The vestry in US church row agrees to end dispute

10 January 2020

JOHN H. PALMER

St Paul’s, Darien, in Connecticut

St Paul’s, Darien, in Connecticut

A SETTLEMENT has been reached between lay leaders of a church in Connecticut and their diocesan bishop, after almost 15 years of legal disputes.

The most recent legal battle began in 2017, when the wardens and members of the Vestry of St Paul’s, Darien, attempted to remove their Rector, Canon George Kovoor — a former Principal of Trinity College, Bristol, in the UK — after just months in post. He had sought to end the church’s delegated episcopal oversight and bring St Paul’s back under the oversight of the episcopal bishop, a move that members of the Vestry opposed. The former members were unable to accept the Episcopal Church’s direction on human sexuality, and refused to believe any assurances from the diocesan bishop.

The Bishop of Connecticut, Dr Ian Douglas, ordered the two sides to seek to reconcile, but the lay leaders refused to participate with the order, threatening to change the locks on the church to keep out the Bishop. St Paul’s was then put under the Bishop’s direct authority.

A lawsuit was submitted by the lay leaders against this move, followed by another seeking control of the property, but both were dismissed last year, although appeals were then lodged. In return, the Episcopal Church in the United States and the Episcopal Church in Connecticut (ECCT) sued the lay leaders for selling church property in violation of church canons.

A statement issued by the diocese this week, giving details of the settlement agreement, said: “Under the settlement agreement, St Paul’s Episcopal Church recovers control over the funds held in trust, and the former Wardens and Vestry members relinquish all claims to the property of St Paul’s Episcopal Church. The parties have withdrawn all of the pending matters, including the appeals. Further, the parties have mutually agreed not to sue each other in the future.

“The settlement recognizes that St Paul’s Episcopal Church in Darien continues as a Worshipping Community in ECCT. All accusations against the Rev. Canon George I. Kovoor have been withdrawn and his status as a priest in good standing in The Episcopal Church is unchallenged.”

The former lay leaders of St Paul’s have now established a new Christian community, the New St Paul’s Church, and up to 40 members have left the Episcopal Church.

Dr Douglas said on Wednesday that the door was still open to reconciliation. “I feel no vindication here, only sadness, though I am glad we can now move forward.”

He said that part of his vocation and promise as bishop was to uphold the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church, which he had done, al though he had sought to reconcile at every turn.

“Even to this day, if former members said they wanted to come back and begin reconciliation, I would engage in that conversation immediately.”

He praised Canon Kavoor, saying: “George Kavoor has been absolutely faithful at significant cost to himself.

“My prayer is that we all now move forward in God’s mission to restore and reconcile all people to unity with God and each other in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.”

He said that ECCT did not yet have a total figure for the cost of its legal bill for all the years of legal action.

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