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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Mark DePaulo
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Mark DePaulo

This is occurring throughout what is left of TEC. Yet, I have never heard the clergy look to themselves. When the money leaves a new church will grow.

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Joan R. Gundersen
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Joan R. Gundersen

This parish is a unique one, with a charismatic focus. However, the previous rector, Christopher Leighton, who was in Trinity School for Ministry's first graduating class, was one of 6 Connecticut clergy who declared that the Episcopal church had left the Anglican Communion and spent a decade and a half challenging the authority of Connecticut bishops. He is the only one of the 6 clergy who remained in the Episcopal Church. The new rector is originally from India and during a decade in England served as a chaplain to Queen Elizabeth II. If the new rector tried in any way to reconcile this congregation with the diocese or the Episcopal Church, there would be push-back from some of the congregation.

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Fred Loving
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Fred Loving

Over the years I have seen this again and again in my own church as well as other churches in the area. At one time in my little town three of the mainline denominations were going through this at the same time. If my Baptist grandmother had still been alive she would have said Ol' Scratch got in the place. Maybe that applies here.

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Fr. James Jones
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Fr. James Jones

I remember visiting that church when Terry Fullam was rector and they hosted renewal conferences back in the '70s and '80s. The book, "Miracle in Darien" was written about the dramatic turnaround that occurred during this time under Fullam's leadership. Problems like this typically reflect dramatic differences in the views of the rector and the lay leadership regarding central issues of ministry and use of resources.

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