Faith at Altitude

Religion and spirituality in the shadow of Pikes Peak

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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The vestry's letter seems to me--not a member of the parish but a concerned fellow-traveler--fully cogent. But I wonder, just as a point of information, what the officers fo GraceCANA (or, for that matter, CANA itself) will take as a legitimate vote. If, for instance, 120 members of an ostensible membership at Christmas of well over a thousand vote to adhere to CANA, will that be seen as legitimate? Silence on the part of those who are now forced to worship elsewhere will surely be construed as dissent by the wide world, if not Armstrong's loyalists. But how could even they feel legitimate about taking this grand church away from so many of its people by the say-so of their relative few? Curiouser and curiouser.

5:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too am a fellow traveler, but one who with my family was pushed from Grace a few years ago. I respect Grace Episcopal’s stand on the Grace CANA vote and will honor it, but feel that some symbolic act is necessary so that those who remain with Armstrong will understand whom they have lost.

Armstrong has been culling (as well as apparently fleecing) his flock for years. I know many, who—like my family—were made unwelcome at Grace under Armstrong’s leadership. As recently as this winter, during Armstrong’s inhibition, members of the vestry—who would later vote to secede to CANA—were telling parishioners in good standing that they were no longer welcome at Grace (evidently, in preparation for the upcoming vote). Thus with the recent split, a sizable portion of the congregation from just a few years ago has left Grace (CANA), not for theological reasons, but from the violence done them. Those who vote to secede to CANA should at least have the courage to look us in the eye.

I propose that all those who were pushed from Grace in recent years attend the meeting on May 20--not to vote or even to disrupt the vote, but to sit in silent witness of the proceeding so that those who do vote to split will see the real effect of the carnage at Grace and the toll of what has truly been lost—the ranks of their fellow Episcopalians.

PS Paul, say it ain’t so about your resignation …

8:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. Your story with Grace presplit sounds pretty rough. I was never recruited or excluded by the vestry, so I guess my ego is bruised. Rather than sit in their CANA vote meeting, I would rather participate in the Grace Episcopal parish and move forward. What's done is done. Our parish needs to find the financial resources to stay independent with half the membership. It can be done, but it will take a strong effort. If I believe what I read on TitusOneNine, the CANA Grace coffee hour is filled with speculation on how much each vestry group gives annually and attendance stats on the Diocese. Not my way to spend a Sunday.

9:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Participation of any kind in the CANA vote on May 20 is a form of validation which must not be allowed the secessionist church members/vestry/clergy. I believe they will get their just rewards sooner rather than later through alternate means.

I agree with the statement about moving forward. Anyone who has left Grace in disgust in the last few years (or any otehr interested party, for that matter) should join Grace Episcopal Church in exile for a truly moving worship experience.

10:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The real church is always a pilgrim church, or so Christians have believed for many centuries. I always thought that notion was figurative--but here it seems a straightforward truth. Blessings on all the Grace Pilgrims, and on their kind hosts at First Christian.

8:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had been rather suspicious of two elements of the upcoming vote: how the powers that be at Grace/CANA (who are not by any stretch of the imagination unbiased as to the preferred outcome) would determine who is eligible to vote, and who would be counting of the ballots. How easy would it be to set the standard at worship with the CANA congregation or financial support of the CANA congregation during the "40 Days of Discernment"? For that matter, the "40 Days of Discernment" classwork the Cananites are participating in right now is published by one of the founding CANA congregations and is designed to achieve the predetermined outcome.

In any case, such a vote is irrelevant in the Episcopal church. To participate in it would be to validate the outcome. It would be nice if the faithful Episcopalians could have some kind of symbolic representation of quiet strength, though.

Blessings on all members of Grace--both congregations.

2:08 PM  
Blogger Paul (A.) said...

But isn't anyone who has been attending a non-TEC (e.g., CANA) church and votes secessionist by definition ineligible to vote under TEC canons?

Also, I had read some time ago that this vote would be validated b ythe local civil registrar, who just happens to be a CANA vestrymember. Is this supposed to confer legitimacy on the result?

6:40 AM  

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