Rector to stay amid tensions

DARIEN — Despite rising tensions between parish leaders and the rector at St. Paul’s Church, the Rev. George Kovoor is here to stay.

“It is my decision that the pastoral relation continue,” the Rev. Ian Douglas, bishop diocesan of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, announced during a meeting at St. Paul’s on Thursday. “(Rev. George Kovoor will) remain the duly elected, canonically recognized episcopally installed rector of St. Paul’s church in Darien.”

The announcement comes after a group of parishioners — also known as lay leaders — reportedly called a locksmith to change the locks of the church Tuesday. Darien police were called in response to the incident and the locks were not changed.

Douglas encouraged members of the vestry and Kovoor to attend training programs aimed at improving conflict resolution and pastoral relationship skills.

“I believe that the responsibility for the breakdown of relationship rests with both the vestry and the rector,” Douglas said. “Maintaining a relationship between the two parties going forward is the faithful way to live unto our unity.”

Around 15 parishioners congregated Thursday evening to hear Douglas’ decision regarding Kovoor. The rector, his coach and a vestry consultant, who have been involved in the mediation process between both parties, were also present.

“This hurts me,” one parishioner said. “It hurts me that church members are nagging each other.”

Conflict brewing

Tensions between the vestry and the rector have escalated in the past eight months, according to Douglas and members at the meeting. Kovoor was elected unanimously as rector of the church by the vestry in October 2016.

“There’s a lot of anguish,” vestry member Joann Rivers said during the meeting. She cited communication issues between Kovoor and other vestry members as a reason for the conflict.

Kovoor, who has served as minister in his native India and pastor in the United Kingdom, apologized to the group.

“This has been an incredibly difficult experience for me,” Kovoor said. “I’m so sorry for having hurt many people without realizing it.”

Kovoor cited cultural differences between the places he has previously served as a reason for the conflict between him and the vestry.

“I’m used to addressing large congregations,” Kovoor said. “I have the God-given voice of a speaker and I speak loud and I’ve tried to moderate it.”

There were also complaints of alleged misuse of discretionary funds by Kovoor.

In response, Douglas said a disciplinary committee had hired a private investigator to look into the funds under Kovoor’s signature.

“While there were mistakes made as far as the understanding of rules and regulations and by ignorance, there was no theft or no illegal activity, and Kovoor was exonerated of any of those charges,” Douglas said.

Sudden departures

The tense relationship between the vestry and rector continues to show — particularly through St. Paul’s staff website.

On Wednesday, vestry members included senior warden Tony Miscimarra, junior warden Joann Cerretani, treasurer Rivers and clerk Nancy Donovan. However, as of 4:30 p.m. Friday, Rivers’ and Donovan’s names could no longer be found on the “Meet our Team” page of the website.

Steve Carter is currently displayed as treasurer, and Gaye Forbes as clerk.

According to Miscimarra, Rivers resigned from the vestry.

“We asked the bishop (Douglas) to come on another night so very few people could attend the meeting that he insisted had to occur last night,” Miscimarra said. “I am confident that we will have a statement in the very near future.”

Additionally, Kovoor’s picture and profile is no longer listed on the site.

“I was not aware of this changes until today,” Kovoor said via phone on Friday evening.

As of press time, Forbes and Carter did not immediately respond to requests for comment.