Bishop takes control of St. Paul’s Church in Darien
DARIEN — Months of tension between St. Paul’s Episcopal Church’s parish leaders and rector have ended in all positions being dissolved. The church now falls under the authority of the Rev. Ian Douglas, bishop diocesan of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut.
This comes after repeated mediation between the former vestry, which are the lay leadership of the church, and former Rev. Canon George Kovoor. In June, conflict between the two parties led to an attempt by the vestry to change the locks of the church. A lawsuit was later filed July 6, accusing Kovoor of obtaining his job by providing false credentials.
During this time, Douglas had stepped in and issued a godly judgement stating the rector would stay. However, the vestry ignored the decision, and sent a letter to Kovoor stating he was fired.
Douglas said because the church went against his godly judgement, the canons, or church laws, allows the church to be demoted — which is exactly what happened at the Episcopal Church of Connecticut’s annual convention on Oct. 27 in Mystic.
“There were 600 both lay delegates and clergy present,” he said. “The convention voted unanimously without one vote of dissention to place St. Paul’s Church in Darien under my exclusive control and authority.”
The decision effectively demoted the church from parish status to a worshiping community. Kovoor is now a priest at the church, but is still allowed to lead services. Under canon law, the church is also now under the direction, authority and control of the bishops, Douglas said.
“It means the church no longer has a vestry or a rector,” he said.
Before the decision occured, efforts were made to mediate the situation; Douglas said Kovoor was receptive to them while the vestry was not.
“What I asked the former vestry to do was to have some training and consultation on basically how the church runs,” he said. “They were functioning contrary to the rules of our church.”
Douglas said not only did the vestry not do what was asked, but they also failed to pay Kovoor for his services. After the vestry filed the lawsuit against Kovoor, Douglas petitioned the court to attach his name to the lawsuit in support of the rector.
“I joined the suit to stand shoulder by shoulder with George,” he said.
Douglas held a service Sunday to update the church and sent a letter notifying the vestry of the changes on Saturday. He also posted letters inviting them to meet on Sunday, but claims they did not show up and his invitations were removed.
Despite this, Douglas said once the worshiping community is up and running, they can petition the convention to make them a parish again.
“Part of being a parish is you would have to have a functioning, healthy and cooperative vestry,” Douglas said.
Although the vestry has been removed, its members are still listed with their positions on the church’s website.
Tony Miscimarra, senior warden of the vestry, said canon law and secular law are separate.
“The issue we have with the diocese is basically a non-issue,” Miscimarra said. “The issue we have with Kovoor is significant. He misrepresented his credentials to accept the job.”
He said in Connecticut, contract law suggests the right of rescission if a contract was obtained with intentional or unintentional misrepresentatin of facts. The vestry believes many of Kovoor’s credentials were invalid, and only one misrepresentation is needed to make the contract null and void, according to Miscimarra.
“If the contract never existed, then nothing the diocese has done including quote ‘his godly judgement’ would matter,” he said.
Miscimarra said since Kovoor joined the church in 2016, its membership has shrunk. Before Kovoor’s arrival, the church had over 200 members, he said, but since then as little as six people show up to Kovoor’s services on Sunday. He also said Kovoor individually invited people by phone to the service on Sunday.
“However, when we hold service on Saturday night, we have between 20 people and 50,” Miscimarra said.
According to Miscimarra, the vestry did not receive any notice of the resolution to dissolve the group.
Throughout this process, the spiritual welfare of the congregation has not been considered, Miscimarra said.
“Remember, godly folks are supposed to be good stewards of all they possess,” he said. “It’s not being a good steward to try and ruin a church in legal fees.”