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Grace vote approaching 

As the Episcopal diocese in Colorado launches its first foray in the legal fight for control of Grace Church and St. Stephen's Parish, some parishioners are on the verge of aligning with a diocese nearly 7,000 miles away.

El Paso County Clerk and Recorder Bob Balink will conduct a weeklong vote at the grand gothic building at 601 N. Tejon St., starting Sunday.

The vote is open to parishioners who in the "previous year have been faithful in corporate worship and have been faithful in working, praying and giving," according to a church announcement.

Balink joined with a breakaway board in March, voting to remove Grace from the Episcopal fold and align with an Anglican diocese in Nigeria. The parishioners' vote proceeds although the Rev. Don Armstrong is accused by the Colorado diocese of stealing or defrauding hundreds of thousands of church dollars. Armstrong has denied the charges.

Last week, the Colorado diocese filed paperwork in El Paso County District Court seeking control of church property.

Those filings allege that in January, Armstrong led an effort to shred documents as the diocese investigated allegations of financial misdeeds.

"So great was the amount of shredding that one shredding machine broke and was replaced and a second shredding machine was acquired," according to the suit.

The claims are in response to a lawsuit filed by Grace's breakaway board, which argues that the church is part of a nonprofit corporation not owned by the diocese.

Martin Nussbaum, an attorney for the Colorado diocese, said past case law favors the Episcopal diocese's claim to church property.

The vote may bring the parish to the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, a mission of the Nigerian church, which opposes the U.S. church's ordination of openly gay Bishop V. Gene Robinson.

Loyalists to Grace, who worship in exile, have been asked by their newly elected board not to participate in the "charade" by voting.

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