Faith at Altitude

Religion and spirituality in the shadow of Pikes Peak

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Evangelical Press chief named

From the Christian Examiner:

COLORADO SPRINGS — Lamar Keener, president of Keener Communications Group and co-publisher of the Christian Examiner newspapers, has been elected president of the Evangelical Press Association. His two-year term began May 4. He previously served as president-elect.

The EPA is a professional association for the Christian periodical publishing industry. Its members produce more than 300 titles with a combined circulation of some 22 million. Several hundred members attended the annual convention, this year in Colorado Springs.

Keener’s wife and co-publisher, Theresa Keener, previously served on the EPA board as treasurer.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Holy Trinity closing?

A teacher at Holy Trinity Catholic School e-mailed today to say the school is closing.

A Gazette education reporter will look into this later today. Anyone heard anything about it? I'll update when I can and, if it's true, we'll get a story in the paper asap.

Comment here or e-mail me at with any news.

Bible labeled indecent

More than 800 Hong Kong residents have called on authorities to reclassify the Bible as "indecent" due to its sexual and violent content, following an uproar over a sex column in a university student journal, according to Reuters.

The complaints follow the launch of an anonymous Web site that says the holy book "made one tremble" given its sexual and violent content.

The Web site also said the Bible's sexual content "far exceeds" that of a recent sex column published in the Chinese University's "Student Press" magazine. That column was later deemed indecent by the Obscene Articles Tribunal, sparking a storm of debate about social morality and freedom of speech.

Publicity stunt? I'm thinking yes. Anyone here in the Springs agree with the students?

(Paul's off today. Thought I'd post something for y'all to ponder.)

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

More on Falwell

Tinky Winky, the purple Teletubby that, in 1999, Falwell accused of being gay, has not released an official statement on Falwell's death. Not that Winky speaks much anyway.

Falwell Dead

The Rev. Jerry Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority and, really, the grandfather of the religious right, is dead. The 73-year-old pastor was found unconscious in his Liberty University office earlier this morning. At this point, no-one is sure what Falwell died of, but he had a history of heart troubles.

In evangelical circles, Falwell was often characterized as one of conservative evangelicalism's "big four," the others being televangelist Pat Robertson, prison ministry guru (and former Nixon aide) Chuck Colson and, of course, Focus on the Family's James Dobson. In many ways, Falwell was instrumental in shaping the evangelical movement -- or at least the perception of that movement -- from a massive group of believers who didn't even vote all that much to the political force they are today. It's probably not a coincidence that the Moral Majority was at the height of its power during Ronald Reagan's two-term run as president.

Now, at least in part to Falwell's influence, conservative Christians are a massive force within the Republican party. Falwell's own influence, though, has waned the last several years. Dobson's the guy these days.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Brazilian Justice

A Brazilian rancher accused of paying about $25,000 to have a 73-year-old nun assassinated goes on trial in Brazil today. The nun's brother, Palmer Lake resident David Stang, is there -- watching to make sure justice is done.

"I feel Brazil will do Dorothy (Stang) justice," David told the Associated Press. "This is not about revenge. This is about justice for the poor."

The Gazette published a story about Dorothy Stang and her brother, David, last June: How Dorothy was gunned down in a muddy road and, through her death, became a powerful catalyst for change in what many say is a corrupt region of Brazil.

Struggles between Brazil's wealthy landowners and rural poor are nothing new. According to AP, 1,237 rural workers, union leaders and activists like Stang have been killed in the last 30 years there. More than half took place in Para, the region in which Stang worked and lived. The nun worked with Brazil's working poor and, according to her brother, was something of a folk hero.

Stang was killed the morning after she had a confrontation with her killers -- triggermen called "pistoleros." She was left for hours in the road.

Her killers were arrested and implicated two wealthy landowners who allegedly paid to have Stang killed. It's a rare thing for these landowners to go to trial -- it's said that police and judges are in cahoots with them -- and the case has drawn international attention.

Movin' On Up

Douglas Carver, a former pastor at Colorado Springs' Skyway Baptist Church (now Fellowship of the Rockies), has been nominated to lead the U.S. Army's chaplains. He was made a major general May 10 in anticipation of the move. Carver still has to go through a confirmation process, according to a release from the Baptist Press, but assuming all goes well for him he'll officially receive his promotion July 12.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Bits and Pieces

One occasional bummer about newspaper work is, sometimes, we run out of space.

The story about Grace Church and St. Stephen's Parish in this morning's paper was 25 inches -- hefty by newspaper standards. The thing is, I have nearly 100 pages of court documents sitting on my desk from yesterday's District 4 court filing.

So, for those of you who are interested, here are some other little tidbits gleaned from these documents.

The biggest issue addressed within these documents, of course, is who owns the church. Grace CANA -- the group worshipping at the 601 N. Tejon St. building now -- says the parish was created before there was ever an Episcopal Diocese of Colorado, and the congregation has made around $6 million in improvements.

Diocesan sources say, essentially, so what? The church is legally held in trust of the diocese, they argue, no matter when the parish was founded or how much money its pumped into the place. Plus, according to the filings yesterday, there actually WAS a diocese here before the parish was founded: In 1865, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church created the Missionary Diocese of Colorado from a larger missionary diocese, seven years before Grace was founded in 1872.

The Missionary Diocese of Colorado recognized Grace as a mission church a year later, meaning the two apparently operated autonomously for a while. But the diocese says that, really, you can't be an Episcopal Parish without diocesan oversight, and that means the parish bought into the Episcopal Canons and bylaws and such -- including that "in trust" clause.

Both sides tell me they're confident they're in the right, and it'll be up to the courts to say for sure.

Another interesting revelation was that, at least according to the presentment, Grace's longtime chancellor Derry Adams advised Grace's vestry back on Dec. 8, 2006, that the parish and its vestry was under the authority of the diocese and the Episcopal Church and that the property was the diocese's.

"All real and personal property held by the Parish is held in trust for the national Church and for the Diocese in which the Parish is located," the 2006 memo allegedly read.

According to the filings, she advised the vestry in early 2007 that the church, under its 1923 articles, wouldn't allow the parish to leave the Episcopal Church. She resigned shortly thereafter. When The Gazette contacted her after her resignation to ask why, she had no comment.

The filings offered a host of alleged detail that hadn't been made public before. For instance, the filings alleged:

* That after the investigation of Armstrong began in March, 2006, Armstrong and others began shredding documents at such a rate that, when one shredder conked out, they bought two to replace it.

* Financial statements made on Grace's Quickbooks computer program from 2001-05 didn't line up with the financial statements given to parishioners or the audited financial statements of the time.

* Grace leaders apparently changed locks on the church's administration building March 9, giving keys (according to the filings) to only those people who were sympathetic to "the cause of secession."

It should be noted that Alan Crippen, spokesman for Grace CANA, said the locks were switched simply because security was lax.

* That the church backed away from a promise it made to the diocese March 17 to "fully comply" with the investigation.

* On March 23, two vestry members told Bishop Rob O'Neill, head of the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado, that while the parish had discussed leaving the Episcopal church, "such an action was not imminent." According to the presentment, both of these members (Junior Warden Chad Friese and vestry member Dr. Michael Barber) said they didn't believe Armstrong could return as the church's rector.

Three days later, the vestry voted to leave the Episcopal Church and brought Armstrong back as its leader.

Crippen said he was a little mystified as to why all these details were in the filings at all.

“What does all this have to do with the property argument?” he asked. “The diocese response is full of irrelevant facts that are not germane to the fundamental question at hand: Does the congregation have the right to determine whether it will remain in the Anglican Communion or not? Does it have a right to self-determination? That’s what’s at issue here.”

It looks as though Grace Episcopal Church -- the group not worshipping with Armstrong -- has posted at least one of the official documents on its Web site.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

What Would Sheridan Do?

Once upon a time -- maybe as many as three years ago -- Colorado Springs Catholic Bishop Michael Sheridan told the world that politicians who supported legalized abortion should not receive communion.

He was one of many Catholic leaders who said so, and while he took it a step farther than many (he told parishioners who voted for abortion-supporting candidates that they, too, should refrain from taking communion), the issue was certainly an important sidebar in the 2004 presidential political campaign.

At the time, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger urged American bishops to use caution when threatening to withhold communion over hot-button issues.

But Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, now says the church is well within its rights to punish wayward politicians.

The issue popped up again, this time in Mexico, a predominantly Catholic country that just made abortion legal within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Mexican Catholic leaders have been mulling whether to excommunicate the politicians that ratified the law. Benedict, who's visiting Brazil, indicated that, if they did excommunicate these politicians for their abortion stance, it was OK by him.

"Yes, these excommunications were not something arbitrary, but are foreseen by the Code (of Canon Law)," Benedict told the Catholic News Service. "It is simply part of church law that the killing of an innocent baby is incompatible with being in communion with the body of Christ."

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

More Pie?

A reader just directed me to the "titusonenine" blog, a site dedicated to conservative Anglicanism, where a posting on Sunday's pie-throwing incident at Grace Church reveals (according to Christina Crippen, 17-year-old daughter of Grace spokesman Alan Crippen) that the pie was "very creamy and had a graham cracker crust."

The article has, thus far, received 25 responses. 25! Some were fairly serious. Others, not so much. Here's an example:


The Single Pie Theory and The Attempted Assassination of The Rev. Donald Armstrong II

I don’t know if I buy this “single pie theory” put forth by the Crippen Commission on Church Assassinations. In fact, I think the lone pie thrower, Marcus, may well be a patsy to cover up the fact that this is really a conspiracy. One, I suspect, involving Episcopalians residing at First Christian Church.

I’ve even heard one eye witness testify that another pie from the grassy pew area of the nave was where the real culprit was in waiting to throw, not a banana cream pie, but in fact a cheery (sic) tartlet, with whipped cream on top.

The case evidence speaks to the contrary as well. The pie that splattered onto the floor into sacred space, no less, could not have been one pie. When the confectionary missile was weighed it, too, was over the allotted limit for a singular tart. This also suggests two pie throwers and not one as the Crippen Report would lead us to believe.

I believe the FBI needs to get involved now due to the serious nature of this assault and the possible cover-up and fraud being perpetuated on Anglicans everywhere.

New Life at Wal-Mart

New Life Church's worship band has gone mainstream.

Well, sorta. New Life Worship's music is still as Christian niche as ever, but the band's new CD -- My Savior Lives -- will be available nationwide at a little chain called Wal-Mart.

Though the CD was recorded last spring -- well before New Life lost its founding pastor, the Rev. Ted Haggard, in a headline-grabbing scandal -- interim pastor Ross Parsley believes the CD touches on some of the church's trauma and recovery.

"I believe that the powerful work the Holy Spirit did in our church that night back in 2006 was somehow captured in ones and zeroes and put onto this CD, and now the largest company in America is helping spread that incredible experience across our country," Parsley said in an e-mail to New Life congregants.
The CD is spreading for $14.98, by the way -- or $12.88 at the Wal-Mart web site.

To Air is Human

KRCC, courtesy of local provocateur Noel Black, aired an interview with me this weekend, all about religion in Colorado Springs and what a hoot it's been to cover it. I gotta confess I haven't heard it -- since I was the one talking, I don't think I'd learn much new -- but if you're interested, go here.

For me, it was a kinda fun role reversal. I've interviewed Black a time or two, most notably when he and New Life Church's Rob Brendle were running point/counter-point columns in Black's publication "The Toilet Paper."

Monday, May 07, 2007

Not-So-Sweet Protest

As you've likely read by now, an 18-year-old high-school student named Marcus Hyde allegedly tried to perform his own Marx Brothers routine this weekend in Grace Church and St. Stephen's Parish, flinging a pie toward the church's embattled rector, the Rev. Donald Armstrong. It apparently happened during the rector's message, which was ironically titled "Of Christian Love and Charity." A pie in the face seems like a poor way to show Christian charity. But I digress.

According to church spokesman Alan Crippen, the Gothic building church has been "tagged" with graffiti a few times in the last several weeks. The church is mulling upping security.

Maybe other churches should mull the same thing.

Churches are supposed to be open to all comers: They're intended to be a place of trust and refuge, and I think most pastors in town want to welcome visitors, no questions asked. No one wants to see churches install X-ray machines or pie-sniffing dogs.

But this city attracts a lot of attention for its religious activity, and perhaps on some level it's surprising that these sorts of things don't happen more often. The issues that churches address, by definition, inspire impassioned and sometimes unreasonable debate. Armstrong essentially shrugged the pie incident off in print, but I imagine he knows that the pie could've easily been a knife or a gun.

A few years ago, long before the Rev. Ted Haggard fell from grace, I was covering a story one Sunday morning at New Life Church. The church had already snagged some national news coverage and significant notoriety. Haggard was head of the National Association of Evangelicals, an up-and-coming religious leader and, already, controversial.

In the row in front of me was a backpack sitting in an otherwise empty section of seats. It looked innocent enough, I thought. Probably a congregant forgot it -- left it there after the first service. Or maybe someone put it there to save the seat. After about 10 minutes, a congregant called it to the attention of some New Life security personnel who, after another five-minute debate, removed the pack to the lost and found.

It was, apparently, a completely innocent satchel, indeed left there by a forgetful congregant.

But what if it wasn't?

These are questions churches don't really want to ask, and some would argue they shouldn't have to ask them. But, in this town, at this time, perhaps they should.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Vestry says Don't Vote

The nasty divorce over Grace Church and St. Stephen's Parish took another turn yesterday, when the vestry of one faction told its parishioners not to participate in a potentially watershed vote.

The May 20 vote is all about how this troubled church will align itself. More than a month ago, Grace's vestry voted to leave the national Episcopal Church denomination and hook its wagon to the Convocation for Anglicans in North America, an organization tied to the Anglican province of Nigeria. The vestry also welcomed back its longtime rector, the Rev. Donald Armstrong, who had been (and, in the Episcopal Church's eyes, still is) under suspension for allegedly stealing money from the church.

The vote triggered a split. Armstrong loyalists stayed at Grace Church. Worshippers still loyal to the Episcopal Church walked away from the property (they're confident they'll return when the courts settle the property issues) and currently meet in First Christian Church downtown.

Folks over at Grace CANA say the vestry vote was meant to protect the church from a hostile diocese, and parishioners can decide whether to cement that relationship with CANA or return the church to the Episcopal fold. If the vote swings against him, Armstrong has said he and his followers will leave the property without a squeak.

But the vestry at Grace Episcopal believes the May 20 vote is, essentially, a sham.

"We ask that you not participate in this vote both because it is unlawful and because its outcome has already been determined," the vestry told parishioners in a May 3 letter. Grace's Web site states it's now part of CANA, and the banner in the sanctuary is that of CANA, too -- replacing the Episcopal flag.

The Grace Episcopal vestry called Grace CANA a "secessionist congregation now occupying our property," and argued the whole vote was anti-Episcopalian, and anti-Anglican, for that matter.

"We don't vote locally about parish migration," the letter read. "If Father Armstrong comes to disagree with Archbishop Akinola (who leads the Nigerian province) or if Bishop Minns (leader of CANA) investigates him for wrongdoing, what then? Another move to another bishop followed by another sham vote?"

Alan Crippen, spokesman for Grace CANA, didn't respond directly to the letter from the Grace Episcopal vestry, shifting his focus instead to Bishop Rob O'Neill, head of the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado. He said he was not surprised the O'Neill-led diocese would try to deny Grace "the right of self-determination."

"The Bishop of Colorado may think he is a feudal lord of the 13th century," Crippen said via e-mail. "However, the reality is that the congregation has the legal and moral right to determine its future about whether to stay true to its biblically-based Anglican heritage or to leave that faith and remain with the secularized and dying Episcopal Church."

Crippen added that Armstrong's already aligned himself with CANA, but the parish vote is very real and will be decisive.

"It will be done by the great democratic and American tradition of a plebiscite," he wrote. "Although it may be the choice of dissenters not to participate, we still invite their full participation in the spiritual discernment and voting process. This is the most important decision that has ever faced the congregation."

According to the Grace Web site, members in "good standing" can vote May 20. What makes for a "good standing" parishioner isn't specified in Grace's bylaws, and Crippen said the church will follow Episcopal Canons, which say a member in good standing is someone who's been "faithful in corporate worship ... and have been faithful in working, praying and giving for the spread of the Kingdom of God ..."

Here's the full text of the vestry's letter:


The secessionist congregation now occupying our property on Tejon Street has announced its intention to hold a parish-wide vote on May 20. The stated purpose of the vote is to decide whether to leave the Episcopal Church and affiliate with the Convocation of Anglicans in North America. We ask that you not participate in this vote both because it is unlawful and because its outcome has already been determined.
The secessionist congregation has already announced that outcome of this vote on its website. Grace Church and St. Stephen’s is named there as “A Parish of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America.” The banner in the church sanctuary is no longer the Episcopal flag but the flag of CANA. The secessionist vestry approved a “Declaration of Anglican Fidelity” on March 26 stating: “We, the vestry members and officers of the corporation, do hereby resolve . . . to leave the Episcopal Church . . . “ Father Don Armstrong has publicly announced, in regards to serious canonical charges brought against him by the Diocesan Review Board, that he is “no longer an ECUSA priest, [and so] will not subject myself to the ecclesiastical court.” His spokesman, Alan Crippen, states of the Episcopal Diocese’s charges of financial wrongdoing brought against Father Armstrong, “It would be about as reliable as the Presbyterian Church serving him. He’s not under their jurisdiction.”

If the matter is already decided, if Father Armstrong is no longer an Episcopal priest and Grace Church and St. Stephen’s is no longer an Episcopal Parish, why the vote? And if there is to be a vote, why was the decision made to leave first, and vote later? It is reasonable to wonder if the inhibited Father Armstrong and his illegal vestry did not seek through their actions to dodge the questions of financial misdeeds.

If the matter has not been decided, pending the congregational May 20 vote, hen Father Armstrong remains an Episcopal priest and Grace and St. Stephen’s remains an Episcopal Parish. Under Episcopal Church canon law, Father Armstrong has been inhibited from serving as a priest during his inhibition. Nor can his “vestry” act in this our any other matter regarding the parish because the Bishop has declared their vestry positions vacant. He is not a priest in good standing and they are not a vestry and so, they have no authority to convene the congregation, to call a vote, or to occupy the property.

Remember, we’re Episcopalians. We belong to a hierarchical church. We don’t take ourselves out of the jurisdiction of a bishop we might not like and go looking for one we do. This is what schismatics do. We’re not Congregationalists. We don’t vote locally about parish migration. If Father Armstrong comes to disagree with Archbishop Akinola or if Bishop Minns investigates him for wrongdoing, what then? Another move to another bishop followed by another sham vote?

If parishioners wish to distance themselves from this vote, they may worship with us between 12:45 and 1:30 p.m. at First Christian Church, located at 16 East Platte Avenue. As usual, THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH WELCOMES YOU.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Praying for the Day

President George W. Bush offered some interfaith thoughts on the National Day of Prayer this morning in Washington, D.C., under the watchful eye of National Day of Prayer Task Force Coordinator Shirley Dobson and her husband, James.

"For two centuries, Americans have answered this call to prayer," he said. "We're a prayerful nation. I believe that makes us a strong nation. Each day, millions of our citizens approach our Maker. We pray as congregations in churches and in synagogues, and mosques, and in temples. We welcome people of all faiths into the United States of America."

There are lots of day o' prayer events going on locally, if you're interested. Check 'em out here.

Stafford Infection

Wess Stafford, president of Compassion International, celebrated 30 years on the job yesterday. Compassion, which helps feed, clothe and educate children all over the world, has grown nearly exponentially since Stafford took over, and it's now far and away Colorado Springs' biggest Christian organization.

I've talked with Stafford from time to time, most notably for a profile I wrote on him last year. He's a guy who believes wholeheartedly in the work Compassion does. He cries perhaps more than any CEO in America, and that's one of the reasons many feel he's perfect for the job. His enthusiasm and -- well, compassion -- is pretty infectious.

"I joined this organizations because I see the seeds of its greatness," Stafford said in a press release. "Compassion does exactly what the poor would do if they had the financial resources to take care of their children."

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Minns-ing Words

Way back in 2003, the Episcopal Church ordained an openly and actively gay priest as a bishop, infuriating its conservative members and throwing the denomination into crisis.

So I suppose there's a certain amount of irony that the Episcopal Church is now trying to block the installation of a bishop -- this one a conservative who broke with the Episcopal Church in part because of that 2003 event.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schiori, head of the U.S. Episcopal Church, has asked Nigerian Primate Peter J. Akinola not to install the Rev. Martyn Minns as bishop of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America May 5. CANA -- described as a "mission" of the Nigerian province and not tied to the Episcopal Church -- is the same organization that the vestry of Grace Church and St. Stephen's Parish voted to join in March.

In an April 30 letter to Akinola, Schiori asked the Nigerian primate to reconsider Minns' installation, saying the installation would "display to the world division and disunity that are not part of the mind of Christ, which we must strive to display to all."

Of course, the world is already familiar with the division in the Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is a part. Most of the world's 77 million Anglicans live in Africa and the Global South: The province of Nigeria alone has about 18 million Anglicans -- about nine times the number of Episcopalians in the United States. Many of these provinces are far more conservative than their U.S. counterpart, and were aghast when the Episcopal Church ordained the Rev. Gene Robinson, a man involved in a long-term gay relationship, as its New Hampshire bishop in 2003. CANA was started as a direct response to the Robinson ordination and other moves by the Episcopal Church, and groups like CANA have become options for conservative U.S. Episcopalians.

All this theological strife is an important issue at play within Grace. The parish, led by the Rev. Donald Armstrong, has been a standard-bearer for traditional Anglicanism for years. While some people speculate that the timing of Grace's split from the Episcopal Church was tied to accusations that Armstrong had stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars from Grace, many believe that the church was destined to split from Episcopal Church eventually over philosophical differences.

CANA spokesman Jim Robb had no comment on Schiori's letter.

"This was something that wasn't addressed to us," he said.

But folks over at Grace think Minns' impending installation will go as planned.

"The proverbial train has left the station," said Grace spokesman Alan Crippen via e-mail. "The installation will be a significant historical event for the re-establishment of Anglicanism in America."

Crippen will be there to see the installation in person, by the way, as will Armstrong and Father Eric Zolner, another pastor at Grace. Armstrong and Minns are said to be pretty good friends, and Minns was in Colorado Springs a few weeks ago to talk with the parish about what membership in CANA might mean.

The guidebook Grace is using to determine whether to finalize the move, called "40 Days of Discernment," was partly a product of Truro Church in Virginia, Minns' home parish.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

No Prayer Zone

I've gotten some feedback from my National Day of Prayer story of April 28 ("Day to Pray"), and most of it has been surprisingly positive. One of the story's main premises was how difficult it can be to delineate between the Day of Prayer -- an interfaith day sanctioned by the government -- and the uber-visible Day of Prayer Task Force, which is uncompromisingly Christian and, frankly, leans to the right. Most readers, it seems, got it.

But even the interfaith Day of Prayer isn't completely inclusionary. A pretty significant swath of America -- maybe five percent of the population -- doesn't believe there's anyone or anything to pray to.

Freethinkers (think atheists, agnostics et al) instead observe the "National Day of Reason" on May 3. National organizers say that the Day of Reason is held, in part, to draw attention to what they believe is the increasingly flimsy wall between church and state. But it's also intended to encourage freethinkers to be "visible and active" in a community-building sort of way. For instance, Colorado Springs freethinkers are sponsoring a blood drive May 3. Memorial Hospital is the primary local site, according to local freethinker Rebecca Hale. The blood drive runs from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and the hospital would like for folks to call and make appointments before going in.