By Andrew Gerns
A Colorado congregation that has affiliated with the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, and is attempting to keep the property it occupies from being retained by the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado, announced the results of a week of voting today. The vote is not recognized as valid by the diocese and is unlikely to keep the parish out of court with the diocese.
In a news release dated May 26, 2007, the parish leadership of Grace and St. Stephen's, Colorado Springs, announced the vote which took place from Sunday, May 20th through Saturday, May 26th, saying that 93% of the congregations members chose to align the congregation with CANA and keep the property they now occupy.
According to a report in the Colorado Springs Gazette, there were 370 votes cast and 342, or 93%, were in favor of the parish leaving the Episcopal Church and joining CANA. The tally was 348 to 22 about authorizing the vestry to fight to retain control of the $17 million dollar plant.
Before the break-up, the parish reported a membership of 1500-2000 communicants. The breakaway parish claims 600 to 800 of these, while the Diocese claims that 200 to 400 members of the original parish now worship in the borrowed space down the street.
Robert McJimsey, a retired Colorado College professor who is spokesman for the members who have remained in the diocese, said “It’s sad and difficult for us in the parish. Episcopalians take seriously the word 'communion' — which means coming together in spiritual fellowship. And once you vote to leave the communion, it’s difficult to lose contact with those you have worshipped with a long time.”
Diocesan Bishop Robert O'Neill called the vote invalid. Diocesan spokesperson Becket Stokes said that people are free to leave the Episcopal Church, but parishes are not.
Vote Affirms a Previous Vestry Action
The vestry of the breakaway parish voted on March 26th that “Grace Church and St. Stephens Parish will leave the Episcopal Church effective immediately” and characterized the vote completed yesterday as simply an affirmation of the vestry action.
The vote was taken using voting booths and a ballot box borrowed from El Paso county which were arranged for by Bob Balink, a member of the breakaway parish's vestry and elected clerk and recorder of the county, according to a report in the Colorado Springs Independent.
The rector of the breakaway congregation, the Rev. Donald Armstrong, states that they will no longer carry the Episcopal flag in procession, instead using a flag bearing the compass rose of the Anglican Communion. The congregation's website has proclaim the parish to be a member of CANA since well before the election and the rector and some of the clergy were received into CANA before the process leading up last week's vote, called 40 Days of Discernment, was completed.
Episcopal Congregation Discourages Participation
A blog entry on the website of the Episcopal Congregation discouraged people from voting because the vote would be meaningless. An April 24th post said that “the position of the Episcopal Church is that the parish vote, sponsored by the secessionist vestry, to join CANA is an illegal action and has no recognized validity.” Members of the congregation who chose to remain with the Episcopal congregation now worship in borrowed space in a Christian Church-Disiciples of Christ congregation down the street.
Noting that the Episcopal parish continues despite the congregation that occupies their property, the blog says that “Episcopalians have no interest in this participation because the real estate issues will be handled in the courts....”
The leadership of the Episcopal parish contends that the rules established by the breakaway parish make the outcome of the vote a foregone conclusion. The rules establised 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. Members of the Episcopal congregation voiced concern that the use of the rolls, or even the possibility of signed ballots, might be used in court in validate the breakaway parish's claim.
Information posted by the CANA parish about the vote published in their newsletter and posted on their website was unclear as to the eligibility of Episcopalians who might have attempted to vote, expect to say that some cases would be handled individually. The question of a necessary quorum is also not addressed in the newsletter.
Controversy Surrounds Rector
The Rector of the breakaway parish, the Rev. Donald Armstrong, has been rector of Grace and St. Stephen's for twenty years. Armstrong was inhibited by the Diocese in December and is under investigation for misappropriation of church funds, a charge which Armstrong denies.
Armstrong refuses to recognize the charges or the inhibition since he is no longer an Episcopal priest but a priest of the Church of Nigeria through CANA. He characterizes the charges as persecution for his conservative religious views.
The Diocese issued an extensive report including the results of the work of a forensic accountant which led to the charges being filed.
According to The Independent, Alan Crippen, a spokesman for the secessionist vestry, says "The die is cast for Father Armstrong." Armstrong already has left the Episcopal fold, Crippen said, and that if parishioners don't vote to join him, Armstrong would leave Grace, probably with many of his supporters.
Controversy has followed Armstrong even among fellow conservatives. Until recently, Armstrong was executive director of the Anglican Communion Institute until that group decided in light of the ongoing investigation to incorporate in Texas and remove Armstrong, who has said that the ACI's “mission is no longer valid.”
CANA Claims in Dispute
CANA, which the breakaway parish has now joined, claims to be a member of the Anglican Communion by way of its association with the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion).
Last week, the Missionary Bishop of CANA, Martyn Minn, was not invited to next year's Lambeth Conference. The meeting, called by the Archbishop of Canterbury, meets every ten years and is open to Bishops from jurisdictions in the Anglican Communion who are recognized as being in communion with Canterbury. Minns was not invited because, according the Rev. Canon Kenneth Kearnon of the Anglican Communion Office, CANA has no standing as Anglican entity.
The Primate of Nigeria, the Most Rev. Peter J. Akinola, disputes this, saying Minns was properly appointed and consecrated in Nigeria, and that CANA has a claim equal to any diocese in Nigeria.
Other bishops with claims similar to Minns were not invited to the Lambeth conference of 1998 by the then Archbishop, George Carey, as well as being excluded from next year's meeting by Williams.
The Rev. Andrew Gerns is the rector of Trinity Church, Easton, Pa., and a news blogger for Episcopal Cafe. He keeps the blog Andrew Plus.