Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Anglican congregation ordered to vacate their church home

Judge Larry Schwartz ruled today in the El Paso County District Court in Colorado Springs, CO that title to the property of Grace Church & St. Stephen's is vested in the Episcopal Church of the United States and in the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado. The congregation has been ordered to vacate the property and reportedly will leave their church home by April 1.

Here is Bishop Martyn Minns statement at the division of Grace Church & St. Stephen's:
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. 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.

The Denver Post reports that the judge ruled there was an "implied trust" on the property.
An El Paso County judge today ordered a breakaway Episcopalian congregation to surrender Grace Church and St. Stephen's Parish in Colorado Springs to the Colorado Episcopal Diocese it left two years ago over theoogical differences.

District Judge Larry Schwartz ruled that the landmark Gothic-style church, rectory and other buildings along Tejon Street, valued at about $17 million, belonged to the diocese.

The judge said 138 years of shared history had created an implied trust between the Episcopal Diocese and the church that prohibited members who left the denomination from taking property with them.
Note that implied trusts are historically not recognized in the Commonwealth of Virginia where the Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia have filed separate appeals to the rulings last year by Circuit Court Judge Randy Bellows, who found in favor of the local parishes who voted overwhelmingly in 2006 to separate from the Episcopal Church.

It will be interesting to see if the former "established church" of Virginia will also win over the Supreme Court judges in Richmond, remembering that the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia lost much of their holdings following votes by local parishes and actions taken by the General Assembly to disestablish the Episcopal Church in the Commonwealth of Virginia.


Grey Beard said...

I seems to me that the congregation that improved, maintained and occupied the property would have an "implied trust" of a higher order than TEC who had no investment in it.

Jim said...


John said...

Justice prevails. Being Lent I will refrain from shouting Alleluia.

Jeff H said...

John, you're Lent?

Anonymous said...

Grey Beard- please don't forget that there are some 500 people here who improved, maintained, and occupied the property until the locks were changed 2 years ago tomorrow

James in Colorado Springs

John said...

Jeff H. Thank you for the grammatical question.
I should have said- This being the lenten season in The Episcopal Church in America, I will refrain from shouting, Alleluia.
I did shout Alleluia when our church, here in Georgia. was taken back from CANA two years ago.
I my not be grammatically correct at times but I'm sure you got my joyful message.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful news for those faithful Episcopalians who have been in the wilderness for the past two years. May they return to their church and flourish and grow with God's blessing!

Anonymous said...

Some victories turn out to be ashes in your mouth. Do the math - when the majority leaves the future has been decided.

I suspect the "faithful Episcopalians" have less than 5 years before the churches are bankrupt, but that will prompt a reconciliation of sorts.

When these churches are night clubs or art galleries, we can all enjoy them together again.


Anonymous said...

Can anyone help with information on the back story of Rev. Armstrong's reported IRS and supposed financial irregularities? Have claims of misapropriation of scholarship funds and/or false W-2 filings been explained? These were not trivial charges and have a bearing on his financial if not moral character so deserve continued publicity as long as the Church issue is in the news. If innocent we should know that and the opposite side of the coin also holds true. Help, anyone? Thanks. ettu

BabyBlue said...

That may be a job for Anglican Curmudgeon - John Newsome is the now-former and disgraced District Attorney in Colorado who led the charge against Don Armstrong at the Episcopal Church's request. He participated in some rather high-profile press "investigations" of Armstrong which never led to any sort of former charges. The high-profile investigations was enough to ruin the Rev. Armstrong's reputation (it was a campaign worthy of anything we see in Washington). John Newsome then was investigated by the Governor of Colorado for misconduct which ruined Newsome's chances at re-election and there is now literally a new-new sheriff in charge. So far nothing has come of the investigations led by Newsome at TEC's insistence. Those investigations seem to have been dropped along with Newsome. So far the new District Attorney does not seem interested of stepping into the mess.

The deal is - if this ruling stands the long-term affects on The Episcopal Church could be chilling on its own. What lay leader in their right mind would want to invest into major improvements of a local parish property knowing that the Diocese and 815 exerts authoritarian control over the property? Let the Diocese and 815 take care of the property if it's now theirs.

And why would the diocese want to exert public control and ownership of the properties and put themselves at huge financial risk, especially since this means that the bishop and perhaps the Presiding Bishop could now be sued for damages if something unfortunate happens on the local parish property (like a child being runover in the parkinglot). It makes no financial sense. And it completely changes the polity of the Episcopal Church.

Of course, that might mean more accountability of the bishop of the bishop knows he will be held personally and financially responsible for any unfortunate activity on the local parish grounds. That would be enough to keep bishops awake at night.

It is not clear to me that even the progressives in Virginia want to see any rulings that would give the bishop or New York financial and litigious control over their local parishes and their vestries. We may not agree on some theological or social policies, obviously, but we often find we have common ground in our "low church" understandings of restricting the power of the bishop over the local parish. As I've written before, we have had long memories in Virginia.

It's gotten very quiet in Virginia since the ruling in January. Very quiet. The diocese is having trouble getting local parishes to sign up for their diocesan programs. Virginian Episcopalians are far too polite to oppose the bishop or the diocese in public (which of course was one of the major issues with the parish votes - it was so unseemly to do it in public, like airing one's dirty laundry in public, it was bad manners). But that doesn't mean that the local parishes and their laity (and even more clergy than some might expect) are comfortable with the thought that the bishop or the diocese will have legal control over the local parish. I don't think that's settling at all well and perhaps is making a lot more the laity (and their rectors) uneasy.

I continue to maintain that our way through this mess is to stand-down and have at least a Détente until we can detoxify the relationships which are growing more and more dysfunctional as each year goes by. This was our stand in Virginia with Bishop Lee in the first place, where we recognized that the relationships were deteriorating and we could not even talk about peace until we could find safe ground to stand on.

In my opinion, the tragedy of this ruling in Colorado is that NO ONE WINS. No one. No one. No one.


Lapinbizarre said...

John Newsome, DA for Colorado's 4th Judicial Circuit, was a member of the Grace Church vestry (junior warden) and a self-described friend of Mr Armstrong. He resigned from the vestry immediately before Armstrong's trial by the Colorado diocese, explaining that the resignation was because of a potential conflict of interest. Because of Newsome's connection to the church, the criminal investigation into the alleged misuse of Grace Church funds has been conducted by a special prosecutor from the 10th Judicial District Attorney's Office in Pueblo, Colorado. John Newsome had no participation whatever in any "rather high-profile press "investigations" of Armstrong".

BabyBlue said...

Thank you for the info, L. This gets more interesting by the minute. I think the case is made that there are just no winners in these sad events.


Lapinbizarre said...

No question that it's a case whose many twists, turns and connections hold the attention, regardless of one's personal standpoint.

Anonymous said...

Agree bb: the elements that left the church should just leave the properties and terminate this brick-wrangling. They have sufficient numbers and resources to start their own parishes.

Those of us who thought it best to stay in our churches should be permitted to return.

Any other course just reduces the serious theological concerns on both sides to hassles over physical property.