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Split in two

Grace Church officially divided; CANA status uncertain


Graces factions face - a legal battle for the church property. - FILE PHOTO
  • File Photo
  • Graces factions face a legal battle for the church property.

As a Colorado Springs church congregation finalized its split on Sunday, feelings of elation, not bitterness, ruled.

There was triumphant, vivacious Anglican singing, even rare applause, in the historic Grace Church and St. Stephen's Parish at 601 N. Tejon St.

Three blocks away at First Christian Church, there was glee and festivity among exiled Episcopalians.

This is the way Pentecost, a celebration of the birth of the Christian church, should be embraced, according to both sides of what once was Colorado's largest Episcopal congregation.

A day earlier, breakaway lay leaders at Grace who remain in the church property on Tejon Street announced that a weeklong vote by parishioners affirmed their decision to leave the U.S. Episcopal Church. Grace Church, they say, is now part of the Diocese of Nigeria, led by an archbishop who vociferously opposes the U.S. church's recent embrace of gays and lesbians.

Sunday, the Rev. Don Armstrong told his secessionist flock it is "no longer part of a corrupt and apostate Episcopal Church," according to a transcript of his sermon the church posted online.

But the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado continues to claim that the vote was "illegal" under church law that only individuals, not congregations, can leave the church.

About 48 percent of Grace's congregation cast ballots. (Local Episcopalian leaders urged their loyalists not to take part in the vote.) Of the 370 who voted, 342 favored leaving the Episcopal Church in hopes of forging a separate path within the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Yet the Convocation of Anglicans in North America the Nigerian mission headed by Archbishop Peter Akinola that Grace Anglicans voted to join is not being recognized in the Anglican Communion, said spokesman Canon Jim Rosenthal via phone from London on Tuesday.

"CANA is not a church of the Anglican Communion," Rosenthal said, adding that creating such an entity within the boundaries of an existing province is "just not done."

England's archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, the Anglican world's "first among equals," did not invite CANA to the once-every-10-years Lambeth Conference.

"... I have to reserve the right to withhold or withdraw invitations from bishops whose appointment, actions or manner of life have caused exceptionally serious division or scandal within the Communion," Williams recently wrote to bishops.

Like the larger fissure, the local one is likely to grow. Grace voters also approved breakaway lay leaders' legal battle for the Tejon Street property.

An estimated 250 to 300 come to Episcopalian services weekly at First Christian, says Michael O'Donnell, a former Grace reverend now leading services in exile. He adds there are Grace parishioners loyal to the U.S. church who won't leave the church building.

Alan Crippen, spokesman for Grace Anglicans, argues that roughly 500 to 550 people now worship regularly at Grace, with more likely to come.

While Anglicans at Grace say the split is about theological differences, O'Donnell disagrees.

"We have many conservatives that attend our parish for whom that is not the issue at all," he says. "The issue is that for very private, personal reasons, they want to remain Episcopalian.

"Then there's another group for whom the issue of Father Don's inhibition clouds the whole issue. To follow him out of the Episcopal Church is unimaginable to them because he is under investigation for financial wrongdoing."

Armstrong has for months faced accusations from the diocese's bishop, Robert O'Neill, that he stole or defrauded hundreds of thousands of church dollars.

Armstrong denies the charges.

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