One of the oldest Anglican churches in Colorado overwhelmingly voted on Saturday to break from the Episcopal Church and join a conservative Anglican group.
Over a month after the governing board (vestry) of Grace Church and St. Stephen's Parish voted to secede from the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado, 93 percent of the 370 members that voted agreed to break away and join the Convocation of Anglicans in North America – a splinter group and offshoot of the Church of Nigeria. Another vote revealed the majority of the parishioners wanted to keep the church property.
"The congregation's decision to join CANA is the most important decision in Grace Church and St. Stephen's 135 year history," said Jon Wroblewski, senior warden of the parish's vestry. "We have decided to remain true to the faith of our ancestors and the founders of this parish even as the Episcopal Church departs from the faith and the Anglican Communion."
The parish's vestry had voted on Mar. 26 to leave the Episcopal Church – the U.S. arm of Anglicanism – in dissension over its actions, including the 2003 consecration of an openly gay bishop, indicating departure from Christian orthodoxy.
"The plight of the Episcopal Church truly grieves me," said the Rev. Donald Armstrong, the parish's rector. "What was once a great church of Gospel proclamation and social influence has now become an irrelevant and insignificant denomination characterized by theological drift and demographic decay. The Episcopal Diocese of Colorado is dying and has lost 60 percent of its market share of Colorado's population during the last 60 years. The decision for Grace Church and St. Stephen's was a simple choice between death with the Episcopal Church or spiritual life and vitality with CANA."
Armstrong is currently being investigated by the Diocese of Colorado for misusing hundreds of thousands of dollars in parish funds. He says the charge is an act of revenge by the diocese and Bishop Rob O'Neill, according to Rocky Mountain News, and is confident he will be cleared of the accusations.
Parishioners partook in a weeklong voting process complete with voting booths and an official ballot.
Beckett Stokes, the communications director for the Diocese of Colorado, said the voting process was illegitimate because in the Episcopal system, "parishes are not established by a vote of the congregation but only by actions taken by a diocesan convention and ecclesiastical authority," according to Rocky Mountain News.
Still, the will of the voting majority was indisputable "and showed clearly a very strong mandate to affirm the vestry decision of March 26 (to leave the Episcopal Church)," said Alan Crippen, spokesman for the Colorado Springs church, according to the local newspaper.
And the vote affirmed the parish's new affiliation with CANA which allows Grace Church and St. Stephen's "the freedom to continue its Gospel ministry unmolested by theological innovators and revisionists in the Episcopal Church," said a statement by the parish.
The Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns, missionary bishop of CANA, had visited the parish last month to tell parishioners about the mission of CANA and that it represents "a good way forward" amid divisions in the Anglican Communion.
After the overwhelming vote to split, Crippen said the flag of the Episcopal Church is being removed from worship services at the Colorado Springs parish and the Anglican Communion's Compass Rose flag will instead be carried to symbolize the parish's continuing constituent membership in the Anglican Communion.
Grace Church and St. Stephen's was founded in 1872 and was the first Anglican Church in Colorado Springs. With some 800 attendants each week, it has been regarded as one of the largest and most influential Episcopal churches in the state.