Lay leaders attempt takeover of church in Darien

by

From the Diocese of Connecticut


Media Release,  June 12, 2018
Episcopal Church in Connecticut, 290 Pratt Street, Meriden CT 06450

Local Episcopal lay leaders attempt to take over church in Darien

The Rt. Rev. Ian T. Douglas, Bishop Diocesan of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, and his staff learned tonight that some lay leaders of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church [link added] on Mansfield Avenue in Darien had called a locksmith to come earlier this afternoon to change the locks on the church without authorization, locking out the rector and effectively attempting to take over the church.

Their rector, the Rev. Canon George I. Kovoor, notified the Darien police and Bishop Douglas. The responding officers spoke with Bishop Douglas who provided the relevant secular case law, canon (church) law, and Letter of Employment for Canon Kovoor, demonstrating the authority of the Bishop Diocesan in any disputes between the vestry (elected lay leaders) and the rector.

The June 12 action by the lay leaders grows out of a simmering conflict between the vestry of St. Paul’s and the duly elected rector of the parish, Canon George I. Kovoor.

On October 1, 2016, the lay leaders unanimously elected Kovoor as their next rector. After Bishop Douglas approved his election, Canon Kovoor was formally installed as rector with all rights and responsibilities of the office.

Last October, a year after the rector’s start, Bishop Douglas learned of rising tensions between the vestry and the rector, and the lay leaders’ attempt to force the rector out. The Bishop informed both the vestry and the rector that the vestry could not “fire” the rector, and outlined the appropriate canonical process by which a vestry can seek a “dissolution of a pastoral relation,” as the process is formally known. The process gives the Bishop full authority to decide ultimately if the rector remains in place or must resign.

For the last eight months, the Bishop, working with outside consultants and coaches, engaged in mediation and possible reconciliation between the parties. On May 30, 2018, the Bishop indicated to the rector and wardens that he was prepared to give his decision (called a “godly judgment”) as to whether the rector stays or not. The Bishop further said he would meet with the vestry and parishioners on Thursday, June 14 at 6 p.m. at St. Paul’s in Darien to share his decision. No indication has been given as to the content of the godly judgment.

The vestry’s response to this notice was to attempt to terminate Canon Kovoor as rector, again, contrary to the canonical process and his employment agreement. Further, the senior warden of the vestry, Mr. Anthony Miscimarra, indicated that the vestry was not planning to meet with the Bishop on June 14 and threatened during worship on Sunday, June 10 that the locks on the church doors would be changed, effectively locking out the rector and bishop. The canons of The Episcopal Church state, however, that the rector “shall at all times be entitled to the use and control of the Church and Parish buildings.”

“It is so sad when lay and ordained leadership are alienated from each other in a parish,” said Douglas. “The Episcopal Church is a church of order and has established processes to pursue mediation and reconciliation in such difficult circumstances. In our denomination, lay leaders in a local parish cannot take matters into their own hands by their own will. I pray that the vestry of St. Paul’s see the error in their ways and join me at the table seeking unity in the Body of Christ, for the sake of God’s reconciling mission in the world.”

Bishop Douglas looks forward to meeting with any vestry and parish members present on Thursday evening, June 14, at 6 p.m., at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Mansfield Ave, Darien, to communicate his godly judgment regarding their request to dissolve the pastoral relationship, and to be present in a caring and loving way to the faithful of St Paul’s and beyond.

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John Rabb
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John Rabb

The canons, both those of the Episcopal Church, and the enabling ones in dioceses are not weak, They set up a framework in which the bishop seeks a resolution(s) that is fair and just. My experiences was that dissolutions were painful for all parties, but do require consistent and firm episcopal leadership. Attention to the early warning signals and early invtervention are still the best practices. It does appear that Bishop Douglas is doing precisely what is needed, and we hope for a just and fair outcome.

John Rabb

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Ralph Pitman
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Ralph Pitman

Having personally been “run out” of a parish I need to comment that the reconciliation process prescribed in the canons is a weak instrument when matched with a truly determined and malicious vestry/laity. They can and will make life in the parish a living hell for the clergy and their families, and their supporters. I continue to suffer from PTSD and there are no canonical procedures to address this fallout from church violence.

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Jason Samuel
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Jason Samuel

Your comments are déjà vu for me in my experience as well.

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Brad Purdom
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Brad Purdom

I’m showing as a dislike on my friend Ralph’s comment and want to be clear that is not my opinion. I inadvertently touched it with big fingers on a small phone.

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George H Zwicker
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George H Zwicker

I will pray for forgiveness and reconciliation

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David Allen
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I'm guessing that the vestry members, based on their reconciliation experience, had pre-determined that they were going to lose in the Godly judgement and decided to make an end run around the process.

Sad when things take this path. Reconciliation becomes almost impossible at this point, at least for those leading the charge.

Is there any information about the difference that developed between the rector and the vestry? Where did the parish at large stand on issues.

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Elizabeth Rukeyser Johnson
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Elizabeth Rukeyser Johnson

Obvious, clawing question, I personally would love to see answered. Nothing like the light of day to heal what has festered in the damp and dark secrets of human beings..

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Regina Christianson
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Regina Christianson

Canon Edward West told us of the time a bishop of NY entered a NYC church through a basement window, after being locked out by the vestry. I believe the issue at the time was integration and the church was in Harlem, the members of which no longer lived anywhere near the neighborhood.

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