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COLORADO: Newspaper article provokes heated debate in troubled diocese


News Analysis

By David W. Virtue

DENVER, CO. (7/28/2004)--A heated debate has erupted in the Diocese of Colorado between an orthodox priest and the head of the Diocesan Standing Committee, with charges being traded about the cause for the potential closure of two parishes reported in the secular press.

According to a newspaper article in the Rocky Mountain News written by Jean Torkelson, an Episcopal parish in Jefferson County may close in January because pledges to the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado have plunged 25 percent, totaling nearly $500,000.

Traditionalists say the drop in donations is meant to send a message to the bishop that he must repent of his support of same-sex blessings and practicing gay clergy in the diocese.

"New Life Church has no money in the budget from the diocese for next year - zero," said the Rev. Chuck Reischman, pastor of New Life Episcopal Church on Belleview Ave. New Life stands to lose $147,000 in funding in 2005, according to an overview of the proposed budget sent last week to the diocese's standing committee by its chief financial officer, Bob Leaman.

New Life is one of two "start-up" churches. The other, Briargate in Colorado Springs, faces an equal loss. Leaman laid out details of a slimmed-down $1.2 million budget last week for the Standing Committee.

But Laura Schaffer, a lay woman from the Mountain Region and President of the Diocesan Standing Committee, disputed these facts and blasted the Rev. Don Armstrong, rector of Grace Church and St. Stephen's in Colorado Springs for e-mailing the article to members of the Standing Committee. Schaffer accused Torkelson's article of being full of mistakes. "If you are her contact please make sure she is at least correct in her facts," she told Armstrong.

Tired of distortions by Diocesan leadership (the bishop two weeks ago denied the $500,000 short fall to the press the same day the Standing Committee received a letter from the Treasurer warning of precisely such a deficit), Armstrong shot back a note to Schaffer saying that what needs explanation is why the Standing Committee sits quietly by while failing to correct the nose dive into which the bishops have put the diocese. "You also need to get the order right here--New Life and Briargate are on the block because of the diocesan position on sexuality, not because conservatives are redirecting money in response," said Armstrong.

“Alarmingly,” Armstrong continued, “This short fall is not only the result of redirected funds, but also a general downturn in giving to our churches. The Episcopal Church is diminishing in size and dollars to the point that you just have to wonder--how much Bishop O'Neill is willing to sacrifice in program and ministry for practicing gay clergy and blessed homoerotic relationships?”

"It looks to me from his lack of response to this question at Standing Committee that the answer is: everything, the whole church, the historic Communion, the faithful witness and sacrifice of generations, the revealed truth delivered to our children and grand children."

"The question I have for Laura is: because these funds are redirected at the parishioner level, and it is not just a matter of demanding parishes to belly up in support the bishop’s revisionist policies---what are you as President of the Standing Committee going to do to get O'Neill to reverse his policies and permitted practices that the diocese might recapture those redirected funds from parishioners who simply will not support these innovations?"

"This is the Standing Committee's responsibility--and to date we seem to be neglectful in protecting the program and ministry of our diocese from the bishop's unpopular stances and actions."

Schaffer responded to Armstrong saying, "I am praying that the Holy Spirit guide all of us to open our hearts and minds to what God wants us to do. It certainly isn't my place to tell the Bishop what to do as it is not yours. I don't need to remind you that he is your BISHOP. Several months ago you told the press your donation to the Diocese would be $100,000 if it had not been for the election of V Gene. If that is correct ask your members that are withholding their $ to send them to New Life that will be plenty to help them over the next year."

Retorted Armstrong: "Long before New Life and Briargate became political hot potatoes, my parishioners, in response to the Bishop's stated position on human sexuality, redirected their money away from the Diocese and National Church for the specific purpose of being good stewards, to support orthodox ministries that protect rather than undermine the faith and witness of our church, and to make their voices heard in these debates."

"So, now their voices are apparently being heard. Is the Standing Committee; is the Bishop ready to change their/his position on practicing gay clergy and same sex blessings? That is what it will take to make these funds available from parishioners around the diocese who are redirecting their funds."

"Regarding the bishop’s authority, he is about to have a little problem saying he is a bishop in good standing as he is likely to be under some sort of censure or discipline for his heretical teaching when the Lambeth Commission report comes out in October. He is also in direct violation of the constitution and canons of ECUSA for not upholding the faith and witness of the Communion—which has been clearly stated and commended by the Primates, the Lambeth Conference, and the ABC on this very subject."

"In addition, given the lack of punishment for the Rev. Bonnie Spencer for her extreme misbehavior (taking a parishioner into the church for prayers and simulating a marriage to convince her that it was all right to have a relationship) discipline and order have fallen apart in the diocese and the bishop has undermined his own authority--and on the scale of crime and punishment, proportionally there is not much of a punishment that can be administered."

Armstrong then took issue with Schaffer over her use of the Holy Spirit: "The Holy Spirit has done everything but hit us over the head about the direction we should take regarding human sexuality. In fact, I think the current financial crisis in our diocese could be considered a direct hit on the head!"

"The Holy Spirit works through the body of Christ--the whole church. And the whole church, the whole Communion which is our understanding of the body, has been exceedingly clear: homoerotic behavior is contrary to the mind of the Church and the mind of Christ. Period! So, no same sex blessings and no practicing gay clergy."

"New Life and Briargate are on the block because of the diocesan position on sexuality, not because conservatives are redirecting money in response. I think it is also important to know that conservatives are not going to undermine their own determination and witness on this issue by solving the Standing Committee's problem, your problem as its President, and the Bishop's problem."

"We believe the financial crisis is God's judgment on the liberal position in the diocese, not a judgment on conservatives who are determined to be good stewards, not contributing to the pan-sexual teachings of [Bishop] Rob O'Neill, and helping fund Bonnie Spencer's paid vacation as her reward for misbehavior.


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