Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Judgement in Colorado Springs

Updated again Thursday morning

Thursday morning update
Colorado Springs Gazette Judge orders Anglican parish to vacate Grace church by April 3

A judge on Wednesday ordered the Anglican parish that’s been meeting at Grace Church, 631 N. Tejon St., to vacate the building by April 3 at 5 p.m., setting the stage for the exiled Grace and St. Stephen’s Episcopal parish to hold its first service in the gothic church on Palm Sunday.

Judge Larry Schwartz also ordered the Anglican parish priest, Donald Armstrong, to vacate the rectory, where he lives on Electra Drive in the Skyline Way area, by May 8. This revised the original order issued on Tuesday, which stated that Armstrong would have to vacate by April 1.

——-
Earlier report:

The property dispute in the Diocese of Colorado over Grace and St Stephens parish property has been resolved in favour of the diocese. Many members of the congregation have affiliated with CANA.

The Colorado Springs Gazette reports it this way: Armstrong camp loses Tejon Street church report written through extensively and new headline is One group leaving Grace church, one moving in — but when?

From the earlier version:

According to a press release issued by the Rev. Alan Crippen II, a member of the breakway group, Judge Larry Schwartz issued a 28-page ruling that concluded , among other things: “The Diocese over most of its 135 years existence demonstrates a unity of purpose on the part of the parish and general church. … The trust created through past genereations of members of Grace Church and St. Stephen’s prohibits the departing parish members from taking the property with them.”

Crippen said the group is considering an appeal, but is already preparing to move from the historic property.

“We will meet at a new location,” he said in an interview.

Because of the ruling, the congregation’s leader, the Rev. Donald Armstrong, is also losing his rectory, and the church loses its name because it’s so similar to the Episcopal congregation, Grace and St. Stephen’s Episcopal.

Martin Nussbaum, attorney for the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado, expects the move to go quickly.

“We will be in possession of the property no later than next Wednesday,” he said.

The press release from the Diocese of Colorado is available here as a PDF. The content as a web page can be found here at Episcopal Café:

The Bishop and Diocese of Colorado, and the more than 500 members of Grace and St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church rejoice today that the members of the Episcopal parish will be returning to their church home as a result of a decision issued by District Court Judge Larry Schwartz. In that ruling, Judge Schwartz found that the historic property is held in trust for the mission and ministry of the Episcopal Church and ordered the breakaway congregation that wrongfully took possession of the property two years ago to leave…

There is also a press release from the continuing parish.

The full text of the judgement is on the website of the continuing Episcopal parish as a PDF file.

The website of the CANA-affiliated congregation has its press release here as a PDF file:

“For two years we have been praying for justice in this case, and the Court has now ruled. Judge Schwartz is a fair and honorable man and we appreciate his own sacrifice and considered effort in hearing our case. Our congregation will take some time to review his ruling with our attorneys before we make a formal response.

There is much yet to be settled even with this significant ruling now issued,” said Father Donald Armstrong, rector of Grace Church & St. Stephen’s.

“As to the future of our congregation, it’s the people and not the building that is at the heart of our life in Christ,” Armstrong said. “This decision is one major step out of the ambiguity in which we have lived these past two years and will allow us to more readily refocus on gospel work and service. At the very least this is an occasion for renewal and recommitment to the essential things of gospel work. Our Plan B is well-developed, exciting, and will be announced shortly.”

and:

“This is a new beginning for Grace Church & St. Stephen’s in its partnership with CANA,” said the Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns, missionary bishop of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA).

“Grace Church has a glorious heritage and an exciting future ahead of it. Although this decision is disappointing, the congregation and its leadership in Don Armstrong are strong in their commitment to gospel work and the renewal of Anglicanism in Colorado Springs and beyond. I fully expect that its members will quickly recover
from the sad loss of their historic place of worship. Knowing the people of Grace Church and their buoyant optimism, I anticipate that the parish’s best days are yet ahead.”

Update Wednesday morning

Episcopal News Service has a detailed report at Diocese of Colorado, Episcopal Church prevail in Grace and St. Stephen’s church property dispute by Pat McCaughan. It includes this:

Armstrong, who became rector of the congregation in 1987, is the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation into allegations he misappropriated parish funds. No criminal charges have as yet been filed in that matter, although parish financial records and computers were seized during a November 2008 police raid.

A year earlier, an ecclesiastical court had judged Armstrong guilty of financial improprieties and sentenced him to deposition from ordained ministry. On September 26, 2007, the five-member panel of clergy and laity unanimously found him “guilty on all counts … (of) theft of $392,409.93 from Grace Church and causing Grace Church to issue false W-2s and underreport Armstrong’s benefits by $548,097.27,” according to a diocesan spokesperson.

The diocesan court also found Armstrong guilty on four other charges, including receiving illegal loans totaling $122,497.16 as well as “unauthorized encumbrance and alienation of Grace Church’s real property, violation of the temporary inhibition placed on Armstrong and improper use of clergy discretionary funds and failure to maintain proper accounting records.”

and

Local media reported that police were called to the church by Armstrong a few hours after the court’s ruling. Armstrong said that security guards hired by the diocese who were on the property to patrol it were trespassing.

Armstrong told a Colorado Springs Gazette reporter that “they have no right to be on the property until April.”

Other press reports:

Associated Press Breakaway Episcopalians lose bid to keep building

Denver Post Church is Episcopal property, judge says

Colorado Springs Gazette Grace Church timeline

CANA has issued a press release, CANA Responds to Colorado Springs Ruling:

“While we are of course disappointed with today’s ruling, we will continue with our ministry and mission work in Colorado Springs and around the nation,” said CANA Missionary Bishop Martyn Minns. “The Gospel is not spread by church buildings or church property. It is the living Christ that works in people, and we are praying for the orthodox Anglicans in Colorado Springs that the work of the Lord will continue.”

“We remain steadfast in our effort to defend the historic Christian faith across the country. There is clearly a division within The Episcopal Church which broke its relationship with the worldwide Anglican Communion and fell out of step with much of Christendom by choosing to redefine and reinterpret Scripture,” Minns concluded.

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Comments

"As to the future of our congregation, it’s the people and not the building..."

Well, well...

Why did they sue for the property in the first place?

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Tuesday, 24 March 2009 at 8:19pm GMT

Would someone with legal training comment on my speculation that if the CANA congregation vacates the pro\operty and Armstrong leaves the rectory, that will will considerably weaken any appeal they might consider?

I hope that those CANA groups in Virginia will take a cue and drop their suits and vacate TEC's property.

Posted by: Cynthia Gilliatt on Tuesday, 24 March 2009 at 8:28pm GMT

The Episcopal Church Welcomes EVERYONE (at all levels of Churchlife and Realife)!

Posted by: Leonardo Ricardo on Tuesday, 24 March 2009 at 8:34pm GMT

It may be a "new beginning" for Armstrong and his followers, but it will not be a happy one. They have not just lost their buildings and bank accounts. Armstrong has lost all remaining credibility. He led his flock down a path to disaster, and he has been un-masked as untrustworthy. Judge Schwartz stated in his decision that Armstrong made false statements to Bishop O'Neil about a mortgage on the building; and that Armstrong's testimony during the trial was "unconvincing."

Posted by: Robert on Tuesday, 24 March 2009 at 8:37pm GMT

"As to the future of our congregation, it’s the people and not the building that is at the heart of our life in Christ..."

So why did they fight so hard to hold on to something that wasn't theirs?

Posted by: Pat ONeill on Tuesday, 24 March 2009 at 8:40pm GMT

" '[...]it’s the people and not the building that is at the heart of our life in Christ,' Armstrong said." -- excerpt
Oh, that's rich, that's really rich. The breakaway congregation tries to break away from its charter agreement as well, fights like Hell to hold on to the property even though the property rightfully belongs to the Diocese, tries to eat its cake and have it too, and when it loses, the breakaway pastor says "it's the people and not the congregation."
It's always easiest to play the humility card after one loses.

Posted by: peterpi on Tuesday, 24 March 2009 at 9:42pm GMT

I share in the gratitude and joy of the Episcopal Parish of Grace & St. Stephen's. I hope that EVERYONE who has ever been a member of this parish, realizes they are welcome to continue to worship there (with the oversight of the bishop of the Diocese of Colorado, of the Episcopal Church).

TBTG!

Posted by: JCF on Wednesday, 25 March 2009 at 12:55am GMT

Joyous SEASON!

Posted by: Leonardo Ricardo on Wednesday, 25 March 2009 at 4:00am GMT

There remains many unanswered questions relating to the Anglican Communion Institute, founded and funded by Armstrong. An obvious failure in due diligence is in itself a serious cause for concern

I hope that with this decision the couple of priests still brazenly hyping their rather spittle filled opinions under the name of that "Institute" will offer to fully reimburse the parish all monies diverted to their use.

Sadly these gentlemen are falsely encouraging others to view TEC as not hierarchical and thereby furthering the bitterness of the legal disputes - perhaps this new legal judgment might help them to cease fostering these misappropriations of parishes and diocese.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Wednesday, 25 March 2009 at 10:09am GMT

There is the parallel story of Don Armstrong's personal IRS problems regarding use of Church scholarship funds earmarked for seminarian education that instead were used to pay for his children's educational expenses. The details elude me but certainly there is more here in this significant "back story". I wonder if anyone has an update on his personal legal/financial problems?

Posted by: ettu on Wednesday, 25 March 2009 at 11:19am GMT

Justice prevails. Being the lenten season I will not shout, Alleluia!

Posted by: John on Wednesday, 25 March 2009 at 12:23pm GMT

If they are ordered to leave (as they have) and the order isn't stayed pending appeal (as it hasn't), they must leave or be in contempt of the judge's order.

I don't think their chances of success on appeal are likely. I think the chances of the order being stayed are miniscule (and the CANA group isn't apparently asking for that). There can be tactical reasons not to ask for a stay. For example, they might have been required to post a large bond to get a stay (depending on Colorado law).

Posted by: Paul Davison on Wednesday, 25 March 2009 at 1:42pm GMT

Cynthia:

I had an interesting conversation last night about this news. It seems part of the Colorado decision cited earlier decisions in California. My guess is evntually Virginia will do the same and the CANA parishes will have to relocate. As to if you leave the building does that weaken your appeal.
I would say yes especially in light of the judges comments about Armstrong's testimony.

With out a place to call home and the damage done to their leader (like any cult following), they'll either stick with him, go back to their former churches (my guess is that a good number are from other denominations) or run off to the more evangelical churches (or the RC Church).
Some will want to stay in their pew and remain (there are those who are married to the building)
no matter who's in charge.

Just my humble assessment.

Posted by: BobinSwPA on Wednesday, 25 March 2009 at 1:47pm GMT

I certainly don't rejoice at the pain the people Armstrong has (mis-)led must be going through. My thoughts and prayers are with them and hope that some sort of reconciliation may yet be possible.

Meanwhile, Armstrong really should not only be behind bars, but defrocked for his astonishingly bad leadership and morals. I've long said and strongly believed that the rank and file of ACNA and CANA have been sold a pack of lies, and this is just one good example of it. The drumbeat of losses in court only add to it. Virginia thus far has been the only bright spot for them, and I bet you my prayer beads that the ADV parishes will ultimately end up on the losing end there as well.

The textbook sour grapes attitude amongst the so-called reasserter blogs is quite a thing to behold. Many of the very same people who insisted that the property was rightfully the congregation's are toeing the same bizarre line that Armstrong is: that it's not about the property after all. Well gee, folks, why didn't you just leave like your predecessors in the so-called Continuum? At least *they* had some semblance of honor.

Posted by: Walsingham on Wednesday, 25 March 2009 at 2:15pm GMT

Armstrong certainly doesn't look too good in that ruling, in which the judge accuses him of making false and self-serving testimony.

It's not pretty.

Posted by: JPM on Wednesday, 25 March 2009 at 3:22pm GMT

"I certainly don't rejoice at the pain the people Armstrong has (mis-)led must be going through."

I have some compassion for them, I know what it's like to feel the Church you were raised in has abandoned the faith it taught you. But, if they're like Anglicans anywhere else, Armstrong hasn't led them anywhere they didn't want to go. And you're right about CANA et al being fed a pack of lies. But this isn't about gay people, really. This is about conservatives being stricken with terror at the idea that the status quo is changing. For them, God is a cold, vindictive, angry being who will grudgingly accept you into his kingdom if you are suitably obedient and grovel properly. He underwent the death by torture we deserve to prove He loves us and to provide himself with a suitably pure victim to punish so he could not be angry with us any more. But, that wasn't enough. You have to believe the right things, any deviation will result in eternal punishment. And your actions aren't about spreading the Good News, they are about making sure you are properly obedient. If you have to lie to yourself, to those around you, and to God Himself in order to be obedient, and that's what they are asking of gay people, then that's fine, just as long as you don't break the law.

Now we are saying that in some areas the Church got it wrong. That means that, first of all, they've been doing the wrong thing, so how can they make up for that? God'll roast 'em for sure. Also, this means that anything can change. Since 'Get Out of Hell Free' requires obedience, they can never be sure of playing in God's sandbox when they die. So, for them, being nice to gay people brings a great risk of Hell's Flames. Not so much because they would have been nice to one of those subhuman queers, but because of the implications for the rest of the faith. I imagine the Evangelicals are worried they'll have to pray to Mary, the Anglicatholics are worried they'll have to start waving their arms in the air, and the BCP fundamentalists that didn't leave 30 years ago are scared to death they'll have to call God 'you'. But, of course, only the last one is a mortal sin:-)

Posted by: Ford Elms on Wednesday, 25 March 2009 at 3:45pm GMT

I would be curious to see how many of the Armstrong congregation actually break with him.

I suspect that some number of those people didn't so much choose to join the schism as they simply kept going to church - and will simply keep going to church as the property reverts to its rightful owners.

Posted by: Malcolm+ on Wednesday, 25 March 2009 at 5:50pm GMT

Something that truly needs to be addressed is the issue of educating the laity. Duncan like Armstrong and Minns are cult figures. People don't seem to want or aren't able to assess situations and problem solve. In one of Bart Erhman's presentations he talks about a situation involving his students. He ask his students "how many of you have read the bible?" Maybe 1/4 of the students raise their hand. Then he ask, "how many of you have read the Da Vinci Code?" and 3/4 of the students raise their hand. You'd think that if their faith were that important they'd read the book that it was based on/explains it.

Another situation that the church could address the idea that "I can only be around people who get me!" We are becoming a very polarized society. Tolerance and understanding seem to be going by the wayside.

Posted by: bobinswpa on Wednesday, 25 March 2009 at 6:21pm GMT

As to the future of our congregation, it’s the people and not the building that is at the heart of our life in Christ..."

Could have fooled me. It is a bit late for such statments of piety after so much angst and expenditure.

Why did they ever imagine they could withdraw from a denomination AND keep the buildings ?

Posted by: Rev L Roberts on Wednesday, 25 March 2009 at 6:39pm GMT

I believe Malcolm+ is on to something. A longtime parishioner at my church can't abide the current rector, but will not leave "her" church over his putative sins, which are legion. "I'll be here long after _he's_ gone," she declares. That the incumbent has been in place for 22 years has diminished her dogged dedication not a whit.

Posted by: Bill on Wednesday, 25 March 2009 at 6:47pm GMT

I see the CANA group have posted the judge's order on their website and have called a parish meeting at the Church for this evening. A bit cheeky given that the order requires that they "cease all use and relinquish all posession, control and dominion over the disputed property" immediately. And the list of property cited by the judge is very complete! He includes the buildings, and the contents of those buildings that belong to the parish, and all bank accounts or investments, and the web domain, and the name! He left nothing out.

The burning question now is whether this will put an end to the other lawsuits.

Posted by: Nom de Plume on Wednesday, 25 March 2009 at 10:16pm GMT

"Judgement in Colorado Springs.".sounds like a rather good title for a cowboy movie where the crooks and the outlaws are dealt with by a good sherrif. Just read his judgement , what a balanced and thorogh Judge.

Please note the Church in Nigeria get off scot free. And the outlaws, Schofield, Iker and Duncan are still on the run.


Posted by: Robert Ian Williams on Thursday, 26 March 2009 at 6:22am GMT

Well, in view of what has happened here, it may be that the former Rector may have to take up Saint Paul's trade - tentmaking - to house his congregation.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Thursday, 26 March 2009 at 9:40am GMT

"That the incumbent has been in place for 22 years has diminished her dogged dedication not a whit."

Good for her! As 'tis said "On the unworthiness of ministers, which hindereth not the effect of a sacrament." It's not him, it's the office God called him to. I might not have much use for former Canadian Anglican bishop Don Harvey, but I respected him AS A BISHOP when God decided to lead this diocese through the spiritual wilderness of Harvey's episcopate.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Thursday, 26 March 2009 at 1:37pm GMT

"Would someone with legal training comment on my speculation that if the CANA congregation vacates the property and Armstrong leaves the rectory, that will will considerably weaken any appeal they might consider?"

No. Not at all. Any appeal would be decided on the facts of the case in the record and the applicable law. It is expected that all parties will comply with the orders of the judge and doing so does not prejudice their case in the least.

Posted by: ruidh on Thursday, 26 March 2009 at 3:37pm GMT

Please, oh Please. This lawsuit had nothing to do with ¨it´s only a building¨...it had to do with punishing generations of Christians who believe that we ought love one another...all of us one anothers and they wanted to kick our inclusive, yet God loving, but*s OUT of Church!

Posted by: Leonardo Ricardo on Thursday, 26 March 2009 at 5:53pm GMT

This kind of angst is what happens when people "play church". I left ECUSA years ago because of the lack of peace in that denomination. I am clapping my hands, however, that the reactionary bigots from Nigeria are leaving. It is long overdue. Now, can we all please get back to the business of ministering honestly to one another and move on in peace?

Posted by: Mack Genter on Thursday, 26 March 2009 at 5:59pm GMT

I, too, rejoice and also feel some anguish for Armstrong's followers.

That aside, Armstrong has been already been defrocked by the Bishop of Colorado, and that's the least of his worries. The grand jury is still out, but I think we can anticipate an indictment soon on the embezzlement charges. In addition, there is the IRS matter of back taxes, fines and interest. For him, the rest of his journey is going to be long, painful and very expensive.

Posted by: old verger on Friday, 27 March 2009 at 6:39pm GMT

On reviewing the actual judgement made by the court in this case, one can only presume that other, similar, cases, where parishes in the US Episcopal Church have made efforts to alienate the property from the ownership by the TEC Dioceses concerned, must also be determined on the same basis - that property belonging to any parish within TEC, under the canons of that Church are unable to be alienated by any clergy person or parishioner who decides to defy the authority of the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of TEC on matters of property ownership.

What a great outcome for Grace and St. Stephen's Parish in Colorado Springs. What a wonderful opportunity for the re-dedication of the loyalty of the Faithful Remnant - to accompany our Lord into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday 2009. Deo Gratias!

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Friday, 27 March 2009 at 10:04pm GMT

Armstrong, the leader of the schismatics has said upkeep of the Church is expensive,...but not half as expensive as keeping him, over the past 21 years!

Whether they be TEC or breakaways the clergy in America are grossly overpaid and pampered.

Posted by: Robert Ian Williams on Saturday, 28 March 2009 at 7:49pm GMT

"Whether they be TEC or breakaways the clergy in America are grossly overpaid and pampered."

Tell that to the majority of priests in Dio of Va, who serve small churches in small towns. Tell that to the priests who care for multiple churches in rural areas. Tell that to the priests who take part-timie pay to serve small rural congregations and make up the difference with part-time secular work. Tell that to priests who serve struggliing inner city parishes.

Pish tush!

I'm sure there are instances of overpay and pampering, but not in my neighborhood!


Posted by: Cynthia Gilliatt on Saturday, 28 March 2009 at 8:51pm GMT
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