Grace Church raided; Rev. Don Armstrong under ‘ecclesiastical indictment’

The Grace Church and St. Stephen's complex in Colorado Springs. (Photo/enkrates, Flickr)
The Grace Church and St. Stephen

More than 20 police officers raided the landmark Grace Church and St. Stephen’s in downtown Colorado Springs on Wednesday, marking the latest in the ongoing criminal investigation into whether the controversial Rev. Don Armstrong embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The Colorado Springs Gazette reports that police raided Grace Church and St. Stephen’s Wednesday morning as part of the ongoing criminal investigation and seized financial records and computers.

More than 20 officers cordoned off the block-long church complex at 601 N. Tejon St., evicting its controversial pastor, the Rev. Donald Armstrong, who wandered the sidewalk in clerical garb, a copy of the warrant clutched in his right hand.

The development is the latest in a complex story involving Armstrong and his followers who split form the Episcopal Church and joined the Episcopalian Diocese of Nigeria, whose archbishop once supported a law imposing five-year prison terms for gays and their supporters. Since then, Armstrong and his faction have kept physical possession of the historic and architecturally inspiring Grace Church and St. Stephen’s. The Episcopal Church of Colorado wants it back.

In May 2007, the Colorado Independent extensively detailed the twists and turns of the events leading up to the criminal investigation. The story — Don Armstrong: The Condensed Version — is reprinted below.

Since March, reams and reams have been written about the ongoing saga of the Rev. Don Armstrong and his breakaway Grace Church and St. Stephen’s Parish in Colorado Springs. Among the highlights: a near-pieing, illegal parking and accusations that the anti-gay Armstrong misappropriated hundreds of thousands in church funds.

Armstrong once led the largest Episcopal church in Colorado. Now he is under ecclesiastical indictment, accused of misappropriation of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Here’s the breakdown: Tax fraud — try nearly $550,000 worth; and inappropriately taking nearly $400,000 in church funds to pay for college for his children and for other personal uses; and, improper use of church funds to the tune of another $250,000.

Throughout the ongoing drama, no criminal charges have been filed against Armstrong — who maintains his innocence.

He and a few hundred of his followers are refusing to leave the physical church, a gorgeous old landmark in downtown Colorado Springs. They are now connected with the Episcopal Diocese of Nigeria. The rest of the congregation is currently gathering at another church a few blocks away.

Things have recently gotten a bit kooky. There was the recent failed attempt to throw a pie in Armstrong’s face in the middle of one of his sermons (the reverend ducked behind the pulpit when he saw the banana crème sailing his way). The pie-thrower was captured by members of the congregation, arrested and later claimed he was making a political statement.

There was the surreptitious photographing by a team of Newspeak blog reporters capturing Armstrong illegally parking his Jeep Rubicon twice in one morning, to dash into Starbucks for his frappucino fix.

There’s the Nigerian angle, and the Episcopalians’ evolving position on homosexuality. Faced with the Episcopal Church ordaining more gay clergy after the controversial election of V. Gene Robinson, a gay New Hampshire bishop in 2003, and backing same-gender unions (not to mention the accusations of misappropriation of funds), Armstrong and his followers split with the church earlier this year, and have joined forces with the Church of Nigeria, whose archbishop is Peter Akinola — and who, as the Colorado Springs Independent has pointed out, has written such stuff as this:

“Homosexuality or lesbianism or bestiality is to us a form of slavery, and redemption from it is readily available through repentance and faith in the saving grace of our Lord, Jesus the Christ,” Akinola wrote in an essay.

And there have been statements, and more statements, and more statements still issued by Armstrong supporters and by the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado. There have been so many developments in this story that the key players are now finding themselves having to repeat efforts of the past. This week for example, the pro-Armstrong faction voted to join up with the Nigerian group. The announcement left many scratching their heads. Hey! Didn’t they already do that in March?

The saga continues. Bottom line, no matter how many times Armstrong’s followers take their latest vote, two things are clear in this sordid drama:

1. The Episcopal Diocese of Colorado wants its $17 million church building/landmark back.
2. Armstrong doesn’t want to give it up.

Stay tuned.

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