Bishop steps in to resolve bitter parish dispute

A DISPUTE between the Rev Canon George Kovoor and his new parish in America has resulted in it being taken under the direct control of the Bishop. Canon Kovoor, a former Principal of Trinity College, Bristol, was elected to lead the parish in 2016. He then entered into a Letter of Agreement with the Bishop on behalf of St Paul’s in Darien, Connecticut.

However, the following year relations began to sour and in October 2017 the Vestry tried to unilaterally fire the priest. When he refused to go, they changed the locks of the church.

The Bishop, the Rt Rev Ian T Douglas, stepped in to try to reconcile the warring parties, however the lay leadership were unwilling to take part.

As a result the Bishop announced that he would issue a ‘godly judgement’ about whether Canon Kovoor would continue in his post as Rector.

A diocesan spokesman said:

“Without waiting to hear the Bishop’s godly judgment, however, the Vestry again attempted to fire Canon Kovoor and tried to lock him out of St Paul’s in violation of the Letter of Agreement and the Canons.”

While the clergyman ‘faithfully and completely’ undertook the reconciliation requests, the Vestry refused to cooperate. They then tried to 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. Last Friday (26 October), the diocese held its annual convention and the Bishop announced that he was taking direct control of the church and was to change its internal governance.

This action changed St Paul’s status from a “Parish” to a “Worshiping Community,” which puts it now under the exclusive supervision, direction, and control of Bishop Douglas.

A spokesman said that 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.

The Church’s Canons also require that lay leaders of a Parish ‘comply with a godly judgment of the Bishop’, and authorise changing a Parish to a Worshiping Community if the leaders refuse.

“In light of the Vestry’s misconduct and to return St Paul’s to the common life of the diocese, the 600 delegates of Convention, its highest governing
body, considered on Friday a resolution placing St Paul’s under Bishop Douglas’ direct and exclusive supervision and control by changing St Paul’s to a Worshiping Community,” the spokesman said.

The Convention unanimously adopted the resolution, which put the change into effect immediately. As a result, Bishop Douglas has appointed the Rev Canon George Kovoor to serve as St Paul’s Priest-in-Charge. Reflecting on the Convention decision and the events leading up to it, Bishop 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.”