Press Release: Colorado Church Property Dispute Unresolved

(From the Anglican parish of Grace and Saint Stephen’s Church).

(Colorado Springs, Colorado) Judge Larry E. Schwartz of the El Paso County District Court issued a decision today that the property dispute between Grace Church and St. Stephen’s and the Episcopal Bishop and Diocese of Colorado cannot be resolved by summary judgment and must go to trial court. Yet, significantly and critical to Grace Church and St. Stephen’s legal argument for ownership of the property in question, Judge Swartz concluded that the parish is a valid, non-profit corporation recognized by the State of Colorado since 1973.

Judge Schwartz’s decision was in response to a hearing held on May 2, 2008 at the El Paso County Courthouse in which 18 members of Grace Church and St. Stephen’s requested that personal lawsuits brought against them by the Episcopal Bishop of Colorado be dismissed.

In May of 2007 Grace Church and St. Stephen’s voted to affiliate with the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) in a congregational election. Of the 370 votes cast, an overwhelming 342, or 93%, voted for Grace Church and St. Stephen’s, one of the oldest Episcopal Churches in Colorado, to leave the Episcopal Church over its departure from traditional Christian beliefs and practice.

Since that time the Episcopal Bishop and Diocese of Colorado have sued the corporation of Grace Church and St. Stephen’s, 18 individual members and lay-leaders of the congregation, and an affiliated elementary school, St. Stephen’s Classical School, for the 17 million dollar historic landmark church building in downtown Colorado Springs.

In today’s decision Judge Schwartz wrote that “over six volumes of affidavits, correspondence and documents have been filed over the last year in support of various issues that will ultimately need to be addressed.” As a consequence, “Neither party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law under summary judgment analysis”¦.Material facts ”¦ are clearly in dispute.”

In response to Judge Schwartz’s decision, Jon Wroblewski, senior warden of Grace Church as St. Stephen’s, said, “We are grateful for the careful and deliberate seriousness with which Judge Swartz has considered our case. Furthermore, we are pleased that the judge recognized the fact that the parish’s 1973 corporation has been doing business as a legal entity unchallenged by the Episcopal Church for 35 years, that our corporation is recognized by the Secretary of State, that this property case is very different from previous cases involving church property disputes, and that neutral principles of law prevail over and against sectarian arguments about ecclesiastical hierarchy. Sadly, I think that this case is proving to be an embarrassment to Christian witness in this community and beyond. The vicious actions of the Bishop and Diocese of Colorado to attack a congregation’s right of self-determination, to personally sue 18 upstanding members of a community in their capacity as volunteer non-profit directors, and to sue an elementary school are unconscionable. Surely there is a better way for Christian people to behave in the public eye. We hold out hope, however forlorn, that the Bishop will repent and come to some reasonable mediated settlement; but if not, justice must prevail.”

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Episcopal Church (TEC), TEC Conflicts, TEC Conflicts: Colorado

36 comments on “Press Release: Colorado Church Property Dispute Unresolved

  1. Violent Papist says:

    “Judge Swartz concluded that the parish is a valid, non-profit corporation recognized by the State of Colorado since 1973.”
    If this was a summary judgment motion, the judge made this conclusion because it was not a disputed fact by any of the parties. So I say….so?

    By the way, who filed for summary judgment – the Diocese, the parish, or both? It seemed like both from the press release, but hard to tell.

  2. Adam 12 says:

    Judges decide questions of law, juries decide questions of fact.

  3. Br. Michael says:

    Unles it is a bench trial. Then the judge decides both fact and law.

  4. robroy says:

    The year before the budget deficit for the diocese of Colorado was ~65,000. Last year, it was ~70,000. Both were adjusted up. This year it was…(drum roll)…exactly 0 with an asterisk (does not include legal costs). Righhttt. Like we were born yesterday. What a sham. What a scam.

  5. hh6646 says:

    Papist- I believe that CANA asked for summary judgement first, over a year ago. The Diocese agreed, then both sides peppered the court with papers to equal, as the judge said, 6 volumes of stuff. CANA blinked first and asked for a trial, which the judge has agreed to. Br Michael, this will be a jury trial. Robroy- this is CANA’s deal and if they didn’t want both sides to spend a fortune they could have chosen a different path. To all, I’m using “CANA” and “The Diocese” because there are two congregations claiming the same basic name, legal status, and physical plant.

  6. Daniel says:

    I am interested as to why individuals were sued. In a lot of states, there are laws that shield non-profit, volunteer directors from law suits. I can understand suing the corporation but what does TEC gain from going after individuals except to destroy their reputations and finances so anybody else will be afraid to stand up to them. What a sleazy bunch of characters it is that comprises the TEC legal machine.

  7. JohnMask says:

    Daniel, now you know the face of the enemy.

  8. hh6646 says:

    Daniel- you ought to see the physical condition of the parish office building. The roof is held up with raw lumber stuck in the ground. That is why individuals are being sued. They know it is not their building and that they’re not going to keep it, so they are just using it as long as they can. The building in question is an historic landmark probably 110 years old and absolutely unique in Colorado Springs.

  9. RalphM says:

    hh6646: I doubt that people are being sued over the condition of the building. Perhaps someone whose name is on the suit can enlighten us as to what the suit asks for.

  10. hh6646 says:

    I’d love to hear it, especially if they had something something to say besides how inhuman Bishop O’Neill is

  11. robroy says:

    “They know it is not their building and that they’re not going to keep it, so they are just using it as long as they can.”

    Can anyone begin to follow the “logic” of that statement? A church that precedes the diocese of Colorado obviously wants to keep its building that it built and maintained without a dime from the diocese. The diocese’s membership and ASA is going down, down, down. The diocese is closing churches in Colorado Springs. Yet Grace and St Stephen’s Anglican forced the diocese to sue? No, the new sheriff and her croney forced the diocese to sue. Blame 815 for pushing the diocese towards insolvency.

  12. Zechariah says:

    hh6646 –
    Since the Diocese of Colorado (DoCO) has frozen Grace Church & St. Stephen’s trust funds for property improvements and continues to run up legal fees for the parish, perhaps you would like to contribute to a renovation fund?

    Since you want someone from Grace CANA to say something “besides how inhuman Bishop O’Neill is,” I would like to take the opportunity to mention how inhuman it is to sue a volunteer board of a non-profit corporation for corporate identity theft when the matter of property ownership is already in the process of being determined in a court of law.

    I should also mention how inhuman it is to attempt to destroy (via a lawsuit) a fledgling Classical Academy where children come to learn every day.

    Other examples are plentiful, but if these alone are not enough to give you pause to think, then I don’t think any amount of discourse will persuade you to the truth.

    Soldier of Christ,

  13. hh6646 says:

    Robroy- if the dimes didn’t come from the diocese than what about my dimes? Where do I go to get a refund of offerings fraudulently taken? How about the people who helped build the church then were told we weren’t in the Episcopal Church anymore? There are plenty of people who believed in their hearts and souls where the heart of their church was, and woke up one morning last year to find out they had been had.
    CANA didn’t build the church, the Episcopalians did. And then the locks were changed……..
    Zechariah- the trust funds list an Episcopal church as the beneficiary, its that simple. There is a way to make the legal expenses cease immediately, and you know what it is

  14. robroy says:

    No, the people of the parish built the church and it was intended to be a Christian church. And the people of the parish voted overwhelmingly to realign so that it can continue to be a Christian church.

    Suppose you raised one of the former members from the 1920s or 1890s, etc., or Rev. Arthur Taft or Rev. Chauncey Blodgett from the dead and asked them. Would they want it to be given up to someone who voted for the consecration of Gene Robinson? Hardly. They would be aghast at what the once Episcopal Church has degenerated into.

  15. Choir Stall says:

    The Virginia Attorney General just filed new work on the Virginia church cases. It lays waste to the Schori-Beers-Lee machine. The arrogance of this trio just got them infamous. They wanted to play hardball in court, but they made one big mistake: they forgot that the court doesn’t have any bishops on it. One look at the Virginia A.G.’s work and you see it plain. TEC will lose. Let the dominoes begin!

  16. robroy says:

    And it is important to look at how the diocese of Colorado is doing in El Paso County, the fastest growing county in a fast growing state:

    The diocese has closed two churches in El Paso county in the past few years. And the other churches:

    Chapel of Our Saviour Episcopal Church – ASA down from 225 to 210, Church of St Michael the Archangel from 280 to 295 (was over 400 in 1998), St Matthias Episcopal Church Monument – 75 to 75, St Raphael Episcopal Church – 95 to 90, Church of the Good Shepherd – down from 66 in 2005 to 63 in 2005, St Andrews Episcopal Church – 58 to 38.

    Again, this is the fastest growing county in Colorado! They hardly need new buildings, they need less.

  17. Zechariah says:


    Great job avoiding all my points. Perhaps I’ll add one more:

    Are you aware that Rob O’Neill has committed extortion towards the vestry of Grace Church & St. Stephen’s? Before the diocese began filing legal complaints last year, he wrote letters to all the vestrymen informing that if they left the church immediately, he would consider not suing them.

    And you never answered my question – if you’re so desperately concerned about the “110 year old and absolutely unique” parish office building, would you be willing to initiate a renovation fund with your own money? I’m sure the congregation at Grace would appreciate the outpouring of generosity. It would, after all, be a welcome change from the unChristian behavior demonstrated by the group of Episcopalians for the past 16 months.


  18. athan-asi-us says:

    What continually gets overlooked in this mess is the heretical theology and practices of the Episcopal Church that triggered the whole thing in the first place. The orthodox (small o) Christian part of the local congregation that voted to leave Episcopal oversight were in the majority of registered, bonafide congregants. Since the break, the orthodox CANA group in physical control of the corporate property has grown significantly. This is in contrast to the general decline of the Episcopal Church both in Colorado and nationally. The Episcopal diocese has never contributed a red cent to the growth and upkeep of the local property. If HH666 (or whatever) wants to get his or her pennys worth of use of the property, I would suggest that he or she should repent, show some remorse for following a stray flock, and return to worship in an orthodox communion that follows a reformed catholic agenda.

  19. Ralinda says:

    There are plenty of people who believed in their hearts and souls where the heart of their church was, and woke up one morning last year (5 years ago, 10 years ago, insert your timeframe here) to find out they had been had. How about the people who helped build the church then were told we didn’t own it, the diocese did, even though we paid for it and we hold the title?
    Welcome to the club. I’d feel your pain if you made mention of the content of your faith and did a little Jesus name-dropping, rather than bemoaning the new affiliation of your former parish where the Biblical Christian faith remains strong and unchanged.

  20. hh6646 says:

    I have to chuckle at the references to the school. It started around 1992 as an Episcopal Day School and enjoyed that name for over a decade. It has been a money-pit ever since day 1, and changing the name didn’t change anything there. Robroy- I’m so glad you can converse with the dead, I’ve never tried it. Zechariah- I do contribute to a restoration fund, weekly, and look forward to using it soon.

  21. robroy says:

    I stand by my comment that the founders of Grace and St Stephen’s would be horrified by what is going on in the Episcopal Church. Necromancy is not necessary, one can read their writings. But Phil at Stand Firm points out the error of your ways well:
    [blockquote]As I’ve pointed out before star-ace #20, your theory would mean I’d have to consult prior owners of my house before painting the living room or adding a deck. Or, that a long-lived corporation could never decide to sell itself without the consent of its long-dead founders or shareholders. [/blockquote]

  22. wamark says:

    hh6646……I am sure you haven’t talked with the dead as it is obvious the communion of saints means nothing to you…how very Episcopalian…welcome to the narcissistic hell of your own creation.

  23. Dr Crestwood says:

    hh…Schools are most always financially costly…but we are talking about the education of children…isn’t that an important ministry? If education is a money pit not worthy of sacrifice, on what would you have the church spend its money?…abortion? aids research? green house gas elimination?

    I think the question here isn’t how the people of Grace Church followed God’s call to ministry, but how they have upheld the truth…and that they found it necessary for the health and future of their congregation to leave the counter productive influence and negative effect of the Episcopal Church.

    Now the court will have to determine if the property belongs to the legal corporation and its members who have long maintained and made improvements to it…or if a bishop from far away can replace the board of a separate corporation (his own chancellor having taught at Diocesan Convention Workshops that parishes are separate corporations and that the diocese is not liable for their decisions) and take over the property from a majority of the congregants and the duly elected board.

    And that is essentially what the judge has determined a jury trial will decide next year…so it will be a while, but in the meantime I would imagine that Grace Church CANA will continue as it always has in faithfulness and grace.

  24. hh6646 says:

    I don’t have a problem with a long-lived organization undergoing major changes, but to state the long-dead founders would either approve or disapprove is simply silly. It is also silly to think that the 1973 corporation explicitly removed the parish from the Episcopal Church and then waited 24 years to do it. The Grace CANA rector blames some of his presentment difficulties on poor book-keeping, this is just another case of church people pretending to be business people. Too much poor book-keeping goin’ on out there.

  25. robroy says:

    hh6646, I state that those who built the church would strongly disapprove of the innovations of the gay friendly new-gospel TEO and approve of the realignment. You state that they built it for the Episcopal church and would disapprove. Again, it matters not. The current parishioners voted overwhelmingly to realign in a democratic vote.

  26. Suwatchalapin says:

    Here’s how your overwhelming “democratic” vote was handled. The church vestry announced that they had voted to realign with CANA in March. We had been given no information about CANA up to this point, and indeed the rector had often said from the pulpit and in Sunday school that he would not lead Grace out of the Episcopal Church (and ridiculed those who had left). There was no vote until May. We were told in the Grace CANA Tidings newsletter that members in good standing would be allowed to participate, but that the outcome of the congregational vote would not change the decision that had already been made by the vestry! The rector said that there were more than 800 eligible voters, but only 370 actually voted (probably since we were told the switch to CANA was not going to be affected by how the vote turned out). About 340 agreed with the vestry, and the leaders than announced proudly that “93% voted to leave TEC!” An overwhelming majority!

    This is why I have as much trust in the so-called orthodox as I do in the characters at 815. So long, and thanks for all the fish.

  27. Ricky Bobby says:

    I think the Grace Cana vestry voted for 40 days of discernment during which time the congregation could decide their affliation and property issues…the vestry and clergy agreeing to abide by that…stay and fight or leave and start a new church…the congregation vote tally of those who voted was to leave TEC and keep the property…which is what they seem to be doing with vestry an clergy in place…looks pretty America to me.

  28. hh6646 says:

    Suwatchalapin- excellent post. I received an invitation from Grace CANA to vote to “affirm” the vestry’s decision, or to walk apart. In other words, like us or leave us. What’s with the fish? Robroy- the vote was a shameless scam and worthy of nothing. Of course the “current” parishioners voted to go CANA, all those who were appalled at the vestry’s decision refused to participate. Remember, almost half the existing congregation refused to go along, and who knows how many simply stayed with the building. There is no mandate here, just a personality clique which is laughing at the law while paying the lawyers a lot so they can laugh.

  29. Ricky Bobby says:

    HH6646–you seem a little hard on these folks…do you really think maybe your perspective needs a little balance…if they have 500 in church on Sundays and can fund their own legal battle, which your side apparently is not (funded by the diocese) perhaps God is moving among them and they are actaully finding peace and strength in Christ and are doing what he has called them to do…could you believe this is a possibility?

  30. Zechariah says:

    robroy, Ricky Bobby, and other orthodox friends:

    During a time of personal Bible reading yesterday, I came across Titus 3:10 – “Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him.”

    Perhaps in light of this passage, we should ignore the comments posted by the divisive duo of hh6646 and Suwatchalapin.

    After all, they have clearly demonstrated to us how much work of gospel proclamation there is to do in the world, and I don’t think that a blog is the most effective avenue for such work.

    I, for one, will comment no more on this thread.

    Soldier of Christ,

  31. hh6646 says:

    Zechariah- I’m sorry you think I’m divisive, I thought we were having a rather adult disagreement over facts. I don’t believe your numbers, you don’t believe mine, and we probably disagree on the timeline. This is precisely why the case is going to a jury trial, even the judge said above that “…Material facts…..are clearly in dispute.” Ricky Bobby- sure I can believe they are doing what they are called to do. Can you offer their opponents the same consideration? And please stop whining about the money. Wroblewski states in the press release above that they are “upstanding members of [the] community”. I personally know several of them to be successful businessmen. They didn’t reach that position without understanding risks and rewards. The reward in this instance is enormous, now is the time for the risk.

  32. godfrey says:

    I haven’t followed this recently, and am wondering what the status of the criminal investigation (not the Diocese of Colorado’s, I mean the Colorado Springs police’s) against Don Armstrong is? Does anybody on this blog know what si going on? I thought that began in July. Is that case closed?

  33. athan-asi-us says:

    Isn’t it sad how “facts” can be spun and twisted to make them mean whatever you want them to mean in order to justify a position. What is even sadder is how a good man’s reputation can be unjustly befouled in order to support a power play and political agenda. Those who stabbed Fr. Armstrong in the back will eventually pay a heavy price.

  34. godfrey says:

    Athanasius, I just asked a factual question. My hope would be that this matter has been cleared up. It is hard to believe that Armstrong would not get a fair shake from a DA who was on his vestry until charges were filed and has described himself as a close personal friend. But I am not sure what your edge is about. Blessings, hope you have a better day tomorrow!
    Could somebody else maybe answer the question? Is the investigation ongoing?

  35. hh6646 says:

    Godfrey- the Gazette, the local paper, ran a story on the two congregations on Palm Sunday. In it, they said the the police confirmed that the investigation of Don Armstrong was “on-going”. The Gazette has quoted the police saying the same thing several times since July. You can infer a multitude of things with this, but since I want to stay on-topic in hopes that T19 will let me keep playing in their sandbox, let me just say the the police investigation and the press release above regarding Judge Shwartz’s property case have nothing to do with each other. BTW, I too hope that athan-asi-us has a better day tomorrow

  36. godfrey says:

    Thanks, HH, for the clarification.

    I suppose a whole bunch of nice folks who heretofore had no occasion to learn up-close about police matters and property disputes should be grateful—if wryly—for the opportunity to learn how slowly the wheels of American justice turn. Even if they are well-lubricated! Here’s a link with a video about Colorado Springs’ DA and Grace CANA parishioner John Newsome:

    I am so very sorry for all the young people whose confidence in the world we have built for them, both in the church and in the public sphere, is damaged by wrangling and dereliction. Please say a prayer for them today–that God give them the courage to carry on and the wisdom to do better than we have.