The Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut

Episcopal bishop’s decision in church dispute affirms reconciliation process

Media Release,  June 14, 2018

Citing the words of the parish’s patron saint, the apostle Paul, in his Second Letter to the Corinthians, the Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut reminded the leaders of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Darien that we are all reconciled to God and one another in Christ Jesus.

The Rt. Rev. Ian T. Douglas, Bishop Diocesan of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, visited St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Mansfield Avenue in Darien, Conn., at 6 p.m. on June 14, 2018 to deliver his decision regarding the vestry’s (lay leaders’) request to end their relationship with their priest, the Rev. Canon George I. Kovoor. The Bishop concluded that “maintaining a relationship between the two parties going forward is the faithful way to live into our unity as the Body of Christ.”

Accordingly, the Bishop decided that the pastoral relationship between the vestry and rector continue and that Canon Kovoor “remains the duly elected, canonically recognized, and episcopally installed Rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Darien” with all rights and responsibilities of the office.

Recognizing that additional reconciliation is necessary, the “godly judgment,” as the Bishops’ decision is known by church canons (laws), also directs both the vestry and the rector to engage in specifically named training in order to facilitate reconciliation, a biblically-based approach to addressing situations of conflict that is frequently absent in contemporary culture. The godly judgment also asks the current consultant and coach to continue working with the vestry and rector to effect healing and restoration to unity.

Canon Kovoor, originally from India, was ordained in the Church in North India and later licensed to serve the Church of England in the United Kingdom. Among other positions there, Canon Kovoor served as president of two British theological colleges. He became canonically resident (officially part of the diocese and under the authority of its bishop) in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut in 2015 while serving as rector of a church in New Haven, Connecticut.

An introduction to Canon Kovoor posted on St. Paul’s parish website through at least part of June 13, then removed, noted his “love for God, a strong belief in the power of prayer, a missional spirituality, and a range of international friendships.” It lauded his gifts of leadership and vision.

A year after hiring him, however, with rising tensions between the vestry and rector on differences in understandings of the church, Episcopal identity, and leadership style, the vestry attempted to force Canon Kovoor out. Consistent with canon law, his Letter of Agreement with the parish specified they could not dissolve their relationship with Canon Kovoor without the Bishop’s authorization. The Bishop outlined the appropriate canonical process by which the vestry could seek a “dissolution of the pastoral relation,” as the process is called by The Episcopal Church. For the past eight months, Canon Kovoor, Bishop Douglas, and members of the vestry have been participating in this process, with the assistance of a consultant and a coach.

The Bishop notified St. Paul’s vestry on May 30, 2018 that he would deliver his “godly judgment” (final decision) on June 14 at 6 p.m. in person at St. Paul’s. No indication as to the content of the decision was made to anyone at the parish, or to Canon Kovoor or the associated coach or consultant, prior to the June 14 meeting.

The Bishop’s godly judgment concludes by quoting St. Paul’s testimony that in Jesus there is a new creation, the old has passed away and the new is here. The Bishop pledged himself to helping the people, and lay and ordained leaders, of St. Paul’s to effect healing and reconciliation in the love of God in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Joining the Bishop at the meeting in Darien on June 14 were nine parishioners, some members for over four decades; others baptized in the last few years. Also attending, in addition to the Bishop and Canon Kovoor, were the rector’s coach, vestry consultant, chancellor to the Bishop, three members of the Standing Committee, and staff of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, among others.

Bishop Douglas began the meeting in the church just after 6 p.m., opening with prayer. He read his godly judgment and allowed for a time of intentional silence, then asked parishioners to list their concerns. He offered a teaching, addressing the concerns, and closed the meeting just before 7:30 p.m. with another time of prayer.  

“I thank God for the faithful of St. Paul’s who came together tonight in a genuine spirit of reconciliation,” said Bishop Douglas. “The evening was bathed in prayer and the healing presence of the Holy Spirit. There is still much work to do, and together, unified as the Body of Christ, the Peace of the Lord will be with us.”