Anglican group cuts ties with Armstrong
Church funded think tank; reverend denies wrongdoing
By PAUL ASAY THE GAZETTE
A defiant Rev. Donald Armstrong told his longtime parish Saturday he never stole money from the church — even as an organization he helped lead severed its ties with him. The Anglican Communion Institute, an international theological think tank funded by Grace Church and St. Stephen’s Parish and whose day-to-day operations were overseen by Armstrong, distanced itself from the church and Armstrong in a statement released Saturday. “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 . . . so that the charges of the Presentment and other matters of public trust and ecclesiastical jurisdiction might be resolved without interference,” the statement said. Alan Crippen, spokesman for Grace and Armstrong, said he wasn’t sure how the ACI could split from the church. “They just walked away from 85 percent of their funding,” he said. “I don’t know what ACI is without that.” The ACI is a leading scholarly critic of the Episcopal Church, particularly on the issue of ordaining gay clergy, but has advocated changing Episcopal policy from within. Armstrong split with the Episcopal Church last month, and Grace’s vestry voted March 26 to align the church with the Convocation of Anglicans in North America — an outgrowth of an Anglican province in Nigeria. “They have not been pleased with Grace Church’s departure to CANA, and I think that’s the main issue for them,” Crippen said. During his presentation to Grace congregants Saturday, Armstrong said the ACI provided scholarships and grants for continuing education for clergy, and he said the ACI was the mechanism through which the church paid for his children’s college educations. The funding, Armstrong said, was approved by Grace’s wardens. Timothy Fuller, a former member of Grace’s vestry — the church’s leadership group — and the ACI’s board of directors, told The Gazette several days ago the ACI board never formally met in the three years he served on it. He resigned from the ACI board in December after Armstrong allegedly told the vestry the ACI had “borrowed” $170,000 from Grace. In an interview with The Gazette last week, ACI President the Rev. Christopher Seitz said the ACI should’ve been an inexpensive organization to run. “The only cost of running the Institute is our time, which we give away, and a Web site, which involves nominal costs. Travel reimbursements were handled by the Executive Director (Armstrong), or we paid for these costs ourselves,” Seitz said via e-mail. “There are no employees, no overhead in a formal sense, no hard-copy publications, and no programme to fund.” The ACI’s statement Saturday, signed by Seitz and other ACI leaders, reiterated the cost to run ACI was small. Armstrong was apparently unaware of the ACI’s decision to sever ties Saturday when he addressed the congregation. During the threehour meeting, Armstrong defended the church’s accounting practices, unveiled his annual salary and denied any wrongdoing. The sanctuary was nearly full and largely supportive of its embattled rector.
But several congregants questioned Armstrong, and there were signs of the tension that ripped the church apart last month, when Grace’s vestry voted to leave the Episcopal Church. About 200 of the church’s 800 regular attendees now worship as Grace Episcopal Church in Colorado College’s Shove Memorial Chapel. The meeting marked the first time Armstrong has publicly addressed some of the allegations leveled at him by the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado — the most serious of which was that he stole more than $392,000 from the church. Most of that money was earmarked as scholarships for his children, and Armstrong acknowledged Grace gave him scholarship money — $40,116 in 2005 alone. Armstrong said those scholarships were authorized by the church’s wardens — a perk, he said, to bring his compensation up to par with other experienced, big-church Episcopal rectors. His total compensation for 2005 was $141,573 — about $8,000 above the diocesan norm, according to Armstrong’s figures. In 2006, money earmarked for scholarships was replaced by a big raise in Armstrong’s salary. He made $143,215 last year. Though about 75 percent of the audience gave Armstrong a standing ovation after he unveiled these figures, Armstrong’s critics said the compensation isn’t the issue: It’s whether approval should’ve gone through the vestry. John Hermes, a former vestry member, said the vestry never knew about those funds. Armstrong said the scholarships were openly discussed. Armstrong said Grace operates under a general budget approved by the vestry, but day-to-day expenses are handled by the rector, treasurer and church wardens. During his presentation, he said the vestry never showed this level of concern about financial matters, and suggested former vestry members have turned against him because they’re scared the bishop will sue them for previously shirking their financial responsibilities. Hermes and other critics say their questions weren’t answered at the meeting. The diocese released a statement after the meeting, saying Armstrong’s presentation didn’t “constitute a legitimate response to the serious charges of financial misconduct pending against him.” Supporters, though, thought Armstrong’s presentation was effective. “He just refuted virtually everything of importance that’s been thrown at him,” said Jack Gloriod. The meeting may have been pivotal for the future of Grace. The congregation will vote May 20 on whether to sanction the vestry’s decision to leave the Episcopal Church, and Armstrong hoped to dispel lingering questions about his integrity during Saturday’s meeting. He noted he had unveiled his salary, showed portions of his tax reports and stressed the checks and balances built into the church’s accounting. The vote, Armstrong said, will determine who gets the church building — at least in the short term. If Armstrong’s supporters win, the diocese will likely try to take the property back through the courts. If congregants loyal to the Episcopal Church win, Armstrong hinted a vestry member — whose Nebraska bank loaned the church nearly $2.5 million — might call the loan. Armstrong said all Grace members can vote.
ONLINE > Get it first This story was posted first at 4:50 p.m. Saturday at gazette.com