Faith at Altitude

Religion and spirituality in the shadow of Pikes Peak

Thursday, March 22, 2007

A Graceful battle?

The March 25 meeting at Grace Episcopal has apparently been pushed back until after Easter. Here's an update on the situation at Grace that Paul left behind before his vacation...

Leaders for Grace Episcopal Church say they now know more facts surrounding the suspension of the church’s powerful rector.

They’re not telling anyone else what those facts are just yet.

The vestry for Grace sent a letter out to its parishioners March 19, which said that the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado received “written documentation and information” from the dioceses’ year-long investigation of the church and its rector, the Rev. Don Armstrong.

Armstrong was suspended in late December by Bishop Rob O’Neill, head of the diocese, while it investigated him for misapplying church funds.

Jon Wroblewski, senior warden for Grace, declined to discuss the allegations against Armstrong, saying the church is still receiving information. The vestry plans to schedule a parish meeting to discuss the allegations. The meeting probably won’t take place until after Easter.

“When the Diocese is more forthcoming with complete details of its investigation, as once again promised,” the vestry’s letter read, “the Vestry will finally be able to address each allegation presented and seek the truth as to what, if any, misapplication of funds may have occurred.”

According to the letter, the diocese did ask Grace leadership to do certain things, including: not tolerate improper use of trust, designated or restricted funds; to make sure parish compensation and benefits have been properly reported to the Internal Revenue Service; to not allow loans to the church’s officers or directors, “including past or future rectors;” and to seek reimbursement of any money found to be misappropriated.

Grace has agreed to all those terms. Wroblewski says they all under “normal financial stewardship,” and he believes the church is doing all those things anyway.

But he did say the church will re-examine their financial practices and fix anything that needs to be fixed.

“Everything that they said in that portion in the report is reasonable,” Wroblewski said.

Armstrong’s suspension has deeply divided Grace, one of the state’s most prominent Episcopal parishes.

Armstrong has been a vocal and visible critic of the Episcopal Church, a national denomination of around 2.3 million believers, regarding issues of human sexuality. When the Episcopal Church elected an openly gay man as its New Hampshire bishop, Armstrong was one of the denomination’s most vocal opponents.

When Armstrong was suspended, many parishioners rallied to his defense, unsuccessfully petitioning the diocese to lift the suspension and donating to the priest’s legal defense fund — preparations for a looming date in ecclesiastical court.

But other parishioners began wondering where their offerings have been going all these years. Some of them, forming what they call the Grace Concerns Committee, recently wrote a letter to other parishioners, asking them to pressure Grace to be more financially transparent.

“As a group, we’re saying that we’d like to know what’s going on,” said John Hermes, a member of the Grace Concerns Committee. “We’d like to know, (regardless of) whether it works for Don or against Don.”


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