Breaking: Episcopal diocese prevails in Colorado Springs court case

Updated 7:00 pm:

Police called to remove diocesan security guards from church property.

From here.

Updated, 3:30 pm:

Judge’s order (received via email)

Press release from the CANA congregation

____________________

The Episcopal Diocese and the continuing congregation at Grace Church in Colorado Springs have prevailed in court today. The breakaway congregation associated with CANA has been ordered to leave.


Here’s some background on the closing arguments in the trial that concluded earlier this month.

The local newspaper coverage is here.

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.

Updated now with the press release from the Diocese of Colorado:

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.

The Bishop of Colorado, the Rt. Rev. Robert J. O’Neill expressed satisfaction with the court’s decision, saying, “This outcome honors the history of Grace and St. Stephen’s as an Episcopal parish, and of the Episcopal Church in Colorado Springs. We are extremely pleased that present and future generations of Episcopalians in the Colorado Springs community will continue to worship on Tejon Street.”

“We’re coming home!” said Lynn L. Olney, senior warden of Grace and St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, “and we invite all our friends to come home with us. During the past two years of exile, our parish congregation has shown the meaning of a faith community. Now, we’re coming home!”

The full release follows [link now available]

*March 24, 2009*

*For Immediate Release*

*Contact: Beckett Stokes, The Episcopal Diocese of Colorado*

bstokes@coloradodiocese.org

303-837-1173

*Lynn L. Olney, Esq., Senior Warden, Grace and St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church*

719-636-3251

*Statement Regarding March 24 El Paso County District Court Ruling*

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.

The Bishop of Colorado, the Rt. Rev. Robert J. O’Neill expressed satisfaction with the court’s decision, saying, “This outcome honors the history of Grace and St. Stephen’s as an Episcopal parish, and of the Episcopal Church in Colorado Springs. We are extremely pleased that present and future generations of Episcopalians in the Colorado Springs community will continue to worship on Tejon Street.”

“We’re coming home!” said Lynn L. Olney, senior warden of Grace and St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, “and we invite all our friends to come home with us. During the past two years of exile, our parish congregation has shown the meaning of a faith community. Now, we’re coming home!”

“We are very pleased that the judge was persuaded by the significant legal precedent that, while individual members and even clergy may leave a church, they may not take church property with them,” said Larry Hitt. “Today’s ruling is consistent with the outcome of similar cases throughout the country, almost all of which have held that breakaway groups do not have the right to take away church property,” Hitt added.

Martin Nussbaum, lead attorney for the Episcopal Diocese and Parish said, “We are very pleased. The District Court’s decision affirms the First Amendment freedom of churches to define their own governance and property relationships. It is difficult to imagine a much more important constitutional freedom for people of faith in this country.”

*“*These past two years have been a time of challenge for the people of Grace Episcopal, and we have grown in faith, in love and in service to the community. We are thankful that the court has returned our property to us, and we are eager to resume our worship and ministry at our historic facility,” said The Rev. Martin Pearsall, priest at Grace and St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church. “There are no winners here, just lots of wounded faithful people. It will be our task and responsibility in the months ahead to strive for healing and to reach out into the community.”

The 500 members of the Episcopal congregation have been worshipping at nearby First Christian Church for nearly two years, while the case has worked its way through the court. “We cannot express enough gratitude to our brothers and sisters at Faith Christian for their continued hospitality and genuine fellowship,” Olney said.

The Episcopal Diocese of Colorado comprises 115 congregations and diocesan institutions all over the state, and is part of The Episcopal Church and the worldwide Anglican Communion. Grace and St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church continues to be one of the largest congregations in the diocese.

Category : The Lead

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5 Comments
  1. John B. Chilton

    The press release from CANA seems to confirm what Crippen says about moving:

    “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.”

    Minns doesn’t mention it, but next, of course, is the possible criminal fraud trial of Don Armstrong.

  2. This is an important development for Grace Church. I salute Bp. O’Neil for his perseverance. Personally, I’m very proud of Robert D. McJimsey, retired professor of history at Colorado College, and the sole Grace Church vestry member who did not vote to join CANA, who offered expert testimony at the trial in the midst of a long-running struggle with cancer. I’m similarly proud of Marianna McJimsey, former Grace Church vestry member and head of the Grace Church School board, for her involvement through offering testimony in the trial. These two are my brother-in-law and sister, respectively. It’s been a hard time for the congregation, and I hope they are able to occupy their property once again. – Titus Presler

  3. Any word on how Don’s criminal case is going? I know schadenfreude isn’t Christian, but if the allegations are true then he should be in the slammer.

  4. David Allen |dah • veed|

    Let the spin begin.

    The usual blogs shall now become overly toxic with much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

    The usual self-appointed chancellors shall begin waxing bold about how this is a particular case and sets no precedent, has no connection to how other courts will rule in other jurisdictions, etc., etc., yadda, yadda, yadda…

    Funny though, how one by one, the rulings are the same, and oft times quote the previous rulings.

    Dios Todopoderoso bless and keep the parish members of Grace Church & St. Stphens as they prepare to return to their parish home and offer Christ’s welcome through the Big Tent of TEC to those who may be ready to return and again join in the ministry.

  5. …¨Dios Todopoderoso bless and keep the parish members of Grace Church & St. Stphens as they prepare to return to their parish home and offer Christ’s welcome through the Big Tent of TEC to those who may be ready to return and again join in the ministry.¨ dah • veed

    Amen

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