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COLORADO: Grace Church trial took financial toll on both parties in lawsuit

COLORADO SPRINGS: Grace Church trial took financial toll on both parties in lawsuit

The Gazette
September 22, 2009

A five-week trial to determine ownership of the Grace Church property downtown might have ended about six months ago, but the financial fallout for both parties in the lawsuit lives on.

A few weeks ago, St. George's Anglican Church - a congregation that started as a breakaway group from the Episcopal church - asked its members for a one-time family donation of $1,500 each to defray about $750,000 in legal costs, as well as tens of thousands in fees that were assessed as part of a settlement.

St. George's rector, the Rev. Donald Armstrong, said Tuesday he's optimistic that the church will pay off its debts within the next 60 days.

"We are developing a (long-range) plan to once again have the sort of ministry and outreach for which we have long been known," said Armstrong, whose church lost the bid for the $17 million Tejon Street property and now meets in the Mountain Shadows area.

On the other side, the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado spent $2.9 million to defend against the Anglican parish's lawsuit to take possession of downtown property, diocese financial records show.

The legal expenses and a decline in the stock market resulted in a colossal loss in the diocese's investment income, dropping from $4.9 million in January 2006 to $750,000 in August, records show. It will take years to recover the funds, said Chuck Thompson, assistant treasurer for the diocese.

"We had to sell stocks and bonds to pay the fees," Thompson said.

The diocese believes its financial picture will improve. Its proposed 2010 budget is $2.27 million, up from $1.84 million for fiscal 2009. The budget has been helped by 46 of the 101 diocese parishes pledging to give 10 percent back to the diocese.

Leaders at Grace and St. Stephen's, meanwhile, say their church is financially sound and has increased its weekly attendance to about 300. On Sunday, the church announced the hiring of a new rector from Boca Raton, Fla.: Stephen E. Zimmerman, who will start Nov. 1.

Meanwhile, Armstrong will be arraigned today at Fourth Judicial District Court on 20 felony counts of financial misconduct while rector of Grace and St. Stephen's. Prosecutors allege that Armstrong, free on bond since May, funneled about $392,000 from Grace, in part to finance his two children's college educations from 1999 to 2006.


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