[Episcopal Church in Connecticut] The Rt. Rev. Ian T. Douglas, bishop diocesan of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, and his staff learned the evening of June 12 that some lay leaders of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church 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 Douglas. The responding officers spoke with Douglas who provided the relevant secular case law, canon law and letter of employment for Kovoor, demonstrating the authority of the bishop diocesan in any disputes between the vestry 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 Kovoor, the duly elected rector of the parish.
On October 1, 2016, the lay leaders unanimously elected Kovoor as their next rector. After Douglas approved his election, Kovoor was formally installed as rector with all rights and responsibilities of the office.
Last October, a year after the rector’s start, 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, 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 June 14 at 6 p.m. at St. Paul’s 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 Kovoor as rector, again, contrary to the canonical process and his employment agreement. Further, the senior warden of the vestry, 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.”
Douglas looks forward to meeting with any vestry and parish members present on June 14, at 6 p.m., at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church 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.