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DARIEN, CT: Episcopal Church's Leading Charismatic Parish in Turmoil

DARIEN, CT: Episcopal Church's Leading Charismatic Parish in Turmoil
Vestry attempts takeover of St. Paul's in effort to oust rector

By David W. Virtue, DD
June 13, 2018

The vestry of St. Paul's, Darien once a flagship charismatic parish in the Episcopal Church and spiritual home of the late Terry Fullam, has been taken over by lay leaders, who locked the doors in an effort to oust its rector, the Rev. Canon George I. Kovoor.

According to a press release released by the diocese, 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 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.

"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 will meet 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.

Meantime, an activist layman wrote the bishop and asked if the lock changers reflected the opinion of the majority of the congregation?

"It is always a challenge to succeed a successful, popular rector (Fullam) at a wealthy, highly educated and renewal centered parish. One can only ask who is at fault for the successor which has driven folks to change the locks on the parish.

"This has occurred despite several pastoral intercessions by you the diocesan bishop," he wrote VOL.

The layman told the bishop that it all begins with the search process, which in the Episcopal Church is a perfect example of the Peter Principal...the least qualified candidate often gets hired.

"But there are checks and balances in the system...mainly the bishops of the diocese and the diocesan deployment officer whose task it is to make sure the system does not permit a bad match. Bishops have some veto power.

"In the case of St. Paul, the successor was allowed in and now a once great parish is coming apart."

UPDATE AS OF 6/16/2018

Episcopal bishop's decision in church dispute affirms reconciliation process

Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut
Media Release
June 14, 2018

Citing the words of the parish's patron saint, the apostle Paul, in his Second Letter to the Corinthians, the Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut reminded the leaders of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Darien that we are all reconciled to God and one another in Christ Jesus.

The Rt. Rev. Ian T. Douglas, Bishop Diocesan of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, visited St. Paul's Episcopal Church on Mansfield Avenue in Darien, Conn., at 6 p.m. on June 14, 2018 to deliver his decision regarding the vestry's (lay leaders') request to end their relationship with their priest, the Rev. Canon George I. Kovoor. The Bishop concluded that "maintaining a relationship between the two parties going forward is the faithful way to live into our unity as the Body of Christ."

Accordingly, the Bishop decided that the pastoral relationship between the vestry and rector continue and that Canon Kovoor "remains the duly elected, canonically recognized, and episcopally installed Rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Darien" with all rights and responsibilities of the office.

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