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.
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 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.
“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.”
“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.”
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.