Amjad Samuel found to have abandoned the Episcopal Church, ECCT hopefully learns lesson

the Rev. Amjad J. Samuel

As we prepare to cover the Diocese of Virginia and its ridiculous waste of time and resources on the Rev. Dr. B. Cayce Ramey, we note that another disruptive — and in this case, abusive — Episcopal priest on our radar, Amjad Samuel, continues to implode. Even better, Amjad Samuel did all involved a favor and tried both to “resign” and to pull his parish out of the Episcopal Church, resulting in ECCT declaring him to have abandoned communion with the church under Title IV, the clergy disciplinary canons.

While Anglican Watch is happy potentially to see Amjad Samuel hit the bricks, the situation underscores the importance of suspending clergy when credible allegations of misconduct arise.

Moreover, ECCT mishandled the situation by not suspending Amjad Samuel early in the Title IV process — and is currently making things worse via its interaction with Amjad Samuel’s former parish, historic St. Paul’s, Shelton.

ECCT’s announcement

Earlier today, ECCT bishop diocesan Jeffrey Mello announced via an email to the Diocese that Samuel abandoned the discipline and communion of the Episcopal Church. Here’s what Mello said:

May 9, 2024

Dear clergy and lay leaders of ECCT,

I write with an update involving the Rev. Amjad Samuel.

The Standing Committee of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut (ECCT) conducted an independent inquiry to determine whether the Rev. Samuel had abandoned The Episcopal Church (TEC). Per TEC Canons, a bishop, priest, or deacon can be found to have abandoned TEC by open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline, or worship of the Church; by formal admission into any religious body not in communion with TEC; or in other ways. On April 19, 2024, the Standing Committee determined that the Rev. Samuel had abandoned TEC and sent me a letter articulating the basis for its finding. On Monday, May 6, 2024, I affirmed this determination and notified the Rev. Samuel.

Canon IV. 16.B.3 & 4, linked here, requires that I restrict the Rev. Samuel’s ministry for sixty days and notify him of his right to make a good faith retraction or denial he committed acts deemed to demonstrate abandonment. If, within the sixty days, I do not receive what I find reasonably constitutes a good faith retraction or denial, it will be my duty to depose the Rev. Samuel from ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church.

I ask you to join me in praying for the Rev. Samuel, his family, the parish of St. Paul’s, and all in our diocese who have been impacted by these matters.

Yours in Faith,

The Rt. Rev. Jeffrey W. Mello, Bishop Diocesan

Events leading up to today’s announcement

Today’s announcement marks the culmination of a long and sordid series of events that caused lasting harm to loyal members of the Episcopal Church.

According to sources close to the matter, well before ECCT launched a formal Title IV initiative, there were myriad rumblings of problems with Amjad Samuel’s behavior.

Specifically, while he could be charming when he so chose — particularly when someone agreed with him — Amjad proved to have a dictatorial, vengeful, manipulative, ugly personality when he felt threatened or challenged. As a result, St. Paul’s shed members, vestry members, and church employees at an alarming rate.

Initial complaints to ECCT were, true to form, brushed off as interpersonal conflict.

Of course, that assessment of the issue was both accurate and an evasion.

Yes, the turmoil and the mad rush for the exit doors at St. Paul’s involved interpersonal conflict–but it was conflict intentionally initiated by Amjad Samuel.

In other words, the Diocese brushed off warning signs of a looming disaster.

By the time ECCT did weigh in with a Title IV case, it was too little, too late. At that point, anyone who openly disagreed with Amjad Samuel — or even acted like they might privately disagree with him — had already left St. Paul’s long ago.

And by not suspending him, ECCT allowed Amjad Samuel to continue monkeying with the parish and its funds, leading to outrageous outcomes, like the parish announcing it would set its own accounting standards.

Not surprisingly for a church that makes its own accounting rules, St. Paul’s today appears to have run through almost all its cash.

The situation was exacerbated by the fact that Amjad Samuel was still getting paid, allowing him to hire canon lawyer Michael Rehill to defend his Title IV case. The result was typical Rehill–a tsunami of scandalous, impertinent, unprofessional, and dilatory pleadings intended to wear down the Diocese, all built around the ludicrous claim that the Diocese was motivated by race. (Ironically, Rehill’s pleadings repeatedly conflate race and ethnicity. Projection, anyone?)

Indeed, the low point was Rehill’s assertion that Canon Robin Hammeal-Urban is mentally ill. Not only is that false and defamatory and made without a rational basis but we are left wondering how any rational actor would conclude that this sort of behavior would be helpful to their client.

And while the Diocese never did abandon the Title IV case against Amjad Samuel, the ongoing uproar resulted in the remnants of the parish devoting all their time and attention to the conflict — including engaging in infighting seemingly caused by the rector — versus Christian ministry.

As church officials have noted, a badly handled Title IV case often results in unnecessary and irreparable harm to the relationships and reputations of all parties involved. Anglican Watch agrees, while noting that these outcomes are not uncommon in a perfectly handled Title IV case. And there are very remarkably few of those.

In other words, by the time Title IV comes into play, in many cases, the damage is already done.

In the case of St. Paul’s, it’s fair to say that the meltdown of the parish has been long, ugly, and iterative.

Today

Today, as ECCT attempts to regroup, it’s inviting parishioners into a conversation about the path forward.

Fair enough, but there’s a huge mistake in the implementation, which is that the only folks invited are those who remain parishioners. In other words, the conversation only extends to a set that includes:

  • Those who agreed with the respondent.
  • Those who, via sleight of hand, appeared to agree with the respondent.
  • Those who kept a sufficiently low profile to avoid drawing the wrath of Amjad Samuel and his minions.

Thus, the conversation involves a profoundly lopsided swath of the parish, whiile ignoring the many who have longstanding ties to the parish, but have spent much of the last several years in exile from a beloved church home.

This artificial division all but guarantees an unsuccessful outcome and the demise of this historic but now fragile parish.

Fixing things

Anglican Watch therefore urges ECCT to take a different approach. Namely, if someone is interested in the future welfare of the parish, they should be welcome to be part of the conversation.

Is this approach without risk? Absolutely not.

Indeed, it will be important to monitor closely to ensure that Amjad Samuel and his flying monkeys are not trying to make mischief from afar.

But as Christians, we are called to bring light to the darkness. That light cannot dispel the darkness when ECCT stuffs it into a tiny, self-contained package.

Nor are we unmindful of the need to provide a safe space for inter-and intra-personal disclosure. But at this point, the need to provide a safe environment in which those who love St. Paul’s can reconnect and contemplate reconciliation transcends the need to limit access to the conversation.

Lessons for ECCT

Anglican Watch believes the lessons for ECCT and judicatories that come this ugly debable largely are obvious from the events described above.

In addition to promptly removing respondents from contact with their parishes early in the process, Anglican Watch recognizes that many clergy in this situation are highly Machiavellian. Thus, it is important not only that judicatories impose appropriate pastoral directives, but also monitor the behavior of respondents, who may seek back-channel means to sidestep restrictions.

For example, abusive clergy may use their children and the childrens’ friendship with parishioners and vestry members to indirectly communicate with a church. Similarly:

  • We have seen situations in which Title IV respondents use friendly clergy to backchannel their response to a Title IV complaint.
  • Respondent clergy may use fabricated claims of harassment, stalking, or threats to lure unsuspecting law enforcement and judicial officials into interaction with a complainant. In so doing, clergy trade on the inherent differential in perceived power, as well as judicial deference to houses of worship. Indeed, abusive clergy typically are highly aware of this paradigm, seeking to exploit it at every turn.
  • Abusive clergy in every instance surround themselves with admirers, sycophants, and empaths. Thus, judicatories who rely on vestries or wardens to police the conduct of miscreants do so to the lasting detriment of everyone but the wayward priest. This is made painfully clear in the letter, purportedly from St. Paul’s, seeking to disaffiliate from the Episcopal Church.

We also believe it is not inappropriate for judicatories to incentivize Title IV respondents to settle complaints early in the process.

Indeed, ECCT was more than fair in its initial offer that Amjad Samuel resign and get training in new management styles. But this sort of offer only works with clergy whose underlying intent is good.

Truly malevolent respondents have every reason to prolong Title IV cases, and no incentive to agree to discipline. And Title IV, already cumbersome, opaque, and glacial in pace, is spectacularly ill-suited to addressing really bad behavior, especially when the conduct doesn’t involve sex or money. (Even then, don’t get your hopes up.)

If nothing else, in our experience, most abusive clergy do damned little during the week, anyway. So why be stuck paying some loser to do even less for a couple of years while a disciplinary case drags on?

Final thoughts

Anglican Watch considers ECCT to be one of the few dioceses to get Title IV largely right. And we have long appreciated the integrity of the Diocese in not brushing off Title IV complaints out of hand at the intake phase.

But in this situation, ECCT got things wrong, and it’s continuing to get things wrong.

We therefore ardently hope that ECCT will change course, address the needs of former St. Paul’s parishioners who are exiles from their own parish and, in some cases, organized Christianity itself. Doing so requires that all who love this historic parish be made welcome to be part of any effort to rebuild from the Amjad Samuel debacle.

As to the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia (DioVA) and its absurd and fruitless decision to recommend that Ramey be defrocked over his refusal to say Mass, that sounds to us remarkably like a situation in which Ramey has decided that the Episcopal Church is not for him, and thus he has abandoned the church, just like Amjad Samuel.

Moreover, there are plenty of priests out there who never say Mass. So if Ramey can find a job that doesn’t require saying Mass, super. If not, too bad, so sad. It stinks to be unemployed.

More on DioVA and its ludicrous Title IV priorities in a coming post.

4 comments

  1. You have it wrong here regarding who the ecct is having conversations with at St. Paul’s. The minions and AS followers are gone and have nothing to do with the rebuilding process. The diaspora and long time members that have been forced away are slowly returning to their church. We have a new vestry formed from the diaspora and we are devoted to bringing the church back. The AS minions are a cult led by a very unchristian leader and have completely broken ties with people they have known for decades.

    1. That is good to know—although we have spoken with several people who are feeling very left out and are not fans of Amjad.

      Persons in exile, this may be a good time to reach out to the vestry and re-engage.

      If we can do anything to help, please let us know.

      Blessings,

  2. Unfortunately, you have some items incorrect here. The ECCT has done a great job of trying to communicate and opening that up to different groups, throughout this process. They have done much in support, both in guidance and more importantly, providing prayer and faith-based healing to those affected. The new vestry is made up of long-time members, who left due to the behavior of the former Rector. Those involved are wishing to move St. Paul’s mission forward in Shelton today. This vestry is not made up of any who would be considered as agreeing with the respondent as you reported.

    On another note, I’m the new Senior Warden at St. Paul’s and our vestry is committed to God’s work in the Shelton community. To continuing to open up our doors as St. Paul’s has done for centuries, to all in Shelton who are seeking a caring and welcoming faith community. This includes past parishioners who have left.

    In Peace

    1. Ken,

      Thank you for your comment. As we noted in a reply to a prior, similar comment, we have several sources, all former members, who are feeling left out. Varying perceptions are not uncommon in situations such as this, so our hope is that this dialogue serves as an invitation to all who might wish to engage with the parish.

      We’d also suggest a somewhat different angle on the communication issue. Part of effective communication is hearing and responding appropriately to concerns that are brought forward. Thus, while we have tremendous respect for ECCT, the situation with the prior rector should never have reached this stage, and some of the trauma of the AS years will never be undone, no matter how carefully handled, and no matter how much prayer and faith-based healing is provided. That is the inherent nature of faith-based trauma.

      On a personal note, as someone who struggles with PTSD, depression, and anxiety resulting from spiritual abuse, it’s important not to assume away these issues. Many times, those hurt by the church leave organized religion altogether, and they do it to survive. We need not label people in this situation as disgruntled, hateful, or any of the other adjectives members like to use to describe this cohort. (Or, in my case, the adjective is “domestic terrorist.” Seriously.)

      Even worse, the church tends to think the only abuse that counts involves sex or money. I can assure you — spiritual abuse can cause a lifetime of harm, often irreparable.

      So, it’s great that you are getting support from ECCT, but I can assure you that perspectives on this situation can and do vary.

      In closing, I reiterate Anglican Watch’s earlier statement, which is that we are delighted to hear that the parish is regrouping. We also are very willing to help in any way we can, including spreading news of rebirth and renewal, and supporting your efforts to reach a stable financial footing.

      Blessings,

      ~Editor

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