Holy wars: Darien parish leaders attempt church takeover

DARIEN — There is a holy war brewing in town.

A conflict between parish leaders and the rector at St. Paul’s Church led to an attempt by the former to change the locks of the church on Tuesday.

The Rev. Ian Douglas, bishop diocesan of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, said the group of parishioners, also known as lay leaders, are trying to take over the church and dismiss the rector, Rev. Canon George Kovoor, and thus not abiding by church rules.

Douglas said Kovoor called Darien police Tuesday afternoon when a locksmith appeared at the church, reportedly called by the lay leaders.

According to Douglas, there have been rising tensions between the vestry and Kovoor, of which he learned about last October. Douglas said a study carried out in the last eight months identified differences of opinion regarding the identity, structure and authority within the Episcopalian Church.

“There were divisions along these lines and we’re seeing this manifest in this standoff,” Douglas said.

Kovoor, who was unanimously elected by lay leaders as their rector on Oct. 1, 2016, and resides in the rectory at St. Paul’s, was unavailable for comment.

“Our church canons say if there is a challenge between the vestry and the rector, there is a process — with which we’ve engaged for eight months of reconciliation and mediation — and at the end of that process the laws give the bishop the authority to decide if the rector stays or goes,” Douglas said.

According to St. Paul’s website, the vestry includes senior warden Tony Miscimarra and junior warden Joann Cerretani. Nancy Donovan, clerk, and Joann Rivers, treasurer, are also listed.

In letters dated May 30 signed by Miscimarra on behalf of the vestry addressed to Kovoor, the senior warden wrote efforts at “Diocesan imposed reconciliation and dispute resolution have apparently failed.”

The letter says Kovoor is required to “surrender (his) keys to all Parish buildings.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Miscimarra said the locks had not been changed.

“That doesn’t mean they won’t be,” Miscimarra said.

Douglas said he intended to come to St. Paul’s on June 14 to meet with “any vestry and parish member present” at 6 p.m. to talk about his decision regarding whether Kovoor will stay or be dismissed from the church.

Miscimarra said the parish would agree to arrange a mutually convenient date to meet with Douglas, but he and the vestry would not attend this week.

“I’m fully prepared both in the church and secular courts if need be,” Douglas said. “It’s unequivocal that the authority for retaining or dismissing (a rector) resides with the bishop and not with the lay leaders.”

humberto.juarez@hearstmediact.com, 203-842-2584