Ge­orge Washington’s church to re­move me­mo­rial plaque Lee also tar­geted at Vir­ginia site

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY STEPHEN DINAN

Ge­orge Washington was one of the found­ing mem­bers of Christ Church in Alexan­dria, Vir­ginia, buy­ing pew No. 5 when the church opened in 1773 and at­tend­ing for more than two decades when­ever he rode north from Mount Ver­non to do busi­ness in town.

The church an­nounced it was pulling down a me­mo­rial plaque to its one­time vestry­man and the coun­try’s first president, say­ing he and another fa­mous parish­ioner, Robert E. Lee, have be­come so con­tro­ver­sial that they are chas­ing away would-be par­ish­ioners.

While ac­knowl­edg­ing “fric­tion” over the de­ci­sion, the church’s lead­er­ship said both plaques, which are at­tached to the front wall on ei­ther side of the al­tar, are relics of another era and have no busi­ness in a church that pro­claims its motto as “All are wel­come — no ex­cep­tions.”

“The plaques in our sanc­tu­ary make some in our pres­ence feel un­safe or un­wel­come. Some vis­i­tors and guests who wor­ship with us choose not to re­turn be­cause they re­ceive an un­in­tended mes­sage from the prom­i­nent pres­ence of the plaques,” the church lead­ers said in a let­ter to the con­gre­ga­tion.

The back­lash was swift, with the church’s Face­book page turn­ing into a bat­tle­ground. Some sup­port­ers praised the church for a “coura­geous” stand, while crit­ics com­pared lead­ers at the Epis­co­pal church lead­ers to the Tal­iban or the Is­lamic State.

Church lead­ers said they de­bated for a long time, and the Rev. Noelle YorkSim­mons, the rec­tor, said in an email to The Washington Times that the vote by the vestry was unan­i­mous. The plaques will come down by next sum­mer, when lead­er­ship de­ter­mines another place for them.

For now, the Lee me­mo­rial, about the size of a grave marker, stands to the right of the al­tar, read­ing in gold let­ter­ing, “In Mem­ory of Robert Ed­ward Lee.” The Washington plaque to the left says: “In mem­ory of Ge­orge Washington.”

They were erected in 1870, just months af­ter Lee’s death, and were a bit of a sen­sa­tion at the time, earn­ing men­tions in news­pa­pers from Mas­sachusetts to San Fran­cisco. The ac­counts said the memo­ri­als were paid for by subscription of ci­ti­zens of Alexan­dria.

The church also has small metal mark­ers on the Washington fam­ily pew and at the lo­ca­tion where Lee was con­firmed, but there is no other in­for­ma­tion or com­ment posted on the two men’s lives in the church.

Lack of other de­tails was part of the prob­lem for lead­ers, who said the memo­ri­als didn’t ex­plain the two fa­mous par­ish­ioners’ me­mo­rial pres­ence.

“Be­cause the sanc­tu­ary is a wor­ship space, not a mu­seum, there is no ap­pro­pri­ate way to in­form vis­i­tors about the his­tory of the plaques or to pro­vide ad­di­tional con­text ex­cept for the in-per­son tours pro­vided by our do­cents,” the church lead­ers said.

It’s not clear that the church could di­vorce it­self from Washington even if it wanted to. The web­site touts it­self as “a church where Ge­orge Washington wor­shipped” and dis­plays a pic­ture of its fa­mous pa­tron.

Washington bought pew No. 5 when the church opened in 1773. He was a vestry­man and con­trib­uted to the church through­out his life, ac­cord­ing to the Washington Pa­pers project. His fam­ily con­sid­ered the church im­por­tant enough to him that it do­nated one of his Bi­bles af­ter his death.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Christ Church in Alexan­dria, Vir­ginia, an im­por­tant place of wor­ship to Ge­orge Washington and Robert E. Lee, plans to re­move me­mo­rial plaques to the his­tor­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant men.

Lee

Washington

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