Statement Regarding March 24 El Paso County Colorado District Court Ruling on Breakaway Congregation
The Bishop and Diocese of Colorado, and the more than 500 members of Grace and St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church rejoice today that the members of the Episcopal parish will be returning to their church home as a result of a decision issued by District Court Judge Larry Schwartz. In that ruling, Judge Schwartz found that the historic property is held in trust for the mission and ministry of the Episcopal Church and ordered the breakaway congregation that wrongfully took possession of the property two years ago to leave.
The Bishop of Colorado, the Rt. Rev. Robert J. O’Neill expressed satisfaction with the court’s decision, saying, “This outcome honors the history of Grace and St. Stephen’s as an Episcopal parish, and of the Episcopal Church in Colorado Springs. We are extremely pleased that present and future generations of Episcopalians in the Colorado Springs community will continue to worship on Tejon Street.”
“We’re coming home!” said Lynn L. Olney, senior warden of Grace and St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, “and we invite all our friends to come home with us. During the past two years of exile, our parish congregation has shown the meaning of a faith community. Now, we’re coming home!”
“We are very pleased that the judge was persuaded by the significant legal precedent that, while individual members and even clergy may leave a church, they may not take church property with them,” said Larry Hitt. “Today’s ruling is consistent with the outcome of similar cases throughout the country, almost all of which have held that breakaway groups do not have the right to take away church property,” Hitt added.
Martin Nussbaum, lead attorney for the Episcopal Diocese and Parish said, “We are very pleased. The District Court’s decision affirms the First Amendment freedom of churches to define their own Organizations and property relationships. It is difficult to imagine a much more important constitutional freedom for people of faith in this country.”
“These past two years have been a time of challenge for the people of Grace Episcopal, and we have grown in faith, in love and in service to the community. We are thankful that the court has returned our property to us, and we are eager to resume our worship and ministry at our historic facility,” said The Rev. Martin Pearsall, priest at Grace and St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church. “There are no winners here, just lots of wounded faithful people. It will be our task and responsibility in the months ahead to strive for healing and to reach out into the community.”
The 500 members of the Episcopal congregation have been worshipping at nearby First Christian Church for nearly two years, while the case has worked its way through the court. “We cannot express enough gratitude to our brothers and sisters at Faith Christian for their continued hospitality and genuine fellowship,” Olney said.
The Episcopal Diocese of Colorado comprises 115 congregations and diocesan institutions all over the state, and is part of The Episcopal Church and the worldwide Anglican Communion. Grace and St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church continues to be one of the largest congregations in the diocese.