SENIOR WARDEN'S MESSAGE
Dr. Barb Poole-Street
Many of you will have already seen the email sent by Austin Nakoa to school parents, staff, and some parishioners (see below). The email addresses part of a letter given to Rev. Vanover on Sunday by new vestry members Austin Nakoa and Mike Sen calling for her separation from the church. The letter given to Rev. Vanover, which is the foundation of Austin's email to the parish, was not discussed or voted on at an official vestry meeting and so cannot be considered an official vestry document even though it is signed by vestry members. As such, it is not in any way binding. In fact, the sharing of this email may indeed violate Rev. Vanover's privacy and personnel rights as an employee. Furthermore, per canons, the only two individuals who can speak on behalf of the church or its leadership are the Rector and the Sr. Warden.
What is important to note is that although Austin's email states there is going to be a separation of Rev. Vanover from the congregation, at this time that is not a reality. There are canonically required steps that must be taken. Completion of these steps can take weeks if not months and a separation agreement between the rector and vestry must be completed before she would leave her position. The first step in this process is a discussion between the rector and vestry and any other "offended parties" about the concerns that exist with the aim of resolving the conflicts and restoring the relationship. Neither I nor Rev. Deb have been informed of any relationships needing restoring nor have we been consulted or asked to participate in any conversation with regards to this action.
Another canonical requirement in such a situation is that specific and detailed reasons for the call for separation of a rector from their parish be recorded and must be provided to the Ecclesiastical Authority, in this case Bishop Fitzpatrick. This only occurs after a meeting between the rector and the vestry where an open discussion of issues has taken place. Again, neither of these steps has occurred. Then, after the Bishop receives such a letter, if one is forthcoming after an attempt to resolve issues at the parish level, in the spirit of Christian reconciliation, mediation can be initiated by the Bishop before any final determination about whether separation is warranted is made. Remember, we are the church and forgiveness and reconciliation is what we are called to in all our relationships.
Let's be clear: the carrying out of the actions referred to, if they were to ever be formally initiated, would have a great impact upon our congregation. As members of this congregation, I/you deserve to know the reasoning behind the writing of the letter given to Rev. Deb and the Bishop on Sunday and the email that was sent to school and church members on Monday. I am sure I voice the concerns of many, if not most, of you that such an action is unacceptable to the members of this parish. We see no foundation for such action and cannot support this in any way.
I believe you all remember the day of the Annual Meeting in January when Rev. David Kennedy, the Standing Committee representative, denied on two occasions the rumor that certain people running for the vestry intended to fire Rev. Deb if they were elected. However, today, only five weeks into their tenure, we see these these newly elected leaders calling for our Rector's separation from our church.
Lastly, the 2015 vestry was told that they lacked transparency in their actions over the last year. Shouldn't we demand more of the 2016 vestry than the information they have provided? The 2015 vestry is still willing to answer any questions about past actions and the reasons for those actions, and they can provide documents to substantiate their decisions and actions.
Remember the leadership of our vestry represents the whole parish. The goal of reconciliation between church and school which Austin referred to in his email is admirable (and is the same goal that your 2015 vestry was working for), but such a goal of reconciliation should consider the well-being of both the church members and the school community and every individual within these institutions. I, as your Sr. Warden, see the present actions taken against our rector as truly jeopardizing the well-being of us all.
Please keep Holy Nativity Church, Rev. Deb, the Vestry and the Bishop in your prayers as we continue to deal with this issue. I would encourage you that if you desire additional information about what is happening currently, you need to approach the newly-elected vestry or the Bishop and be clear about your concerns and support or lack of support for this action.
Following is the text of the email sent by Austin Nakoa to many Holy Nativity parishioners on February 29, 2016:
Since being elected five weeks ago your Vestry has been working diligently to fulfill the expectations of restoring harmony between this church and its mission school. In the course of this process we have learned that feelings of anger and resentment in both the congregation and school have led us to believe that it is in the best interest of the Rector, the congregation and the school that the Rector be asked to resign from her position. When the Vestry took on this task of reconciliation after being elected, it was our fervent hope that this would include the repair of relationships between the rector and offended parties. However, after lengthy review and discussions we have concluded that a separation is in the best interest of all parties to the conflicts that have consumed so much time and energy of people in both the congregation and school.
Therefore, a letter to the Bishop has been personally given to the Rector and Senior Warden that outlines options of separation in the best interest of the Rector. The Vestry will follow the guidance of the Bishop and create a mutually agreeable severance plan. During this transition, the Bishop will assign an interim minister to our parish to address worship, employee management, study schedules and other parish needs.
Please keep the Rector in your prayers as she re-directs her sights on new and rewarding challenges. The Vestry is appreciative of her hard work that she has given Holy Nativity over the last three years.
As more information becomes available your Vestry will continue to send periodic updates.
Thank you for your support of your Vestry and for this very difficult decision that has been made. Please continue to keep your Vestry in your prayers as well.