Vestry of US church attempts to lock rector out after fallout

22 June 2018

John H. Palmer

St Paul’s, Darien, in the diocese of Conneticut

St Paul’s, Darien, in the diocese of Conneticut

A FORMER Principal of Trinity College, Bristol, Canon George Kovoor, has fallen out with his church in the United States. Lay leaders have attempted to change the locks on the church to keep him out.

Canon Kovoor, who is also a chaplain to the Queen, was appointed Rector of St Paul’s, Darien, in the diocese of Connecticut, in 2016. He served as Principal of Trinity for eight years, until he resigned in 2013.

Canon Kovoor moved to the US to take up a post in New Haven, Connecticut, before moving to Darien.

Tensions became apparent last October when the vestry of St Paul’s — the equivalent of a PCC — told the diocesan Bishop, the Rt Revd Ian Douglas, that they wanted to remove Canon Kovoor. Bishop Douglas informed the parish that it could not remove Canon Kovoor without his own approval.

A statement on the diocesan website said that there were “rising tensions between the vestry and rector on differences in understandings of the church, Episcopal identity, and leadership style. . .

“The Bishop outlined the appropriate canonical process by which the vestry could seek a ‘dissolution of the pastoral relation’, as the process is called by the Episcopal Church in the US. For the past eight months, Canon Kovoor, Bishop Douglas, and members of the vestry have been participating in this process, with the assistance of a consultant and a coach.”

On Tuesday of last week, the vestry called locksmiths “to change the locks on the church without authorization, locking out the rector and effectively attempting to take over the church”, a diocesan statement, issued the same day, said. The statement noted that “The canons of The Episcopal Church state . . . that the rector ‘shall at all times be entitled to the use and control of the Church and Parish buildings’. It said that Bishop Douglas had explained this to police.

On Thursday of last week, Bishop Douglas visited St Paul’s to deliver his decision regarding the dispute. “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’,” a diocesan statement said.

“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”.

The Bishop ordered the Rector and the vestry to undertake reconciliation training, and asked the current consultant and coach to continue working with them to “effect healing and restoration to unity”.

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