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TEC Colorado Bishop to Retire in 2019. O'Neill leaves a legacy of pain and brokenness

TEC Colorado Bishop to Retire in 2019. O'Neill leaves a legacy of pain and brokenness
Diocese has dropped in baptisms, ASA and plate in pledge in 13 years

By David W. Virtue, DD
December 7, 2017

The Rt. Rev. Robert J. O'Neill, 10th Bishop of Colorado, has announced his intention to retire. He has served as bishop since 2003, and he wants his successor to begin work in early spring, 2019.

In a panegyric of praise to himself, O'Neill said it was a "gift and deep joy" to serve The Episcopal Church in Colorado, and said it was nothing short of inspiring to be with postulants and candidates for ordination, and described as "grace-filled and miraculous the ways the Holy Spirit moved amongst his diocese." He touched obliquely on "negotiating the inevitable difficulties and interpersonal challenges of this extended community that we call a diocese."

Allow me to expand on that. In 2007, a single orthodox priest by the name of the Rev. Don Armstrong, rector of Grace and St. Stephen's Church in Colorado Springs, butted heads with O'Neill over the Episcopal Church's moral and theological direction. He wanted out and he wanted to keep the property.

It was a donnybrook that lasted several months with O'Neill inhibiting and deposing the priest. Later he went after Armstrong in the courts and brought 20 felony counts against the evangelical priest. After the diocese spent some $3 million with Armstrong spending about $1 million in legal fees, the courts and prosecutor offered Armstrong a fictitious misdemeanor to give him double jeopardy protection from O'Neill and TEC, assigning him only partial court costs, but no fine, certainly not a vindication for O'Neill, who had already defrocked him.

Armstrong joined the growing Anglican Church in North America and began a new chapter for him and his congregation, most of whom left with him.

He then went out and bought the first stone building in Colorado Springs, the original Episcopal Church, rehabbed it (it was a former night club) and started over.

Today he enjoys three Sunday services, over 300 people, a fully pledged budget of $700,000 and the church property owned outright.

By contrast, his former parish has two services, records an ASA of 200 (down from nearly 1,000 ASA under Armstrong) on any given Sunday with a $400,000 in pledge income, relying primarily on Trusts donated by the now departed congregation. They also have a $2 million mortgage on the property as a result of the lawsuit.

Armstrong told VOL that demographically his church is exploding with millennials who want serious liturgy and biblical teaching...we are the place to go for Hillsdale and Wheaton grads coming to Colorado Springs...our Sunday school and Youth programs are bursting at the seams...and we have a large community ministry with monthly theological speakers attracting a hundred people a time, along with an art gallery and a concert series. "We run an orphanage in Tanzania with 75 children in residence, support a local pregnancy center, keep a family food bank stocked, and have a ministry to the homeless in our downtown where we are located."

"We have a number of distinguished published theologians in our parish, and it is really a theological think tank with a keen focus on Anglicanism's theological comprehensiveness and worldview Kingdom theology," he said.

O'Neill, was by contrast, a true lackey of the Episcopal establishment.

In 2008, at the time of GAFCON II, O'Neill was sent to Jerusalem by PB Katharine Jefferts Schori to make sure that Jerusalem Anglican Bishop Suheil Dawani did not cross the line and be seen with the GAFCON primates. Dawani had a brief encounter with Nigerian primate Peter Akinola, but stayed away from the daily proceedings of GAFCON. O'Neill acted as a policeman to keep Dawani on the straight and narrow pathway that would lead to continued payments from TEC for the Jerusalem diocese.

When O'Neill approached the Cathedral where the GAFCON services were to be held, he was greeted by Bishop Martyn Minns on behalf of the Primates and denied entrance to the worship service and subsequent meetings. O'Neill claimed he was a registered attendant, but was told he was clearly not welcome given his treatment of his own priests and his clear positions contrary to GAFCON.

The Diocese of Colorado has seen substantial decline under O'Neill's leadership.

In 2003, when he took over as bishop, the diocese boasted a baptized population of 33,653. By the time he ends it will be down 31% to under 24,000. Hardly an achievement. Average Sunday Attendance is even worse. In 2003, it was 13,363; in 2016, it was down to 9,321, a drop of over 36%. Plate & Pledge in 2015 was $22,225,518. In 2016, it was down to $21,949,809, a loss of 1.2%.

The diocese recorded 222 confirmations, received 78 and held 156 weddings. Burials were a whopping 446.

The diocese, including TEC priests & ELCA pastors totaled 109, with the average age being 57 with the percentage aged under 44 a mere 16%. Those aged between 45 and 64 totaled 54%. Those aged over 65 total 30%. The diocese has 72 male priests and 37 women priests.

Only 72% of congregations have a full-time priest; 14% have a part time priest with 10% in yoked parishes.

With the current decline in ASA and aging priests and with little likelihood of replacements, the diocese has about 10 years before it finally collapses.


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