Saturday, April 14, 2007

ACI Dissolves Relationship with Grace Church

Due to the presentment against The Rev. Donald Armstrong, rector of Grace and St. Stephen's Church in Colorado Springs, the Anglican Communion Institute has moved to distance themselves from this situation:

...In consequence of the legal and ecclesiastical struggles Grace Church and Fr Armstrong are now engaged with, we judge it proper to dissolve our relationship with the web-site and all activities of Grace Church (CANA or TEC), so that the charges of the Presentment and other matters of public trust and ecclesial jurisdiction might be resolved without interference.

We will continue to work on matters related to the Anglican Communion in the same way as previously.

Christopher Seitz, President
Philip Turner, Vice-President
Ephraim Radner, Senior Fellow
In case you have not heard of the ACI, it is one of the think tanks used by the Network. Apparently, the Network, and specifically Bp. Duncan, had to do a bit of wooing to get these "six guys with a website" on board, but, judging from the short list of links on the front page of the ACI website, the Network was successful.

It appears that Grace Church considered the ACI one of their ministries. Consider this bit of interesting information from Timothy Fuller, a former Vestry member of Grace and a board member of the ACI:

...In October 2006, according to Fuller, Armstrong told the vestry that the ACI had borrowed about $170,000 from Grace over several years, and the vestry resolved the Institute would pay it back in $10,000 yearly installments, beginning this year.The vestry meeting was the first time Fuller had heard of the $170,000 the ACI allegedly borrowed. He resigned from the Institute’s board two months later...
Nineteen former vestry members of Grace Church have now spoken up about their very serious concerns regarding some of these charges against Don Armstrong.

Adding to the confusion is the existence of the Anglican Institute, which Armstrong also claims is a ministry of Grace. Although it has been reported that the AI merged with the ACI in 2004, Christopher Seitz, President of the ACI, emphatically states that the AI and ACI are unrelated.

Don Armstrong was to speak about the charges against him today. I have yet to see any report of his statement.

One of the saddest things about this whole mess is how it is perceived by those from the outside looking in. Consider this recent editorial that appeared in the Colorado Springs Independent:

...Imagine having your own church hijacked, supposedly for "theological" reasons but also amid a growing scandal over alleged misuse (or, at least, unexplained spending) of money, amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

And people wonder why churches aren't as large or influential as they once were. Especially when a congregation as established and deep-rooted as Grace's can split in such a deplorable manner — with the "breakaway" group seizing control of the church complex and embracing a Nigerian archbishop who believes homosexuals and their supporters should be imprisoned.

Let's be more specific. Archbishop Peter Akinola supports the idea of Nigeria's government making same-sex relationships criminal. He also favors Nigeria outlawing positive publicity for homosexuals "through the electronic or print media, physically, directly, indirectly or otherwise," meaning up to five years in prison for the Independent staff or any media giving favorable coverage to, say, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance or Southern Colorado AIDS Project.

That's beyond religious bigotry. It's fanaticism. And it's scary for one of Colorado Springs' most historic churches to be so fractured — with so many embracing another group of Anglicans with such outrageous stances...
As you may recall, Don Armstrong jumped to Nigeria the day before the official charges against him were revealed. He now claims to be under the authority of Bp. Minns of CANA. How Bp. Minns responds to this situation will be interesting to watch, as Mark Harris points out:

...There is serious question as to the timing of Fr. Armstrong's announcement of leaving TEC for CANA, mostly having to do with the feeling that this was an effort to sidestep the charges being brought by the Diocese of Colorado.

But if those charges are valid, they are valid in either church jurisdiction, assuming that financial malfeasance constitutes conduct unbecoming a clergyperson in both The Episcopal Church and the Church of Nigeria. If for some reason Fr. Armstrong believes those charges disappear by going to CANA, then that is saying something rather damning about his understanding of CANA as an ecclesial entity.

Bishop Minns is standing by Fr. Armstrong (as it appears from the visits he is making to the Parish), but he must also stand ready at some point to accept the possibility that the charges against Fr. Armstrong are true. In that case Bishop Minns might have to make an Episcopal decision that may run contrary to his friendship with Fr. Armstrong...
It's an ugly mess. My advice to clergy who find themselves in the midst of a potential scandal, guilty or not guilty, is to walk away. Don't drag your church through the mud. That is what is best for the people. Quietly step aside, and if you are not guilty, your name will be cleared, and the history that will be written will note that you did the honorable thing.


UPDATE: Dylan raises some good questions regarding President Seitz's denial that the Anglican Communion Institute and the Anglican Institute are related. For instance, take a look at this current page of the ACI site. Scroll down to the footer. Oops!

FURTHER UPDATE: Here is an early report of today's meeting at Grace Church. Note the not-so-subtle threat near the end. Guilty or not, this is truly poor behavior.

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