R.E. Lee Memorial now Grace Episcopal in Lexington, VA

After two years of disagreements, the vestry of R. E. Lee Memorial Episcopal Church in Lexington, Va., voted Monday night to return to the parish’s original name, Grace Episcopal Church, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

“It’s been a very divisive issue for two years,” said the Rev. Tom Crittenden, the church’s rector. “But Charlottesville seems to have moved us to this point. Not that we have a different view of Lee historically in our church, but we have appreciation for our need to move on.”

The discussion was not easy, dividing congregants and prompting a vestry member and the church’s treasurer to resign their leadership posts in protest of initial inaction.

“People have left the church,” said vestry member Doug Cumming after the body’s 7-5 vote, which followed a parish meeting where members on both sides of the issue spoke. “People have felt exhausted by it. And many people have felt hurt.

“He was the senior warden of our church, we’re proud of that, it’s part of our history, but we’re not going to put that on a sign out on the street because it’s misunderstood.”

The discussion was first prompted by Dylann Roof’s attack on the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, S.C., but was galvanized by recent events in Charlottesville, Va., in which a young woman died counter-protesting against white supremacists:

The events in Charlottesville, however, led church leaders to reconsider.

Last month, the vestry issued a statement objecting “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.”

After Monday’s vote, Cumming said he’s hopeful parties on all sides of the debate within the parish will be able to come together and move forward.“My ancestors were very proud, brave and articulate southerners, and like Robert E. Lee, I think they’d be very proud over what our church has done tonight,” he said.

Southwestern Bishop Mark Bourlakas met with the church recently,

The decision had been backed publicly by Southwestern Virginia Bishop Mark Bourlakas, who spoke to the congregation earlier this month.

The vestry’s past inaction on the name had prompted some to leave the church. Others were steadfast in favor of keeping the name to honor Lee. Episcopalians on both sides of the issue filled the church when Bourlakas spoke there Sept. 7, and they again gave competing views this week before the vestry’s vote.

Past Posts