4 February 2013

Liberia: Crisis Deepens in Episcopal Church

The crisis in the St. Augustine Episcopal Church on Bardnesville Road is said to be deepening by the day as a result of dissatisfaction of some members of the Church.

Members of the Church especially men have been at odd with the Priest-in-Charge G. Nyema Harmon over the manner in which the affairs of the Church is being administered.

Reports gathered by this paper Sunday, February 3, 2013 say the Vestry (Church administrators) of the St. Augustine Episcopal Church has elected Rev. G. Nyema Harmon as Rector of the St. Augustine Parish something which might stall a pending truce with Episcopal Bishop Jonathan B.B. Hart.

Sources closed to the Episcopal Church of Liberia say Rev. Hart has called for a meeting with the men of the St. Augustine Episcopal Church to find a way out of the deepening crisis, but the men have insisted that Bishop Hart replace Rev Harmon if the Church must be peaceful.

The St. Augustine Episcopal Church Men have been pressing for their priest to follow the canon (constitution) of the Episcopal Church of Liberia but the men's request seems not to be yielding results.

There seems to be a split in the St. Augustine Episcopal Church between members of the Church and their Priest-in Charge, Rev. Nyema Harmon.

On January 20, 2013, Rev. Harmon conducted an election of the Vestry (Church administrators) in which the men walked out due to the manner in which they said the Priest conducted himself.

At the general meeting which preceded the election of the Church's administrators, uproar ensued between the men and Rev. Harmon on grounds that the Priest was not following the proper procedure in keeping with the Canon of the Episcopal Church of Liberia.

It started when Rev. Harmon accused two members identified as George Tawallah and Wilson Garpeh of being delinquent in the payment of their dues to the Church for which they were not qualified to participate in the election of the Vestry. The two men earlier declared that they had no intention of contesting.

According to the procedure for election in the Episcopal Church, especially the Vestry, when a person is nominated for a post, the finance officer is under obligation to inform the congregation about the financial standing of the nominee.

However, our reporter who visited the Church said Rev. Harmon selectively called the names of some Church members as the ones who were indebted.

During the January 20 2013 general meeting, Rev. Harmon disclosed that the Finance office of the Church failed to submit financial report to his office which would have indicated the financial standings of all members especially those who intended to contest in the election.

The Priest told the congregation that he obtained a copy of the financial report without the knowledge of the committee responsible to make such report available.

As he disclosed the clandestine nature in which he obtained the financial report, the Men frowned that the Priest should not have taken a financial document secretly because it undermines the Church's financial office.

According to the Episcopal Church's Canon, during a general membership meeting, a financial report must be made to the congregation, priest report and election of the Church administrators but no financial report was made; instead, Rev. Harmon who admitted smuggling a financial document without the finance Committee's knowledge was seen presenting the names of those he claimed have not been paying their dues.

As Rev. Harmon read his report, the men of the Church walked out accusing him of taking side in the election. The St. Augustine Episcopal Church Men accused the priest of engaging in tribal sentiment in the Church.

Amidst confusion and murmuring by the Men, the election was held in which eight persons were elected to administer the affairs of the Church for a year.

During the induction of the Church's administrators by Rev. Harmon, the men boycotted the ceremony on grounds that the officials did not get unanimous votes by members. They said out of more than 500 members, 69 participated in the elections.

One of the two members who were accused of been delinquent in the payment of dues, George Tawallah was cleared by the Finance Department of the Church. In a report released, the Finance Department said Mr. Tawallah has paid his dues up to December 2012 contrary to claims by the Priest that Tawallah was delinquent.

The names of other members who were announced as delinquent due payers were seen trooping into the Church's finance yesterday after service to ensure that their financial records are straight.

The aggrieved members called on Episcopal Bishop Jonathan Hart to remove Rev. Harmon as Priest of the St. Augustine Episcopal Church to rescue the Church from collapse.

But in the wake of the election of Rev. Harmon as Rector of the St. Augustine Episcopal Church, it remains unclear whether the men will attend a meeting with Episcopal Bishop Hart on Tuesday, February 5, 2013.

Some of the members, who spoke to this paper on condition of anonymity, said Rev. Harmon does not have vision of the St. Augustine Episcopal Church; and as such, he should be replaced.

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