Virginia congregation deeply divided over church’s name honoring Robert E. Lee

By David Paulsen
Posted Aug 23, 2017
Lee Memorial Church

The sign in front of R.E. Lee Memorial Church bears the name of the church and, therefore, also the Confederate general who was a parishioner there. Photo: Lee Memorial Church via Facebook

[Episcopal News Service] Was Robert E. Lee an American hero or a traitorous defender of slavery? The Confederate general has been called both in the ongoing debate over whether statues, monuments and plaques in his honor should be remain on display in public places, from parks to churches.

At least one aspect of Lee’s biography is undisputed: He was a prominent parishioner at the Episcopal church that now bears his name, R.E. Lee Memorial Church in Lexington, Virginia.

And that name now threatens to tear the congregation apart.

“Change is hard, and this is about change that goes right down to our identity,” vestry member Doug Cumming told Episcopal News Service. He supports removing Lee from the name of the church.

Turmoil has grown since 2015, when the vestry first considered but failed to approve a proposal to remove Lee’s name from the church. Members began leaving the congregation in protest, and such exits continued this year after the vestry in April chose not to act on a consultant’s recommendation for a name change.

Then violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, a city barely an hour northeast of Lexington, accelerated a national re-examination of the Confederacy’s legacy. Defense of a statue of Lee became a rallying point for white supremacist groups, who descended on Charlottesville this month and clashed with anti-racism counterprotesters, leaving dozens wounded and one counterprotester dead.

On Monday, the Lee Memorial Church vestry held its first monthly meeting since the melee in Charlottesville. Again, it decided against taking steps toward a name change, instead unanimously approving a statement that began by condemning white supremacism, racism and violence in Lee’s name.

The vestry members said they “object strenuously to the misuse of Robert E. Lee’s name and memory in connection with white supremacy, anti-Semitism and similar movements that he would abhor. Lee was widely admired in both the North and the South as a man of virtue and honor and as among the leading reconcilers of our fractured land.”

The statement defended Lee’s reputation as a Christian, though not as a Confederate.

“We do not honor Lee as a Confederate,” the statement reads. “Nor do we subscribe to neo-Confederate ideas in honoring him. We honor Lee as one of our own parishioners, a devout man who led our parish through difficult years in post-Civil-War Virginia.”

Anne Hansen, who helped craft the statement Monday, resigned from the vestry afterward because church leaders would not commit more definitively to discussing a name change.

“My hope had been that if we could make a unified statement, say something unanimously … that we would be able to move from there into further action in a consensual way [regarding] the implications of our association with Lee,” Hansen said in an interview with ENS. “At the vestry meeting, that became apparent to me that was not going to happen.” She added that she blamed herself for getting upset and not articulating her views clearly enough.

The vestry’s inaction on the issue is fueling tension inside and outside the congregation, creating an unnecessary distraction for the church, Southwestern Virginia Bishop Mark Bourlakas told Episcopal News Service. He favors the name change.

“The name has become not only a distraction to their Gospel mission, but … it’s dividing parishioners and causing all kinds of rancor,” said Bourlakas, who plans to visit the congregation this month to assist in reconciliation efforts. “My priority is to heal the congregation, and I don’t believe that that healing can occur while the name stays the same.”

Church renamed for Lee in 1903

The church’s history dates to 1840, when it was known as Latimer Parish but didn’t have a permanent worship space. Parish records cited by Cumming show the first church building was dedicated in 1844 as Grace Church. It bore that name when when Lee joined the congregation in 1865 after the Civil War, according to a 2015 church news release.

Lee Church sign

The sign in front of R.E. Lee Memorial Church in Lexington, Virginia. Photo: Doug Cumming

While serving in Lexington as president of Washington College, later renamed Washington and Lee University, the former Confederate general spent the last five years of his life, until his death in 1870, helping the struggling congregation survive.

He served as senior warden and at one point agreed to pay the pastor’s salary from his own pocket, according to a report this week by the Washington Post.

There is no record, however, of why the congregation chose to rename the church for Lee in 1903. It may, as some suggest, have been part of the “Lost Cause,” a campaign across the South to rehabilitate the image of the Confederacy and its leaders at a time when racism and segregation also were on the rise. Or, changing the name may simply have been a way to honor the congregation’s most famous parishioner.

Those who favor changing the name back to Grace note that few Episcopal churches are named after deceased parishioners. They also worry the church is failing to send a welcoming message by hanging a sign out front featuring the name of a slaveholder who was willing to go to war against the Union to preserve slavery.

The debate over the church’s name came to a head in 2015 after a white supremacist with a fondness for the Confederate flag shot and killed nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. That massacre prompted a nationwide re-examination of how the Confederate flag had come to represent racist ideologies.

Members of Lee Memorial Church spent several months discussing the church name in light of the Charleston shooting. After surveying the congregation and hearing a range of opinions for and against, the vestry voted, 9-5, in November 2015 in favor of removing Lee’s name, but because it chose to require a supermajority for passage, the measure failed by one vote.

Then in 2016, the church hired a reconciliation consultant, ultimately spending $16,000, and formed the Discovery and Discernment Committee of vestry members and parishioners to more carefully pursue reconciliation among the congregation and decide what actions to take.

The committee and consultant issued a 15-page report in April 2017 that summarized the various perspectives on the church’s name. “The committee discerned from its work in discovery that a significant number of parishioners remain quite uneasy with the name of the church,” the report said.

It warned that those parishioners felt marginalized, and they may withdraw from the congregation, or conflict over the name could continue to escalate.

The report contained several recommendations, including the creation of a committee to seek new ways to honor Lee’s historic ties to the parish. It also recommended this: “That the name of the church be officially restored to its former name of Grace Episcopal Church.”

The vestry met the same month to review the report. It accepted all the recommendations, except the one urging a name change.

‘A different moment since Charlottesville’

ENS left messages seeking comment from senior warden Woody Sadler, as well as a vestry member, A.W. “Buster” Lewis, who has been a vocal opponent of changing the name. Neither had responded at the time of publication, though Lewis told ENS in a March story that he felt he and his parish were being “attacked.”

After the April vestry meeting, “there’s certain members of the vestry that felt with relief that the discussion was over,” vestry member Cumming said. “But I really think on some level they weren’t paying attention.”

The discussion didn’t resume in a significant way until the violence in Charlottesville raised concerns again about how Lee had come to be a symbol of white supremacist ideology.

“We’re in a different moment since Charlottesville,” Bourlakas said. “These symbols have become too toxic. We’re a church that cares deeply about sacraments and symbols, and this symbol, whatever you might think of it or what it represented, has been co-opted and has become toxic.”

Hansen, though, fears it may be too late. “We had already missed our opportunity to change the name of the church in a deliberative, proactive way on our own terms,” she said.

Although he doesn’t intend to impose his preference on the congregation, Bourlakas said it is important for him to help guide the two sides to reconcile. He thinks that the statement the vestry issued Monday alluded to the path forward, with its concluding reference to the church’s commitment “not to Lee, but to that gospel which is his hope and ours.

“We invite all to share in it, and we aim to let nothing stand in the way of our proclaiming it with integrity,” the statement ends.

To let nothing stand in the way, Bourlakas said, would seem to include a name.

“For me this is an easy fix, because the original name of the church was Grace Church. That’s the name of the church when Lee was a parishioner,” the bishop said. “If it’s about honoring Lee, that’s the church he worshiped in. If it’s about history, that’s the historical name.

“But most important, it’s a fine name of a church. And Lexington and our country could use a lot more grace.”

— David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.


Tags


Comments (69)

  1. P.J. Cabbiness says:

    Robert E. Lee was an honorable man, a distinguished military leader, an important historical figure and a thoughtful, dedicated Episcopalian. The church should be named after him. This does not endorse or promote racism in any way.

    1. Janet Diehl says:

      My understanding is that Robert E. Lee helped in the mending & rebuilding of society after the civil war. That and his churchmanship ought to be studied by the parish. What about the new book listed in The Anglican Digest? If all the statues & monuments & buildings of slave owners were torn down – we would need to rebuild the White House and many, many other buildings & monuments. Why not post a marker giving thanks for the the workmanship of the builders. And post a sign stating why it is named after Robert E. Lee.

      For the record I am very much a Northerner, but history is history. We can not back track, but we can honor the work & positive efforts of individuals. Do you have a real Bell? Maybe you could name it Robert, after Robert E. Lee – who was a faithful churchman.

    2. Preston Montgomery says:

      That a church would be named for a person is an absolute mockery of the gospel you claim to profess. Could you please focus your energy toward ending homelessness, and working on behalf of three disenfranchised?

    3. Cynthia Katsarelis says:

      This article in the Atlantic Monthly brings compelling evidence that Lee was not so honorable, and was not helping bring reconciliation. I don’t understand why people need to invent and hold onto a myth. Lee was a slave holder, a particularly brutal one. On his campaigns he would enslave free blacks. He countenanced massacres and abuse of black Union soldiers. He countenanced students at his college forming a KKK chapter and attacking and raping black school girls, while maintaining firm discipline in other areas. Read it.
      https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/06/the-myth-of-the-kindly-general-lee/529038/

      I’m from Virginia. On my father’s side we were Greek immigrants who came over in the early 20th Century. On my mother’s side, we go back to Jamestown. Thanks to ancestry.com, I was able to track a lot of ancestors, and read their wills, bequeathing human beings to the next generation. It made me sick. And processing it as a person of faith I can only say that those of us who are up to our eyeballs in family culpability need to “come to Jesus.” NOW. Right now. Now is a time for prayer warriors, and s/heros to step up and love our neighbors rigorously and without compromise. Heroic honesty demands that we realize that that name is exceedingly hurtful for many people and for our nation, that needs racial reconciliation. The best way to honor the heroes of the past is to stand up, suck it up, and sacrifice. Besides, some memorial can remain, as others have suggested.

  2. Mark Lindsay says:

    Let the Church members and Vestry work this out on their own. They don’t need pressure – for or against – from outsiders. Those outsiders will disappear once this controversy is long forgotten – and most will never step foot in the building.

  3. Give me a break! Enough is enough. Teach history. Don’t erase it. Martin Luther King once marched against Gays. Do you want to destroy all statues of him. I hope not. Think not simply of the present moment and the current conflicts. Think of the future and the result of knee jerk actions today. As C.K. Chesterton said, ” Let us not be so Heavenly minded (politically correct) that we are no earthly good. Amen

    1. Janet Diehl says:

      I agree. Who among us is perfect? We are imbeded in our time and situation. I hope history will point at the USA in our failure to accept Jewish refugee boats, or many more present day refugees and immagrents. Oh, and don’t forget the Japanese Americans we put in concentration camps, or the Native Americans we marched to death and deserts. In some ways we are a stingy, arrogant country. Most of us do not know our own history.

  4. brett donham says:

    I love it when bishops speak with such clarity and common sense.

  5. Jim Newman says:

    I celebrate that the parishioners of RE Lee Memorial Church have elected to not change the name of their church. As well meaning as Bishop Bourlakes seeks to appear; leave them alone. Lee was not a perfect man but who of us is without sin. He embraced his defeat and went on to accomplish great things. He was pardoned by the government and was instrumental in bringing about reconciliation when an element wanted to initiate guerrilla warfare. Once again, the church embraces identity politics rather than have the courage to respect the beliefs of a congregation that seeks merely to celebrate a man that deserves celebration. In light if this, it is no wonder that so many congregants are leaving the church. Bishop Boulakes … you should defend these good people, not descend upon them with the obvious intent of pressuring them to do what they believe is wrong. Maybe it is a matter of your beliefs and the need to be politically right rather than what they believe is just? Interesting…

      1. Geanna Cutbirth says:

        To slander him is horrible.

      2. Rev. Jacqueline Steubbel says:

        Yes, well said Jim Newman. We learn from our history. We do not revise our history to suit contemporary times and so-called political correctness and identity politics.

    1. Suzanne Rogers says:

      I don’t understand why the congregation waited 33 years until 1903 to celebrate the man, if that was their intent, Jim Newman. But I am not from the south and may not understand these things. But I am sure the issue is very difficult and painful. I pray that we can all find respectful ways forward.

    2. Shirley E. Viall says:

      Thank you. Mr. Newman. If our church buckles to the radical, politically correct whims that are striking our culture we will truly find ourselves once again in the dark ages. Those who have studied the Civil War cannot erase the pages of suffering that was visited on the South following the secession–on all of its people, even long after the war ended. We owe it to those who were there, on both sides, who lived the horror of a war so terrible most of us cannot imagine, to honor their sacrifices. If anyone doubts the sadness of “civil war” and an example of forgiveness, let them visit Arlington National Cemetery where North and South soldiers are buried with solemn remembrance. It should break all of our hearts to see the rage and mob mentality attempt to rewrite history with no understanding of the consequences. The window of the past is also the mirror of the present.

      1. Janis Hansen says:

        But, ahhh, can we consider the horror of being a slave?

    3. What is interesting is the reasoning behind the above defenses of extreme racism and a need to feel better than cloaked in this defense of Robert E. Lee Memorial Church. It is clear this is something not even Robert E. Lee himself would condone. It is roughly akin to celebrating, memorializing and more the lieutenants and others who worked and lost in Nazi Germany. Germany forbade such aggrandizement for good reason. Decades after the war these statues, memorials, renamings began and the real question is why – to use this as a way to maintain white privilege notifying all where you stand and with who you stand. Certainly Jesus is not involved. To have to argue over whether or not the name should be changed says Jesus left this Church when the name was changed. Whatever it is about it is not Christianity. The rationalizations about not changing the name need to stop and the people doing the rationalization need to look carefully and understand they are guilty of sedition and treason against the United States.

  6. Richard Basta says:

    I think the church should not succumb to mob hysteria. Use this as a teaching moment that we are all sinners in need of a saviour. It is the height of hubris and arrogance to assume our own failings in this age are more noble than those of prior generations.

  7. Cynthia Katsarelis says:

    I can’t think of another church that’s named after a person who wasn’t a saint, apostle, or one of those very early church “fathers” (Aquinas). Can anyone come up with one? The name was changed from Grace during the rise of Jim Crow, 33 years after REL’s death. Did he have family still attending in 1903? Are any attending now?

    If I pay my rector’s salary, can they change the name of my church to Cynthia Katsarelis Memorial Chapel? I’m a fairly good Christian. Sure, I’m a sinner too, but I’ve never owned other human beings or had them whipped, or used brilliant strategy to kill hundreds of thousands of people who would take the slaves away, if I had any.

    Slavery was a crime against humanity. We sing Amazing Grace because it is by a slave trader who repented. Is there any evidence that Robert E. Lee was repentant? If he committed massive acts of reconciliation, that would be something to celebrate. It’d have to be massive. Did he start schools for African Americans? Provide as many as possible with those 40 acres and a mule?

    This is a really tough decision. I wonder if the members of the parish would respect the vote of African American Episcopalians? If not, why not? What is the theology that guides all this?

    1. Louise McPhillips says:

      Excellent.

    2. Doug Desper says:

      Cynthia, since you state so many questions and a few assumptions you’ll likely want to become more educated about R E Lee. I cite a book just published in April, written by the former rector (see below). We do not live in Lee’s day nor are we faced with the great national upheaval and crisis that he was thrust in. President Lincoln admired Lee and as the representative of the Washington family it was thought that it naturally should fall on Lee to lead the Union Army. That army was to swell from 16,000 to 91,000 with the addition of 75,000 volunteers that Lee was to lead to occupy communities in the South. Lee could not lead such a disaster and resigned the Army and went home to resist military dictatorship. We haven’t faced or lived with such martial law from Washington. Few in the North or South had any viable plan for ending slavery. Setting millions of undereducated former slaves free was not practical and not many in the Northern states cared to be part of the solution and fewer in the South could afford to. Millions of white and black lives were interdependent on servile misery. People like Lee called slavery a great moral evil but knew that it was far worse to have a poorly conceived emancipation. Lee was not perfect. Few that we admire are. Lincoln used racially insulting language and slurs about blacks. FDR and JFK were scandal-ridden. MLK was an adulterer. Yet, the greater good that came from these people outshined their human flaws.

      1. Cynthia Katsarelis says:

        Doug, I’m from Virginia, I’ve got a lot of education about General Lee. We simply don’t name churches after any individuals. The political overtones of this one is horrible. There are no Episcopal Churches named after FDR, MLK, JFK, or Lincoln, so I’m not getting your comparison. And who was Lee to decide that slavery was better than “poorly conceived emancipation?” Did anyone ask the slaves? After emancipation, there was a Freedman’s Bureau and African Americans were getting a foothold in Congress and education. Who stopped that progress? The Jim Crow/KKK folks who decided to put up monuments and name a church after leaders in the effort to maintain “sacred” white supremacy.

        As for this “Few in the North or South had any viable plan for ending slavery.” This is a statement that requires real education. In the Dred Scott decision, SCOTUS eliminated any solution from the judicial branch. With the Kansas Nebraska Act, Congress eliminated any opportunity for federal solution – as it repealed the Missouri Compromise limiting slavery to the South. All of this was engineered by slave holders who held excessive power in Congress, since slaves, with no rights, counted as 3/5ths of a person for setting up Congressional districts.

        There is no way around the fact that the Civil War was about maintaining white supremacy and the institution of slavery that was enriching so many. The Confederate founders said as much and that is what Lee and the others fought for. He was a slave owner. There’s no wiggle room.

        Lee did not fight to “resist military dictatorship!” That is a white supremacist revision. One needs simply to look at the Confederate founding documents. The incredible need to rewrite history that contradicts primary documents is part of the great tragedy.

        1. Theodore G. Fletcher, Esq. says:

          Mr. Desper, as a graduate of Washington & Lee and one who entered the Episcopal Church in the early 1980’s in Lexington, Virginia at RE Lee Memorial, I can state the Cynthia Katsarelis has her history right. Your selective historical “facts” miss the point entirely and do you no credit. Indeed, the Church was renamed in 1903 during Jim Crow and for the same reasons statues were put up honoring defeated Confederate soldiers. More to the point, I believe that Gen. Lee would have been scandalized and appalled at the renaming of the church after him, and for reasons that Ms. Katsarelis points out. Even during my time in Lexington, there was an effort to make Robert E. Lee into a “saint,” something I am sure he would have disavowed and strongly opposed.

      2. Dan Shockley says:

        Wow. You used the word “knew” when you spoke of slavery being better than “a poorly conceived emancipation.” You didn’t say that Lee “believed” that, you treated it as fact.
        In other words, you are indicating that you believe slavery was better than “a poorly conceived emancipation,” whatever that means.
        You also claim that being “undereducated” means that it is “impractical” to be free. That’s a disturbing opinion.
        As someone else pointed out in these comments, the church was renamed during the time of the Jim Crow backlash against the significant gains in political power, property ownership, and public participation advances made by former slaves. The emancipation was going well until bigots violently fought against it through campaigns of terror.

        1. Dan Shockley says:

          Just to make it clear, since the threading is confusing. My post was in response to Doug.

    3. J. Morrell says:

      There is an Otey Memorial Parish in Sewanee, Tennessee, named after James Otey, first bishop of Tennessee (19th century). Thomas Aquinas lived in the 13th century. He is a “doctor of the church,” but not an early church father. There are plenty of RC churches named after Aquinas, but I have never heard of an Episcopal/Anglican one.

    4. Rev. Mia C. McDowell says:

      Thank you or your reply. You are the only person brave enough to relate historical dates with the current context. Those who defend this name are really blind and unwilling to own that. I cannot thank you enough for this reply. My sadness come from those who will refuse to listen and take your words to heart. Bless you.

  8. ELIZABETH D DELLOW says:

    http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/robert-e-lee-opposed-confederate-monuments/
    This is worth reading to help in the discernment process. It is very hard to look at the church’s complicity in the slave trade by not challenging its members who were active in the slave trade. Peace to all of you as you continue seeking the will of God.

  9. In our tradition we tend to name our churches for saints, or members of the Trinity (e.g. Christ Church or Holy Comforter), or for the Trinity itself. Sometimes we name churches for basic Christian doctrines, such as Incarnation, Atonement, or Nativity. Our loyalty to Christ must always transcend nation and culture. Naming churches for political figures is not appropriate.

    1. Canon Flagler says:

      Thank you Frank, I doubt I would ever choose to attend a church named after a war heroe. The naming of our churches has followed that formula for generations unlike the Methodist Church which often uses donor’s or founders names (other than Jesus). I wonder what prayers are used on this parish’s Feast of a Title.

  10. Stephen Jay Waller says:

    When I was a student there between 1965 until 1969 and volunteered at RELee Memorial Church, some would answer the office phone, “St. Bob’s.” In those days consciousness of the pain the image of the General and use of his name sadly never crossed my mind. How things have and are changing. I will keep that parish of faithful souls in my prayers for “an Happy issue out of this affliction.”

  11. Doug Desper says:

    Lee was opposed to public square monuments to the Civil War or to any figure such as himself. It is because Lee was so admired for his character (in both the North and South) that he came to be so widely praised. President Lincoln admired him, many Union politicians and military men admired him, and his later students and fellow churchgoers found great quality. People allergic to facts will have either villainized him or made him overly lofty. There seems to be something wrong, though, about the reactionary and iconoclastic howling going on about Lee and all things Confederate. It is though all the weight of ignorance, intolerance, racial hatred, and plain stupidity must be placed on Lee’s shoulders for him to bear. While he wanted little public attention and likely wouldn’t want the church named for him, it befalls to we moderns to get a grip and not drag him through our own lack of tolerance and lack of education about the complexities of living with the untenable choices which faced Lee. I would highly recommend reading “The Religious Life of Robert E. Lee” written by the former rector of that parish, R. David Cox. It was published in April and is available on Amazon.

    1. Cynthia Katsarelis says:

      I’ll simply repeat, what is the theology here? Christ commands us to do onto others and to love our neighbors as ourselves. We have a Baptismal Covenant that calls on us to see Christ in all people, to love our neighbors, to seek justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being. How hard can it be? Slavery certainly didn’t respect the dignity of the slaves, and it doesn’t respect the descendants of slaves. In 2017, how can any Episcopalian believe that their beloved, but flawed and tragic history is more important than the racial reconciliation that we need in the world today? There are no twists of logic or favorite tidbits from history that justifies this. Name a church after St. Whomever who fixes climate change, makes peace, cures cancer, or is martyred for the love of her/his neighbor. Or maybe Grace, as we need it so desperately right now.

    2. Very well said. Thank you.

  12. Helen Bell says:

    perhaps they should segue in the new-old name. Drop the R. E. and make it Lee Grace church for now – there are many Lees. (or even Grace Lee Church). Over time keep the name officially that but refer to it more and more as simply Grace Church until that’s how everyone thinks of it and the final change is easy to do.

    1. James D. Saunders says:

      Grace Lee, or more fully, A. Grace Lee Mims, is a radio personality at the local classical music station in Cleveland, Ohio. She is the hostess for the syndicated weekly program “The Black Arts,” which highlights the achievements of African-Americans in the fine arts, particularly in the realm of classical music. If there are many in this parish who know her show, there might be some objections to naming the church Grace Lee–notwithstanding that A. Grace Lee Mims is a delightful person and a great radio personality, and her show is very good. All the same, it would seem too odd to those parishioners who know her.

  13. Brian D Hess says:

    Erasing history is the same as bookburning. Erase your name and commit a sin that hurts generations. Get over yourselves and pray for guidance. Lee treated his own slaves like family and freed them ten years before the Civil War. They remained in his service until the end of his life. Don’t succumb to the misguided mass hysteria of foolish and ignorant people. Embrace the past and use it as a moment to teach the young and the old about what Lee did. It’s what your Lord would want because He loves you as much as He loves Lee. If you are without sin or would condemn Lee then you don’t need the Lord. . . So therefore you are so without sin and don’t need to go to church. . . . Or maybe your desire to remove the Lee Memorial in your parish history is more than enough proof of the need to ask for forgiveness every Sunday as we use the Lord’s prayer to “forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Otherwise, it’s proof that involvement as vestry isn’t a sacred duty in your service to God’s grace and His house and just a title for your vanity…. a sin in itself.

  14. James D. Saunders says:

    With all due respect to Bishop Bourlakas, I don’t think he is the right person to try to reconcile this congregation’s disagreement. Although the article focusses extensively on the reasoning and opinions of those parishioners who want to change the name of the parish from that which it has had for most of its existence, obviously there are some parishioners who feel strongly that the name should not be changed, otherwise there would not be the need for reconciliation that the Bishop perceives to be necessary. But his assertion that reconciliation cannot occur while the church has its current name demonstrates that he is prejudiced before he begins to mediate this reconciliation.

    If I were a member of this parish who wanted to retain the name that honors its most famous member, the vestryman who was also an important steward in a troubled time, and if I were upset because that person’s honor had somehow been sullied through some kind of revisionism, and now found that my fellow parishioners wanted to rename my church because they want to disavow our association with this famous person, and that there is now a sore division inside the congregation, I do not think it would be someone who has said that reconciliation cannot happen until the name changes whom I would find competent to bind the wounds in the parish. Even if that person were my bishop.

  15. Daniel Anderson Toler says:

    The name needs to change…….

  16. Raymond Harold Clark says:

    “Saint (or Blessed) Jonathan Daniels Episcopal Church” (Seminarian and Martyr, Feast Day: August 14th)

    1. Frank Bergen says:

      For some church some day, probably never this one. Also a Blessed Frances Perkins church. And if I were starting a congregation I’d be inclined to name it for Eleanor and Franklin, active Episcopaliand and loyal Americans.

  17. Ken Thomas says:

    The Episcopal Church need not worry about changing the name of any of its floundering churches because their actions against what the Word of God teaches. For the Church to disavow anyone is hypocritical based on the fact that the Episcopal Church has disavowed the teachings of the Son of God.

  18. Frank Bergen says:

    I’ll put my foot tentatively into these roiled waters to suggest that I’m unaware of any Episcopal churches being named for Reformation era or post-Reformation holy women or holy men enshrined in our calendar of saints. Naming a church for a secular hero or heroine is just not part of our tradition. Given our church’s history and traditions, why should Robert E. Lee be the exception?

  19. Margaret Faulkner says:

    The times we are in have made the name “Robert E Lee” a lightening rod…the mention of his name suggests any number of things to any number of people. Some think of him as a great soldier and important historical figure. Some think of him as a slave owner who wanted to perpetuate a horrible society of discrimination. As a Southerner I can see both sides. However time marches on. Our children and grandchildren will not look at this man the way we do. The church needs to be a place of peace and comfort and love and spiritual growth. No one has mentioned any of these words in describing the current state of Robert E Lee Episcopal Church. Removing his name would be a huge first step in returning this church to a place of peace. If General Lee was the kind of person that some have described him to be…I can’t help but think he would want the same.

  20. Pardon my naivete, but this is the first Episcopal church I’ve been aware of that bears the name of other than a Biblical figure or religious occurrence (incarnation, redeemer, nativity, holy covenant, etc.) One parish in Baltimore is named “Memorial Episcopal Church”. I Don’t know the history behind the name, but perhaps the original R.E. Lee plaque could be placed elsewhere on the property. That may be the way to go if the greater community is having shortcomings about the name. As an American of color, I’d be uncomfortable attending the R.E. Lee Church since it is not in the “usual” name tradition. I’m sure the parishioners are proud of the history and heritage.

  21. James Snyder says:

    I cannot imagine Robert E. Lee approving the 1903 decision to rename a church in his honor. Nor can I imagine him feeling dishonored should the church reclaim its original name. If anything, I can imagine him feeling relieved. This, of course, is a fanciful notion that carries no argumentative weight. People who go back to God, who are now fully with God, probably do not have wishes or opinions anymore, nor are they subject to being pleased or displeased by what goes on ‘back here’. [Note: I say ‘probably; I don’t really know this, yet]. Apart from a written will, I’m skeptical of invoking the deceased’s wishes as the trump card in posthumous decisions, especially when those wishes are presumed, inferred or ‘imagined’. Yet in this case I find this simple exercise in imagination to be quite helpful: What, do you think, would Robert E. Lee advise if he could somehow speak to us?

    1. Frank Bergen says:

      Amen!

  22. Jeffrey Cox says:

    This church should do nothing for 3 years. If it wants to have an informal name, OK. Then make a decision.

    When the Pension Fund divests of money and gives it for Reparations for slavery, then I will take notice!

  23. Angustia Hamasaki says:

    I appreciate the works of R.E. Lee, but remember we gather and worship for our Lord. Our God deserves our worships
    A (honoring Lee probably a one feast day for him), it may become an idolatry, if we can’t resolve.
    A Good Shepherd Church of Jesus Christ is a best name for our Christian journey and is best to worship the living God of yesterday, today and forevermore. God will continue to bless us if we keep pleasing the Holy Trinity. God bless and loves us all Episcopalian! That we may live in God’s love to this journey of life to Unity, Peace and Harmony.

  24. Dexter Cantelou says:

    Our son attended RE Lee Memorial Episcopal Church while a student at VMI. He found a wonderful, loving parish family that welcomed VMI and W&L students. When we attended, we experienced a church that celebrated God’s love for all and through its outreach ministries was committed to being God’s hands and feet in serving Lexington, Rockbridge County, and surrounding communities. We pray for healing and reconciliation for this parish and our country during these challenging times.

  25. Paul Bell says:

    Friends: How about this idea — the R.E. Lee Church might endeavor to be come a companion church of the Prince of Peace Memorial Church, Gettysburg, Pa. ( http://prince-of-peace-gettysburg.diocpa.org). Perhaps together they could learn from their separate, yet oddly and historically joint, histories. Circumstances at one time or another overwhelmed each parish, and yet it became possible for Prince of Peace Memorial to serve out both a mission proclaiming Jesus Christ and acknowledging history, duty and sacrifice. Take a tour of the Gettysburg parish, if you can. You will see Episcopalians accepting their history, teaching and witnessing.

Comments are closed.