Casting Stones

Casting Stones


Obama’s Message and My Church

posted by modonnell

odonnellThe Barack Obama moment is happening at a time when the church I pastor is finding new unity amidst diversity. Our congregation might not vote in unison this November, but we can testify that a unifying message like Obama’s is suitable for the pulpit as well as politics.
Once wracked by division and intolerance, Grace and St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church here in Colorado Springs is coming together in a novel show of Christian solidarity that welcomes theological moderates and liberals to its ship of fellows. Unfortunately, such openness wasn’t always the case, for me or for this old parish.
For most of my life as an Anglican priest, I have led congregations that identified with the political and theological right. Now, I find myself at the helm of a group that bridges every conceivable identity gap. We are trying to come together and have all things in common (Act 2: 42-47). Our commonness is not expressed by conformity, but uniformity—we are learning to focus on that which holds us together.
Such unity has come at a heavy price. Since Easter 2007, our parish—with over 550 members—has been forced to reside in exile. We hold services in a neighboring church, while a polarizing faction led by the former rector of Grace and St. Stephen’s occupies our historic downtown building.
Before this tragic split, I was invited in 2004 to join Grace and St. Stephen’s as an assisting priest and resident pastoral counselor. No doubt chosen for my more “conservative” views, it was not a surprise to me when from the pulpit I heard a steady torrent of homilies designed to expose the Episcopal Church’s move leftward from traditional views of biblical interpretation. In fact, I welcomed the torrent. Reforming the Church from within seemed to be a worthy Franciscan ambition, and I concluded that my family and I had found the ideal parish home.
No matter how critical some (not all) of these sermons were , I was comforted by the constant reassurance (from the pulpit) that we’d never break unity with the Episcopal Church. For me, as well as for my wife, being Episcopalian was about living within a diverse, albeit united, community of Christ—a communion of Christians that numbered well over 70 million world-wide. And so, there I sat every Sunday—either up front in “sacred space” functioning as a priest or seated alongside my family in a pew—believing that Grace and St Stephen’s Episcopal Church was a safe place to worship God, in concord and love.
In late 2006, just after I was appointed full-time associate priest with the parish, my rector was forced by his Bishop to take a leave of absence for alleged financial malfeasance. Soon after, the rector broke his “inhibition” and restored himself to the position of senior pastor.
With this act, he and his followers broke with the Episcopal Church. They claimed that the allegations of financial malfeasance were smoke and mirrors, and that the Bishop was really just trying to remove an outspoken critic. Locks on the church and office buildings were illegally changed. Employees–lay and clergy alike–were forced to choose between an indicted priest and a lawful Bishop of the Episcopal Church.
I had no other choice but to follow our Bishop into exile, along with several hundred other members of Grace and St. Stephens. The now-defrocked pastor and his leadership seized the entire 17-million dollar campus and rectory. On Good Friday of last year, they sued the Episcopal Church for the property.
In exile, my congregation and I have discovered how to embrace a “road less traveled”—a road that has come to be about a life-giving journey in Christ, where formerly alienated men and women are again free to walk together as a living example of the prayer of Jesus, “Holy Father…may they be one as we are one” (John 17:11).
And what has this unity accomplished? The will of God, I believe.
Clergy and laity now sit along side each other in Bible studies where dialogue is finally open and differing opinions are respected. They no longer choose pews that keep them at arms length. They no longer pick which priest will commune them at the Lord’s Table based on that cleric’s theological point of view. And, they now give money to the work of the Church, not holding a penny back (as they did before) lest it go to the “wrong” cause. Instead, they pray, sing, and “break bread together with glad and sincere hearts,” at last united to God and to one another.
Unity is about a great assembling that is taking place, where once separated, segregated individuals—men and women, blacks and whites, Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, and liberals and conservatives—are being amassed by God for the purpose of accomplishing something extraordinary that they’d be powerless to achieve while estranged.
This is the commanding testimony of the ancient Church that, when united during its formative years, grew because of its constant witness to the moral loveliness of feeding the poor and clothing the naked, which contrasted with the ever-increasing ugliness of pagan Rome.
What does my church have to do with Obama’s hugely popular message of unity and hope? I think the two are a sign of potential for moving away from old wars between the left and right. In a democratic republic, disagreement can be leveraged; the “far right” and the “far left” relish a nation divided. This is equally true of the church, where Sunday is still the most segregated day of the week and where we still need to heed the prophetic words of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “We must live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
At Grace and St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, my congregants “agree to disagree” and daily heed Christ’s warning that “a house divided will surely fall.” Given the option of unity or discord, we’re choosing unity. It’s a very real choice that could define hope these days—in the body of Christ as well as in the body politic.
Fr. Michael O’Donnell is an Episcopal priest and senior pastor of Grace and St Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Colorado Springs, CO. He has a Ph.D. from Kansas State University and is the author or co-author of 7 books.



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jestrfyl

posted April 15, 2008 at 11:53 am


Blessings and peace be with you! My hope for you is that you will continue to find ways to be united as a community, but diverse in heart and mind. Rejoice in your differences, celebrate your unity, and know that the Creator of all that is, is with you.
It seesm the Episcopal Church has an intersting and odd way of dealing with church conflict. More than a hundred years ago two of my ancestors were defrocked as Episcopal Bishops. One was for what seems to be a “just” cause, or it was then (alchoholism) though not now. The other was defrocked for a trumped up cause (inappropriate contact with women of he church – not only unproved but disproved) because it was unpopular and probably unwise to cite the actual cause (he was an abolitionist). The Church has not gotten any better in dealig with conflict and problems. I wish the denomination and diocese well with this.



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john719

posted April 15, 2008 at 7:42 pm


Unity and tolerance are a hard sell in our culture and our country with our history. We hold individualism in very high esteem and see no reason to tolerate the ideas and certainly not the sins of others. Yet, God has this strange idea that we are his people and not just his individuals. That means even though we continue to try to split into smaller like-minded groups or denominations and leave the rest of the group behind, God seems to have other ideas.
Yours is a very hopeful message that maybe God has it right after all. Maybe we can come together as his people. Maybe that would even be a good thing. Peace.



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hh6646

posted April 15, 2008 at 9:12 pm


Fr Michael- I’m not sure how Obama fits into this, I am admittedly on one of the fringes of your congregation and I think he is an extremely divisive person. Nevermind, he isn’t coming to visit. Your flock woke up a year ago mad as a……..they won’t let me say it here. Since then, the need to return to their building has stayed the same, but the realization that something very special is happening has occurred to everyone. No one wants the locks on their church changed and to be told they’re not worthy, but if that’s what it takes…….I understand that the CANA people feel he same way, but their focus is on keeping the wrong people out, not in bringing the many together. There is a big difference in outlook, hopefully in results also.



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Rachel

posted April 15, 2008 at 9:15 pm


I’m certainly glad for the message of hope and unity. In this world, unity like this doesn’t happen very often and it takes much effort to keep focused on the true message of Christianity and to walk in humility before our God and with each other. Perhaps those who walked apart from you (even though they are in the building), will see the difference and come to join you, thus strengthening the Christian witness in Colorado Springs. God bless you all.



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hh6646

posted April 15, 2008 at 10:22 pm


thank you, Rachel, getting those who stayed behind back with us is likely to be our toughest task. Leave the building to the lawyers, the people are different. We do believe, however, that there is a difference between putting man over Man versus Man over man



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JFH

posted April 15, 2008 at 11:33 pm


That among all the differences, and similarities, between the two communities of Grace church, that one focuses on who is to be excluded while the other focuses on how to include all who wish to come, this is as good a descrition of what is at the heart of each as i have heard. The shepherd who leaves the 99 to find and rescue the 1 is truly the shepherd of all. JFH



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TSG

posted April 16, 2008 at 9:44 am


I’m not a member of Fr. O’Donnell’s congregation but I must say that if his sermons are as eloquent and aware as this gem, sigh me up!



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Terry

posted April 16, 2008 at 9:55 am


I see very clearly what the author is intending by comparing the plight of his church with the philosophy of Obama’s campaign – very clever actually. That aside, it is sad that ego plays such a vicious role in a church setting. Understanding and tolerance IS the key. God bless you, Fr. O’Donnell. Cast no stones. Love your enemies for they are lost and will return…someday.
Terry



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RN

posted April 16, 2008 at 10:14 am


Very moving words. Very well written indeed. More please!
Thank you,
RN



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Dan

posted April 16, 2008 at 10:29 am


Wow! It’s very clear that Obama’s views parallel with the author’s. Sermon to sermon you might say. Very cool observation I think. It compares a mindset of change with the obstacle at hand: “The Barack Obama movement is happening at a time when the church I pastor is finding new unity amidst diversity.” Personally I don’t think that this was a political statement. Fr. Michael O’Donnell is making a comparison that I think is very astute.
Dan



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ray

posted April 16, 2008 at 10:34 am


good read! Right on.
ray



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DV

posted April 16, 2008 at 10:41 am


I was a little misty there. Thank you for your insights! Wish I lived near your church. I would be sitting in your pew this Sunday.
Delores



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tim

posted April 16, 2008 at 10:50 am


“agree to disagree” after all, opinions are like hearts, we all have one. to stand next to a brother with a different viewpoint but still respect and love them as God’s own is the future I want to be apart of.



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tlaitude

posted April 16, 2008 at 11:05 am


I think to be inspired is a rare these days. Here’s to being inspired!
Thxs!



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j.reaper16

posted April 16, 2008 at 11:21 am


Would you please list the books you wrote?
Would love to read them.
Thank you in advance.



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candy

posted April 16, 2008 at 1:48 pm


Matthew 5:5 Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Meek: Showing patience and humility; gentle.



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BJS

posted April 16, 2008 at 2:49 pm


The Oz Syndrome: Finding Contentment in Your Family
by
Michael O’Donnell
which you an find at christian book
Our modern lifestyle has created an epidemic of restlessness a desperate search that O’Donnell has dubbed “the Oz Syndrome.” We wander over the rainbow and down the yellow brick road in an anxious quest for the “wizards” who can ease our restless hearts. But the true answer was always there, right in our own backyards.
I tried putting a link but I guess that’s a no, no here… sorry.



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Bud

posted April 16, 2008 at 6:05 pm


I believe we are on a new threshold of change. One that will inevitably embrace our differences, praise are uniqueness, and natures the independence of our God given mind. Politicians don’t change the world, people do. Seeds like this plant the flowers that will blossom into tolerance.
God Bless you all!



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Anonymous

posted April 16, 2008 at 6:12 pm


Thanks for the book title. I’ll look for it.



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mm

posted April 16, 2008 at 9:54 pm


tsg, I am a little late reading these, but all of the sermons preached at Grace and St. Stephens Episcopal are available for reading on our website which is graceststephens.org.



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hh6646

posted April 16, 2008 at 10:11 pm


ok folks, enough about Obama. There is a huge difference between a parish priest ministering to his flock, and a politician ministering to his career. It’s been a long time since I look forward to a sermon, and don’t forget O’Donnell’s sidekicks- from the Deacon to the assisting priests it’s nothing like what I’ve heard in a long time. PS, the new and improved website is graceststephensepiscopal.org, a mouthful but well worth it.



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Brigitte

posted April 17, 2008 at 7:02 am


I agree. Enough already. Obama’s speech was for Obama, not for unity. His arrogance was insufferable. His speech wasn’t for unity but for Obama. It is a stretch to connect his message to unity of any kind, much less the church. Read the speech.



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Lesley

posted April 17, 2008 at 8:50 am


I don’t understand how folks just can’t see that God can use any one, and any situation he wants..So what if Obama’s speech was geered to him, can you not see the greater purpose that God may have to unite all people. It is true about the most segregated hour on Sunday morning. Take the message and use it for good. Jesus spoke about Hope and Faith as well, he had a political message for the Kingdom. It ultimately comes from the father. Don’t critize Obama for his message, regardless of why he is doing it, at least he is doing it..You may want it, but you or I may never have a world audience to say hear it. Let God do his work through him……



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Bud

posted April 17, 2008 at 10:30 am


I agree… The “message” is important, not the messenger per say. BUT the reason Obama’s speech is being discussed is because the author uses his words as a testament to his current situation-that’s the article we’re discussing. Right now, right here. We exemplify the bottom-line though by lovingly agreeing to disagree.
Peace



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Cathy

posted April 17, 2008 at 10:31 am


It is clear that Obama is out for himself and a real treat to our REPUBLIC. I do agree in unity of the church, but not if it compromises God’s Word. I do not know the full circumstances of this church in Colorado. I do admire them that they are unifying to do the work of Jesus. Do not be deceived into watering down His gospel or any of His Word!



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Terry

posted April 17, 2008 at 10:39 am


That’s right, the title is “Obama’s Message and My Church”. Right?
The minute we judge another person we no longer see them clearly. Don’t Judge Obama… listen to his words. Let us not condemn all politicians because some have abused their office. Change is good. Jesus brought change. He was judged. And crucified for his glorious message.



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Randy

posted April 17, 2008 at 10:56 am


Want to find were the Devil lives? – In the constant voice of the ego. Those thoughts that are persistently negative, try to separate you from others, judges, and hates. That’s EGO talking. The ego wants you to stand alone. The ego is insane. It creates unjust wars, pollutes the earth, and puts our children in harm’s way.



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Rachel

posted April 17, 2008 at 11:07 am


How astounding that a message of unity brings such disunity in discussion. The author wasn’t looking for some hidden agenda in Obama’s speech, but the obvious discussion of how to bring us together as a people. As the church, we should be leading the way. Let’s get busy.



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Father Neo

posted April 17, 2008 at 11:31 am


It takes courage to write what Father writes here. I know that he is a gospel preaching priest who has found himself in a very difficult place. We need to pray for him. Fr. Michael is a Luke 6 kind of man. I sense the spirit of Francis!



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Delores

posted April 17, 2008 at 11:35 am


Just because we disagree doesn’t mean we can’t all be united. I think that’s Fr. O’Donnell’s position.



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Tim

posted April 17, 2008 at 12:01 pm


I don’t think it’s all that bad actually. I love reading the comments. The viewpoints are wonderfully diverse and informative.



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Rachel

posted April 17, 2008 at 12:09 pm


Thanks, Fr. Neo! I think you’re right on about Fr. O’Donnell coming to us in the “spirit” of St Francis–didn’t he mention something about that in his article?



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Jerome Haney

posted April 17, 2008 at 2:16 pm


All I could say as I was reading Fr.Michael O’Donnell messages was “YES”, resoundingly “YES.” You would have thought I was in church and this was Sunday. Actually I am at work and this is Thursay. It touch not only my heart but my soul as well. I share in those sentimensts. In my fifty-two years of life from adolescents to young adulthood I experience the seperating of the body of believers. I also have most recently. Yet I know that God is still on the throng and he is still in control. We sing a song that says “we will understand it better bye and bye.” We need more Fr. O’Donnells in the pulpit.



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Jerome Haney

posted April 17, 2008 at 2:32 pm


Just simply beautiful. I certain share those sentiments. God bless Fr. Michael O’Donell. We need more messages like this.



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Jack

posted April 17, 2008 at 3:12 pm


Fr “Mike” has done a wonderful job of keeping our “exiled” parish not only together, but functioning as a live, vibrant parish. No, we are not all united on everything, but we co-exist for the greater good of our parish and our community. We are beautifully led by Fr. Mike and by Deacon Sally.
As to Obama, I would personally caution “believers” to be sure what he says is what he really means. Politics makes one say whatever he/she believes the listener wants to hear. In Obama’s personal brand of unity, I see extensive disunity.
Meanwhile, Grace and St. Stephens will continue to exist and will thrive because its parishioners have a common goal and are unified behind Fr. Mike to achieve it.



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Anonymous

posted April 17, 2008 at 5:03 pm


Remarks of Senator Barack Obama: The Great Need of the Hour
Atlanta, GA | January 20, 2008
The Scripture tells us that when Joshua and the Israelites arrived at the
gates of Jericho, they could not enter. The walls of the city were too
steep for any one person to climb; too strong to be taken down with brute
force. And so they sat for days, unable to pass on through.
But God had a plan for his people. He told them to stand together and
march together around the city, and on the seventh day he told them that
when they heard the sound of the ram’s horn, they should speak with one
voice. And at the chosen hour, when the horn sounded and a chorus of
voices cried out together, the mighty walls of Jericho came tumbling down.



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Carol

posted April 17, 2008 at 5:11 pm


Very inspirational piece.



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BARBAR MITCHELL

posted April 17, 2008 at 9:44 pm


“The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “We must live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
I do appreciate what you have written. I am member of the same church as Obama and Pastor Wright is not as they are making him out to be.
There are videos of sermons,where Pastor Wright requested prayer for Bill Clinton, when he was about to be impeached. It was around February of 1999 I think. When Bill Clinton was fighting impeachment, Pastor Wright had prayer vigil on Sunday, and at the Wednesday night prayer meeting to help Bill Clinton during that time.
A lot of members from Trinity church were praying for Bill not to be impeached, because Pastor Wright asked them to. That is just the sort of thing that we do at Trinity.
I think it would really help to put things in perspective…especially now that Hillary has said that pastor Wright would not be her pastor….



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Rachel

posted April 17, 2008 at 10:30 pm


I am encouraged by the outpouring of positive sentiments.



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Hank

posted April 17, 2008 at 11:03 pm


For years Church and State have been separate, let’s be careful not to lay them side by side again. That said, the article is beautiful.



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Debi

posted April 17, 2008 at 11:38 pm


This forum and post is perfect…it is about politics and religion as they relate to one another. Bravo!



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Nadie

posted April 18, 2008 at 10:02 am


There is a new consciousness that is awakening to the fact that we are indeed ALL ONE, created by God. We are the fingers of his heart, and what we do and think is God’s experience too. To have opinions is our divine right. To despise one another for those opinions is simply a judgment.
1″Stop judging, so that you shall not be judged, 2for with what judgment you judge, you will be judged, and with what measure you measure, it will be measured to you. But why do you look at the speck, the [one] in your brother’s eye, but you do not notice the log, the [one] in your own eye? 4Or, how will you say to your brother, ‘Allow [me], I shall take the speck from your eye,’ and look!, the log [is] in your own eye? 5Hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:1-5).
In UNITY judgment does not exist.



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Michelle

posted April 18, 2008 at 11:32 am


While I must admit that I still don’t know who I want to see in office, or who I can trust for that matter, I do know that my religion and my intuition tell me to reserve judgment, because even when I think I have all the facts, it is rarely possibly so. Our unique perspectives make like a multi-faceted diamond (to God) that would not shine so beautifully without EVERY SINGLE ONE! So thank you for sharing your perspective, and shedding light on the power and glory of tolerance, acceptance, and unconditional love, as is our ONLY commandment from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen!!!!!!!



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Arthur

posted April 18, 2008 at 7:10 pm


I consider myself conservative, tho all my neighbors think I am a fuzzy minded liberal. But how much mor liberal can one be than trying to love my neighbor as myself. I don’t remember any place in the Bible
where that commandment is qualified at all, like all but …, and…!
Fr. Mike, you are my kind of conservative.
Keep up the great work, great example, and great teaching. Thank you.



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Tom

posted April 19, 2008 at 12:50 pm


Jesus to the Pharisees: “Love the Lord your God with all your
heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first
and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor
as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
and there it is.



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J. Allen

posted April 22, 2008 at 9:17 am


Although I’m not sure if I would have used Obama as an example of “unity among diversity”, I get your point and am thrilled by what is happening among your otherwise exciled and marginalized ship of fellows. In my opinion, many things which are easily taken for granted during the good times are, at the moment, being rocked to their foundation. As it were, however, I believe “things shaken” is always prophetic and serve to remind us that this world is not our home. It seems to me that TRUE unity this side of glory can only be found around the cup of the Risen Savior, Jesus Christ, which of course transcends our fallen state and lifts us, through repentance and crying out to God, into oneness with the Trinity and one another. For me, repentance is the key, which in my experience comes only through brokenness. Our admonition is always, “Look up, for your redemption draws neigh.” May it ever be so! Jesus, come quickly, for our faith, trust, and unity lie in thee.” God bless your gathered flock!



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Guy Crestwood

posted April 24, 2008 at 5:51 pm


Nice article, delussional as it may be…truth to tell it simply does not reflect the reality in Colorado Springs by way of numbers, spirit, or focus…O’Donnell’s group had about 35 in church this past Sunday, he never takes the pulpit, his people are suing their fellow Christians who have themseves refused to sue in return…this article is a fantasy not supported by reality…



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R

posted April 24, 2008 at 8:03 pm


Guy,
You sound angry and I’m sorry that you’re hurting, but it is plain that you are listening to other people talk and have never checked anything out for yourself. I was at Father O’Donnell’s parish this past week, and there were 35 in the choir alone. Were you there or have you ever visited? Father O’Donnell has taken the pulpit numerous times and the people who you say have “refused to sue in return”, started all this by taking Father O’Donnell’s parish to court on Good Friday a year ago.
Unfortunately, most people who read all this are left not knowing what to think or who to believe. They are tired of the name calling and petty back and forth. Nothing is proven or disproved, but somehow we believe that by writing zingers in our blogs we convince others to join us in our thinking. It certainly puts an ugly face on Christianity. I want to invite you to come, worship and experience fellowship, and the breaking of bread with us. You will be welcome.



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R

posted April 24, 2008 at 8:06 pm


Correction: I meant to say that in the choir there were at least 35 people, but that the rest of the congregation must have been numbered closer to 160.
Sorry for the confusion.



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80903

posted April 24, 2008 at 9:02 pm


Not that it matters; nor is it the point of the Rev’s story, but the official count was 214. And, I agree with R… Come see for your self, Guy, and you’ll find a warm, loving welcome!



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Thomas

posted April 24, 2008 at 9:14 pm


Rachel
I don’t see any anger in Guy’s post…just a different persepctive…I looked in the back door of your 100 seat rental space this past week and there were 35 in church–not 160…and from what I know your husband never was the rector of Grace Church so it never was his parish…just a place that rescued him from his destitute situation before he found an income with this angry group of liberals who couldn’t get there way any other way…and a filing for delaratory relief is not a law suit…
Your old friend,
Thomas



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Grateful Episcopalian

posted April 24, 2008 at 10:20 pm


Guy and Thomas, you are both in my prayers. At Grace Episcopal Church in exile, which has been graciously taken in by the loving people at First Christian Church, we have a membership of 540 people – all of whom we have called and verified. On a typical Sunday we have between 200 and 250 people…amazing for a church that has to meet at 12:45pm on Sunday. Our beautiful choir alone has between 30 and 50 people each Sunday. We are a group of people who really love and care for each other. We are moderates, conservatives and liberals with the same focus, loving God and each other. The Holy Spirit has greatly blessed us and we are more than grateful for the kind and loving leadership of all of our clergy, Fr. Michael, Deacon Sally, Fr. Marty, Fr. John and Fr. Roy.
We are a growing congregation with over 30 small groups, at last count. We have some wonderful outreach programs. We would love to have you come with a listening heart and join us to worship any Sunday. You would indeed be greeted by loving members of our flock.



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hh6646

posted April 25, 2008 at 1:28 pm


aw gee, I don’t check in for a couple of days and the place is invaded by CANA. Anybody else notice the change in tones of voice? I apologize to the website for the degradation of the comment quality. If anyone wants to see more contrasts in tones of voice, check out the sermons posted on the CANA and Episcopal websites. I don’t know why O’Donnell doesn’t have all of his posted, but I assure you that he knows his way to the pulpit.



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mm

posted April 25, 2008 at 8:45 pm


Thomas, I think you may have been looking in the wrong back door, or perhaps in the chapel at the North end of the building. Perhaps you should stop peeking in the back door and come on in-you may be surprised at the reception you would find.
I don’t believe Fr. Michael ever claimed to be the rector of Grace Episcopal prior to his current appointment that occurred months after the Good Friday filing.
Please come and join us in our current setting. If you are attending the 11 service on Tejon street there is plenty of time to make your way to us at 12:45. The music is wonderful and the fellowship is always welcoming. The sermons preach the Gospel and our children have children’s education during the service. Our ‘rental space’ as you call it can certainly accomodate another person or another family. You may want to call for directions because I fear you have been looking in on the wrong place.



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