7 February 2013

Liberia: Episcopal Bishop Seeks Resolution in Church's Crisis

The Bishop of the Episcopal Church of Liberia, Jonathan B. B. Hart has held discussion with aggrieved men of the St. Augustine Episcopal Church aimed at finding a peaceful resolution to the looming crisis in the local Episcopal Church.

The meeting held Tuesday, February 5, 2013, at the Trinity Cathedral on Broad Street, was convened by Bishop Hart.

Information gathered from the meeting which lasted for nearly two hours revealed that the St. Augustine Episcopal Church Men, led by its President Prince A. Bolden, was frank in telling Bishop Hart the division existing in the Church is due to the manner in which Priest-in-Charge G. Nyema Harmon is administering affairs there.

The St. Augustine Men insisted that Rev. Harmon be replaced to avoid division in the Church.

However, after listening to the concerns of the St. Augustine Men, Bishop Hart said he was primarily interested in the resolution of the conflict before taking a decision.

Bishop Hart requested the St. Augustine Episcopal Church Men to make their complaint official by writing his office on Friday, February 8, 2013.

He said it is important to restore peace in the St. Augustine Church, adding, "Once there is peace, a decision can be reached," a source closed to the Episcopal Church of Liberia hinted this paper.

The meeting with the St. Augustine Episcopal Church Men was prompted by series of publications by this paper on the crisis in the Church.

The crisis in the Church continues to drag, leaving some members to believe that a possible breakaway for the second time in the Episcopal Church is at hand.

It can be recalled that some members of the St. Stephens Episcopal Church on 10th Street broke away on grounds that they were marginalized and their views were not listened to.

The breakaway of the St. Stephens Episcopal Church came less than two years into the leadership of Bishop Hart. The breakaway group has allegedly named itself as the 'Anglican Church'.

Trouble in the St. Augustine Episcopal Church on Bardnesville Road started on January 20, 2013, when Rev. Harmon conducted an election of the Vestry (Church administrators) following a general meeting in which the men walked out due to the manner in which they said the Priest conducted himself.

At a 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.

Rev. Harmon openly 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. Although the two accused earlier declared that they had no intention to contest in the election.

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, something which was not done by Rev. Harmon.

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

Justifying his allegations against the members at the 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 which left him with no option but to take the financial records without their knowledge.

As he disclosed the alleged 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 (Vestry) 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, the men boycotted the induction ceremony because, according to them, the officials did not get unanimous vote from members. They said out of 500 members, 69 participated in the elections.

In the wake of the crisis, Rev. Harmon was elected as Rector of the St. Augustine Episcopal Church during a Vestry meeting on Sunday, February 3, 2013. It remains to be seen whether Bishop Hart will approve the decision of the vestry on the election of Rev. Harmon as Rector.

Investigation continues.

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