- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 27, 2007

DENVER (AP) — Colorado’s largest Episcopal congregation was left in turmoil after leaders voted to leave the denomination and the bishop responded by dismissing the parish’s leadership.

The clash at Colorado Springs’ Grace Episcopal Church and St. Stephen’s Parish is the latest in a tense dispute among Episcopalians and their fellow Anglicans worldwide over biblical authority and contemporary issues of sex and sexuality.

The vestry of Grace Church and St. Stephen’s Parish on Monday voted to bolt from the national church, which has been told by the worldwide Anglican Communion to stop ordaining active homosexuals as bishops and allowing blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples. The move to join an Anglican mission based in Nigeria came three months after the bishop suspended its pastor amid an investigation of church finances.

Bishop Robert O’Neill rejected the church’s 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,” Bishop O’Neill said in a statement.

The church’s longtime rector, the Rev. Donald Armstrong III, who was suspended late last year, said Bishop 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,” Mr. 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 Mr. 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.

Mr. Armstrong has led the 2,500-member congregation for 19 years. The diocese said in a statement Jan. 3 that he had been placed on 90-day leave the previous week, following a nine-month review of the church’s finances. It did not release details of the charges against him.

Senior warden Jon Wroblewski said the parish had fought for a return to orthodoxy within the denomination but has lost hope in reform.

“It’s clear that the Episcopal Church no longer believes in the historic, orthodox Christian faith common to all believers. It’s also clear that purported Episcopal values of ‘inclusion’ do not apply to orthodox believers,” Mr. Wroblewski said in the statement.

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