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KALAMAZOO, MI: Disgraced Rector given $468,000 in Severance Payout by Bishop

KALAMAZOO, MI: Disgraced Rector given $468,000 Payout by Bishop after 21 Months Service

By David W. Virtue
June 1, 2012

Three days after shoving a 74-year old parishioner Marcia Morrison, the rector of troubled St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Kalamazoo resigned and has been given a $468,000 payout by Western Michigan Bishop Robert Gepert.

The Rev. Jay Lawlor, 41, served a brief 21 months as rector of the parish. Parishioners described his tenure as uninspiring and said he was unqualified to lead. One parishioner described him as "inept" and "narcissistic" and a "puppet of Bishop Gepert."

Church members say there has been tension in the parish ever since Lawlor started as rector in July '09 and continued till March '11 when he tended his resignation to the satisfaction of the vast majority of the parish who wanted him gone. Last fall, the diocesan office got involved in trying to resolve the dispute.

On March 2, Bishop Gepert sent a letter to parishioners informing them that he was taking over the parish and disbanding its lay board. At that time, Gepert announced that Lawlor would be going on a four-month leave, but first Lawlor had been was ordered to downsize the church staff.

On March 3, Lawlor terminated the employment of the parish secretary, music director and facilities manager.

After church services on March 6, parishioners confronted Lawlor about these unacceptable changes in the church. Witnesses said Lawlor became upset and headed down the church aisle hitting the elderly lady. He did not stop to apologize. She sued. A jury found him not guilty as the incident did not constitute assault.

The bishop has paid out nearly half a million dollars to Lawlor for a 3 year 9 month severance package, which includes his salary, medical and pension as well as his moving and attorney fees. The grand sum totaled $468,000. The money was taken from an unrestricted bequest fund.

A parishioner described the severance package as "criminal" saying he hoped that with Gepert's tenure being up in 18 months, a new bishop might change things.

Bishop Gepert did not return e-mail requests for an explanation of the payout.

Lawlor left the diocese and moved back to his home state of North Carolina. At his blog he maintains he is a priest and economist who has worked with Jeffery Sachs and the Earth Institute on the MDGs. He says he is founding an interfaith nonprofit aimed at getting faith communities involved in the Millennium Villages Project.

FOOTNOTE: Lawlor was rector at St. Paul's in Exton, PA and resigned there under pressure after a similar term, including conflict with several parishioners. A source told VOL that he was just not mature enough to be a Rector. “It appears to be a deeper problem than just lack of experience. Charles Bennison, Bishop of PA has been his mentor, even while in Kalamazoo.”


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