THE entire lay leadership of a church in Connecticut, in the United States, has been removed, and the church placed under the direct authority of the diocesan Bishop, after a row with the Rector.
Tensions between the Rector, Canon George Kovoor — a former Principal of Trinity College, Bristol — and the vestry of St Paul’s, Darien, emerged last year over ecclesiology and his leadership style, and, this year, lay leaders changed the locks of the church to keep him out (News, 22 June).
The Bishop, the Rt Revd Ian Douglas, ordered the two sides to seek to reconcile this summer in a ruling known as a “godly judgment”. A statement from the diocese of Connecticut this week, however, said that lay leaders had refused to “participate in reconciliation efforts”, and the church had now been put under the direct authority of the Bishop.
The statement said: “While Canon Kovoor faithfully and completely undertook those steps, the vestry refused to co-operate with the godly judgment. Rather, the vestry cut off Canon Kovoor’s salary, tried to evict him from his home, which St Paul’s owns, and filed a lawsuit against him accusing him of fraud and seeking to nullify the Letter of Agreement.”
The judgment by the highest governing body of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, its Annual Convention, changes the status of St Paul’s from a parish to a worshipping community. This means that the church is now under the “direct and exclusive supervision and control” of the Bishop.
Bishop Douglas said that it was the first time that he had had to take such action against a vestry, and that such a move was extremely rare, but there had been “decades of tyranny” by the vestry of St Paul’s against previous Rectors, and a number of members, in particular, “control and bully the vestry”.
Speaking last week, he said: “The difference is, this time, that there was a Rector who was willing to fight the decades-old tyranny of a vestry that was unwilling to give in on any position for the sake of reconciliation in Jesus.”
At the heart of the dispute between Canon Kovoor and the vestry, he said, was the fact that the Rector had been trying to bring the parish — which was under delegated episcopal pastoral oversight owing to different views from the diocese on sexuality — closer to the diocese once again.
“The former vestry has disparaged Canon Kovoor, and used any means necessary, including trying to evict him from the rectory in a vindictive way. It is true that he would rather be an evangelist than a pastor, but he knows he needs to work on that, and has been doing that. He is being incredibly faithful”.
He said that the diocese was willing to support the congregation of St Paul’s and Canon Kovoor for at least a year while they tried to build up the congregation of the church. “It’s a reboot while we see what the Holy Spirit will bring about,” he said.
Canon Kovoor, who is also a Chaplain to the Queen, was appointed Rector of St Paul’s, Darien, in 2016.