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May 27, 2013


How Episcopal Rectors [and Bishops] Play the Game: Trinity Wall Street Split

The New York Times has an interesting article up about the split at Trinity Wall Street over spending money. That part doesn’t matter to me.  I merely highlight for the benefit of Episcopal parishioners how the game-playing gets done by Episcopal rectors.  The Game Rectors Play is also noted over at the T19 thread by commenter JHP, who astutely points out:

For me, the details of the financial resources of Trinity, Wall Street weren’t as shocking as news of the dysfunctional vestry there (see the links on page 2 of the article).

Anyone who’s ever battled an imperious Rector in a local church — someone intent on evasiveness, self-enrichment, manipulation and lack of accountability—can recognize the hallmarks of an all-too-familiar situation in TEC.  Is there an Alban Institute workshop where these types go to learn this stuff?  Why do they think no one notices or no one will care?  Why don’t they realize that their behavior corrodes the trust that is essential to the pastoral relationship between priest and people?

What’s shocking to me is that the city-mice at Trinity were as successfully stonewalled as the hapless vestry in, say, St-James-the-Least-of-All, Bendover, IA.  I would’ve thought that packing Trinity’s vestry (by packing the nomination committee/process) or massaging the vestry minutes, or forcing out critically-minded people, was something that its Rector would have been greatly too high to attempt.

This kind of stuff takes place at large downtown parishes, and small-town parishes. It’s a given.

Here’s the segment from the New York Times on the gamesmanship:

Mr. Bates, who says he wants the church to be more accountable to its members, argues in his lawsuit that the parish vestry, which acts largely as Trinity’s board of directors, is being elected contrary to the terms of the church’s original 1697 charter.

Mr. Bates claims that each vestry candidate must receive a majority of parishioners’ votes to be elected. The church says that even one “yes” vote is enough if the candidate is uncontested; all the seats are uncontested. The parish has asked for the suit, filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, to be dismissed. The dispute over spending and governance is, in part, a dispute over the leadership of the Rev. James H. Cooper, who has been the church’s rector since 2004.

“You have diminished Trinity Church, and you have created a glaring atmosphere of deceit,” wrote one longtime vestry member, Lorraine LaHuta, in her 2012 resignation letter.

The vestry resignations last year caused a minor media splash, as did Trinity’s tumultuous relationship with the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011. Trinity gave refuge and bathroom space to protesters at a community center, Charlotte’s Place, but then stood by as protesters were arrested for trespassing on the part of Duarte Square owned by the church. The protesters were furious, and camped out outside Trinity for months.

Mr. Cooper, 68, weathered the storms, and this year helped select a new vestry more supportive of his leadership.

The Packing The Vestry Game, which includes a “nominating committee” through which candidates are selected to run for vestry, is mentioned in this New York Post article:

Eight members of the vestry, which includes heavy hitters in finance, law and philanthropy, abruptly left in February and two quit months earlier. Four of them were critics of Cooper who resigned immediately after not being renominated to serve for another year by Cooper’s hand-picked committee.

The relationship between the board and Cooper became so tense that, over the summer, Cooper agreed to quietly step down but requested a generous retirement package first, according to interviews and documents obtained by The Post.

But Cooper then reconsidered, and the dissenting board members were powerless to remove him. Instead, some found themselves in his sights.

And then there’s the Padding The Stats Game:

During a Sunday morning service at Trinity Church last summer, a longtime parishioner looked around during the reading of the Gospel and counted the worshippers.

By her tally, there were 49 people in the pews of the historic lower Manhattan church — a meager turnout for the storied, 314-year-old parish.

She was puzzled, then, when the next week’s church bulletin reported attendance at 113.

Trinity’s rector, the Rev. James Cooper, had decided that tourists who wander in and out of the chapel should be counted as well, she was told.

I highlight these excerpts so that parishioners can be aware of what Episcopal leaders will do in order to evade consequences and accountability, hide the reality of their failed policies, and hold on to power.


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3 comments

I’m sure that we’ve all experienced that packing of vestries…..and no doubt delegations to diocesan conventions, as well…..during our years as Episcopalians, so this isn’t a new thing, by any means.  It’s like stuffing the ballot box during an election.  And it’s not fair to single out TEC; it can happen in any Church.

[1] Posted by cennydd13 on 5-27-2013 at 03:25 PM · [top]

My experience is that a few fuss-budgets on the vestry can sure make a priest squirm. Manipulating the nomination and election process is probably very, very common place.

[2] Posted by Undergroundpewster on 5-27-2013 at 07:38 PM · [top]

When you have a group of influential people, such as Trinity evidently has had for many years, or so it appears, then you have what amounts a solidly entrenched controlling group, or a cabal, if you will, who ensure that everything goes their way.  This often makes it difficult for a rector to have a good relationship with the vestry, and of course, it applies to all parishes in and out of the Episcopal Church….except for the Catholic Church.  It’s not a healthy arrangement.

[3] Posted by cennydd13 on 5-27-2013 at 08:26 PM · [top]

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