By Kirk Petersen
A small historic church of modest means in the Diocese of Central New York has been holding services with a supply priest since September, when the longtime rector was placed on administrative leave following a forensic audit of the church’s finances.
The Rev. Joell Szachara, who had been the rector of St. Stephen’s Episcopal in New Hartford, NY, for more than a decade, was directed to resign by her bishop in August. Before the resignation took effect in late September, Bishop DeDe Duncan-Probe took the further step of restricting Szachara from ordained ministry, according to Meredith Sanderson, director of communications for the diocese.
The nature of the alleged financial impropriety has not been disclosed, but on October 31, the diocese announced that results of a forensic audit had been turned over to the New Hartford police. A dispatcher at the police department was unable to confirm whether any charges had been filed. Szachara could not be reached for comment.
New Hartford is just south and west of Utica, in the center of the state. St. Stephens’ website was down, but a Wikipedia listing says it was built in 1825, and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996. The church has average Sunday attendance of less than 40, and plate and pledge income last year of about $50,000. A voicemail greeting says the church office is staffed two days a week.
“It’s a small and tight-knit group, and they’re supporting each other through this,” Sanderson said. The Rev. Jim Corl, a retired priest, has been leading services.