote:

800 regularly attend. Less than 400 voted. Does that mean that less than 50% of the members want to leave?  Also, I thought this was a very big church like 1500 -2000 members.

May 27, 12:31 pm | [comment link]
8. Dale Rye wrote:

Re #5: Nobody questions that the congregation can, and did, vote to leave TEC. They are free to form a CANA parish or anything else they like. It does not matter whether the vote was 344-343, 344-27, or 2000-0. The question is whether the parish can vote to leave. “Parish” does not a synonym for “congregation.” In a hierarchical polity (whether episcopal, presbyterian, or connectional), local churches are not identical with the local worshiping community; they are a local expression of the denomination as a whole. There are lots of non-hierarchical churches in the world ruled by their congregations, but this parish does not belong to one of them.

Hence, the parish—as opposed to a majority of the congregation—can only take action in accordance with the rules of the denomination, to which everyone agreed when the parish was formed (in this case as a part of the Missionary Diocese of the West), when everyone joined or took on adult responsibilities at confirmation, and when anyone accepted an office as clergy, vestryman, or whatever.

Those rules, which go back continuously to 1789 and originally—except for the interregnums from 1644-1660 and 1776-1789—to the second century, do not provide for the divorce of a parish and diocese except by mutual consent. In this case, the diocese and a minority of parish members clearly do not consent.

May 27, 1:35 pm | [comment link]
9. David Wilson wrote:

“Prior to the move to secede from the Episcopal Church, Grace and St. Stephen’s had a reported average Sunday attendance of 800 people. St. John’s Cathedral in Denver reports a similar average Sunday attendance”. 
Can anyone fathom for what purpose this sentence about the attendance at the Cathedral was tacked on the end of the article?

May 27, 1:53 pm | [comment link]
10. Tom Roberts wrote:

#9
It is part and parcel of the disinformation-agitprop effort.

May 27, 2:08 pm | [comment link]
11. Frank Fuller wrote:

In a fracas like the one we are all increasingly enmeshed in, pretty much everyone ends up being in the wrong, at least partly.  What bugs me is that I really had started to believe in all the stuff we were hearing since the ‘60’s about the Church really being the People of God.  (I had a hard time swallowing that for a long time—I knew perfectly well that the Church was the Clergy, and “going into the Church” meant being ordained, just like in a Jane Austen novel…)

Now it turns out, by dang, my long-ago teenage hunch was right, and the Church is the hierarchy as by Law Established.  Somebody needs to be eating some carefully seasoned crow.

Care to guess what the forefathers of the Revolution and the original constituting of the PEC would have had to say about the Dennis Canon?  They had used tar and feathers on folks for such as that up and down the east coast.  I have no brief for secessionism, but the corporatism our “hierarchy” is showing is doing more harm long term to the church—all the churches—than any seceder tantrums.  Show some grace, you people.

May 27, 2:23 pm | [comment link]
12. C.B. wrote:

#8 I imagine it has something to with establishing that Armstrong’s church was not bigger than Bishop O’Neill’s - St. John’s Cathedral is his “parish.”

May 27, 2:52 pm | [comment link]
13. PadreWayne wrote:

CB: 800 regularly attend. Less than 400 voted. Does that mean that less than 50% of the members want to leave?

More to the point (IMHO), does that mean that less than 50% of the members even care? I can understand the loyal Episcopalians refraining from voting, but still… out of a claimed “membership” of 1500-2000, the turnout was very low and possibly not legal (one would need to check the bylaws to see what percentage is required to be in attendance at a parish meeting in order to lawfully conduct business).

May 27, 4:35 pm | [comment link]
14. Cennydd wrote:

Leave the property…...AND the bills, liabilities, etc, to the bishop!  See if he can afford to keep it functioning as a church instead of a casino or nightclub!

May 27, 6:26 pm | [comment link]
15. Dale Rye wrote:

Re #13: Again, the vote total and quorum do not matter. A parish in the TEC cannot unilaterally secede, no matter what its bylaws say, because the parish has no power to adopt bylaws that conflict with the diocesan and national canons. That is not to say that the congregation cannot vote to leave and form a new CANA parish, nor that the State of Colorado might chose to impose congregationalist principles on the diocese and allow the membership to control the property. It is just to say that no group can embrace congregationalism to this degree and still plausibly claim to be Anglican.

May 27, 6:38 pm | [comment link]
16. Crazy Horse wrote:

Cenny,

Many of us at Grace Church think that is exactly what we ought to do—-we could buy the building cheaper after the other group and their bankrupt bishop (both financially and spiritually) has struggled for a month or so, the loan is called, and the church goes on the auction block by the bank for pennies on the dollar—it seems to us that this would be cheaper than the law suit—and much quicker…

May 27, 7:08 pm | [comment link]
17. Frank Fuller wrote:

Dale, I don’t recall any of the theological formularies of the Church which specify that a particular real property arrangement is the sine qua non of Episcopalianism or more generally Anglicanism.  To the contrary, the Lambeth Quadrilateral (item d) would suggest that the “Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration…” might be entirely amenable to something much more like what we are accustomed to disparage as congregationalism.

May 27, 7:10 pm | [comment link]
18. Anonymous Layperson wrote:

A parish in the TEC cannot unilaterally secede

We’ve heard that ad nauseum but why don’t you ask Bruno in LA how that worked out?  What you mean to say is that in your opinion a parish shouldn’t be able to leave.

May 27, 8:04 pm | [comment link]
19. Spiros wrote:

Dale Rye,

There is nothing stopping any Episcopal church bishop from reaching an agreement with a congregation on property matters.

The only problem is in the state of Pharaoh’s heart.

Episcopal Pharaohs, LET the PEOPLE GO (out of bondage) in peace to love and serve the Lord in FAITHFULNESS to the Gospel!!!

Spiros

May 27, 8:37 pm | [comment link]
20. FrankV wrote:

Here we go again nitpicking numbers.  The estimate of 2500 parishioners has always been a bloated number.  That number was much like Chicago Ward elections ie., whole cemeteries were counted, sometimes more than once.  The average Sunday attendance of 800 (three services) included children, non parishioner drop-ins, paid choir, clergy etc etc.
One must think of the number eligible to vote ie, bonafide adult parishioners over the age of 18 who were/are current contributing members of the church.  Not all of them voted.  Of those that did vote (370), 93% or 342 affirmed the split and to keep the property.
Also, Dale, the church land was donated by the founder of Colorado Springs long before the Diocese was even in existence.  The Diocese has not contributed one penny to the buildings and improvements over the years.  In my book, the Bishop can go whistle Dixie.

May 27, 9:18 pm | [comment link]
21. PadreWayne wrote:

Dale Rye, I agree with you. I was only pointing out the hubristic headline and the disparity of numbers.
Spiros, yes, a bishop could agree with parishioners—but in that case I would suggest that s/he would simply say, “Go with God.” The remaining faithful could then get on about the business of the Church, which is the propagation of the Gospel, care and feeding of the sick and the poor, and spreading the good news about God’s radically inclusive love.

May 27, 9:25 pm | [comment link]
22. Sarah1 wrote:

Should be easy to simply 1) find out how many vote in the past several vestry elections, and 2) compare the ASA and number of votes cast for parishes of the same size in VA.

On another note, Dale Rye states: “The question is whether the parish can vote to leave. “Parish” does not a synonym for “congregation.”

In your definition of “parish”—which does not actually include *congregants*—I’m happy to stipulate that the two remaining “parishioners” of a parish [or whatever quantity you wish to name—it could zero, by your definition]that remain with ECUSA are “the ECUSA parish”. 

What that actually has do with anything, I don’t know.

If you want to call whoever remains in ECUSA the “ECUSA parish of xyz” that’s fine by me.

May 27, 10:35 pm | [comment link]
23. Spiros wrote:

PadreWayne,

Are you forgetting that the faithful parishioners changing their affiliation from EcUSA to CANA are, in essence getting “on about the business of the Church, which is the propagation of the Gospel, care and feeding of the sick and the poor, and spreading the good news about God’s radically inclusive love”?

I think your problem is that you are choosing to define “God’s radically inclusive love” the way you like (feeling comfortable) instead of the TRUE “inclusive” love of God that we profess as Christians, which is on GOD’S TERMS - not on the terms and agenda of the Louie Crew, Gene Robinson, Susan Russell, and the usual suspects at the LGBT PAC lobby.

Until the LGBT usurpers realize and accept the fact that they DO NOT OWN this world, EcUSA will continue on her path to perdition.


Spiros

May 27, 11:06 pm | [comment link]
24. C.B. wrote:

Andrew Gerns at Epsicopal Cafe reports - “The rules established for the vote require that members of the Episcopal parish must re-register as members of the CANA congregation, contribute to the new congregation and attend its worship.”

http://www.episcopalcafe.com/lead/episcopal_church/by_andrew_gerns_a_colorado.html#more

May 28, 8:36 am | [comment link]
25. Newbie Anglican wrote:

There was no need for the diocese to put “vote” repeatedly in scare quotes.  That is obnoxious and contemptuous towards those who voted and tells me the bishop and his minions are a bunch of jerks.

May 28, 8:45 am | [comment link]
26. William Witt wrote:

It is just to say that no group can embrace congregationalism to this degree and still plausibly claim to be Anglican.

No doubt Arius and Nestorius used similar arguments about congregations within their dioceses who placed themselves under the authority of Orthodox Catholic bishops.

If they are under the authority of an Anglican bishop, they are not congregationalists. Peter Akinola is not only an Anglican bishop, but the Primate of the largest Anglican Church in the Communion.

May 28, 9:10 am | [comment link]
27. William Witt wrote:

Because The Episcopal Church is a hierarchical church, parishes are not established by the vote of a congregation but only by actions taken by a diocesan convention and ecclesiastical authority.

“Hierarchy” in TEC applies only from 815 down.  I can think of nothing less hierarchical and more sectarian (with apologies to real Christian denominations like the Mennonites) than the same bishops who at their most recent meeting gave the Primates of the communion an extended middle finger now telling congregations that “parishes” cannot leave TEC, only individuals. 

TEC is the ecclesiastical Roach Motel.  You can check in, but you can’t check out.

May 28, 9:57 am | [comment link]
28. Anonymous Layperson wrote:

TEC is the ecclesiastical Roach Motel.  You can check in, but you can’t check out.

smile  grin  LOL
Who knew theologians had such a sense of humor!

May 28, 12:05 pm | [comment link]
29. r.w. wrote:

#28

I’m still laughing, too.

Kendall ought to highlight W. Witt’s witty comment as one of the notable Quotable Quotes.

r.w.

May 29, 2:30 am | [comment link]
30. Juandeveras wrote:

St. John’s Denver has 1500 seats, so if they generate 800 total for all three services on Sunday - well, that’s not good. Current dean of St. John’s, Peter Eaton,  once had his gay “chancellor” write me a strong letter because I wrote a piece stating Eaton had claimed connections with the ABC to get the job.

May 30, 4:08 am | [comment link]
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