Casper Star-Tribune reports:
Colorado's largest Episcopal church was left in chaos after leaders voted to leave the denomination and the bishop responded by dismissing the parish's leadership.The controversy at Colorado Springs' Grace Episcopal Church and St. Stephen's Parish is the latest to roil the Episcopal Church following the national denomination's acceptance of homosexuality.Colorado Springs Gazette:
The vestry of Grace Church and St. Stephen's Parish on Monday voted to bolt from the national church and instead join a conservative Anglican church based in Nigeria.But Bishop Robert O'Neill rejected the move, dismissing the local leaders and saying the Colorado Springs parish would remain part of the Episcopal Church.
"The fact is people may leave the Episcopal Church but parishes cannot," O'Neill said in a statement.The church's longtime rector, the Rev. Donald Armstrong III, who was suspended for allegedly mishandling funds, said O'Neill no longer has jurisdiction over the parish."He doesn't have an army. The courts will not interfere in an internal church dispute and the congregation is solidly behind us," Armstrong said.
Beckett Stokes, a spokeswoman for the Colorado diocese, said church law states that all parish property and assets are held in trust for the diocese. She declined to comment on Armstrong's reaction.
The leaders of Grace and St. Stephen's voted to join the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, a missionary diocese of the Church of Nigeria led by Archbishop Peter J. Akinola.
The Colorado diocese responded Monday by claiming that the local parish is forbidden by Episcopal law from leaving the denomination, even if some members decide to. The diocese asserted its rights to the historic downtown church building, valued at $17 million. Even though the vestry no longer recognizes the authority of Colorado Bishop Robert O’Neill, he removed them from office and said he’d be in touch with parishioners about how to proceed with worship and protecting church assets after the disruption.From the Diocese (pdf):
This action, taken by the vestry in consultation with Father Armstrong (still a priest of the Episcopal Church under inhibition by the Bishop), has been taken unilaterally and has no canonical or constitutional grounding or effect. "The fact is that people may leave the Episcopal Church but parishes cannot," Bishop O’Neill stated. "Grace and Saint Stephen’s Church remains a parish of The Episcopal Diocese of Colorado and will continue to be so for any and all who desire to be members of The Episcopal Church."