Diocesan convention vote puts Connecticut congregation under direct authority of bishop

Posted Oct 29, 2018

[Episcopal Church in Connecticut] On Oct. 26, the highest governing body of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut (ECCT) — its Annual Convention — changed the internal governance of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Darien putting the church directly under the authority of the Rt. Rev. Ian T. Douglas, Bishop diocesan.  This action was taken as a result of the refusal of its elected lay leaders to participate in reconciliation efforts with its rector, the Rev. George Kovoor.

The action changed St. Paul’s status in ECCT from a “Parish” to a “Worshiping Community,” which puts it now under the exclusive supervision, direction, and control of Bishop Douglas. While the change in status does not affect the worship life or the property of St. Paul’s, the change ended the authority of the previous lay leaders of the church, the Vestry and Wardens, whose job it had been to oversee the property and business affairs of St. Paul’s.

St. Paul’s is one of more than 165 Episcopal parishes and worshiping communities in ECCT, spread across the state. The life of all ECCT parishes and worshiping communities, as well as church-related actions by the bishops, priests, deacons, and elected lay leaders, are governed by church laws known as “Canons.”  The Canons require that “Every Parish . . . live within a system of support and accountability that links its life and ministry to that of the Bishops and with those of other Parishes in the Diocese.” The Canons also require that lay leaders of a Parish comply with a godly judgment of the Bishop, and authorize changing a Parish to a Worshiping Community if the leaders refuse.

In 2016, the Vestry of St. Paul’s elected Koovor as new rector and entered into an employment Letter of Agreement with Kovoor and Douglas on behalf of St. Paul’s. In October 2017, the Vestry soured on their choice and, in violation of the three-way Letter of Agreement and the Canons, unilaterally tried to fire Kovoor.

Douglas responded by carefully evaluating the relationship between Kovoor and St. Paul’s. With help from clergy and lay leaders in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, Douglas worked to reconcile the Vestry of St. Paul’s and Canon Kovoor. Ultimately, after prayerful deliberation and consultation with leaders of ECCT, Douglas announced that he would fulfill his canonical responsibilities and issue a godly judgment about whether Kovoor would remain the rector of St. Paul’s. Without waiting to hear the bishop’s godly judgment, however, the Vestry again attempted to fire Kovoor and tried to lock him out of St. Paul’s in violation of the Letter of Agreement and the Canons.

Douglas’s godly judgment, delivered in person at St. Paul’s on June 14, determined that Kovoor would continue as rector of St. Paul’s, and identified specific steps that Kovoor and the vestry were to take to continue to seek reconciliation. While Kovoor faithfully and completely undertook those steps, the vestry refused to cooperate with the godly judgment. Rather, the vestry cut off 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.

In light of the vestry’s misconduct and to return St. Paul’s to the common life of ECCT, the 600 delegates of Convention considered on Oct. 26 a resolution placing St. Paul’s under Douglas’ direct and exclusive supervision and control by changing St. Paul’s to a worshiping community. The Convention unanimously adopted the resolution, which put the change into effect immediately. As a next step Douglas has appointed the Kovoor to serve as St. Paul’s priest-in-charge.

Reflecting on the Convention decision and the events leading up to it, Douglas said: “I am thankful to the Annual Convention of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut for its vote to support my efforts to reconcile the difficult circumstances at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Darien.  I am also deeply appreciate of the leadership and ministry of the Rev. Canon George Kovoor who has faithfully and diligently stood with me and the Episcopal Church in Connecticut as we attempted to achieve reconciliation with the former Vestry of St. Paul’s.  I pray that this new chapter in the life of St. Paul’s will bring healing, restoration, and new life.”

In his new role directly in charge of St. Paul’s, Douglas visited the congregation on Oct. 28, to preach, preside at the Eucharist, discuss the vote and status of the church and listen to and pray with the faithful at St. Paul’s.