- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 1, 2001

An Episcopal pastor engaged in a bitter, nationally publicized dispute over the control of his rural Prince George's County church was evicted from his home on parish grounds yesterday.
Standing on a leaf-strewn gravel driveway in front of the near-empty two-story rectory of Christ Episcopal Church in Accokeek, the Rev. Samuel L. Edwards joked that his ordeal was part of the "enlistment contract" for Christianity.
"We were told by the real boss the gentleman from Nazareth that this would happen," he said. "A religious establishment that has lost sight of the reason it exists is using the secular arm to get its power ecclesiastically."
Mr. Edwards was hired last December as rector of Christ Church, a 100-member parish, by the church's governing board. His contract was finalized in January, but Washington Episcopal Bishop Jane Holmes Dixon took issue with his conservative positions and rejected the appointment in early March.
Despite the bishop's decision, Mr. Edwards started work at the parish in late March.
Parishioners of Christ Church blocked Bishop Dixon when she visited the church in May, and she held services on a nearby basketball court.
In June, the bishop sued the church, saying the priest was illegally occupying the property and not allowing her to function as bishop. U.S. District Court Judge Peter J. Messitte ruled in Bishop Dixon's favor in late October, giving the priest until Nov. 8 to vacate the premises. He later extended the order to Nov. 30, on request of Chuck Nalls, attorney for the parish.
Mr. Nalls has appealed the case to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court in Richmond, calling the ruling "a federal court reaching into a church matter." Mr. Nalls requested that the priest be allowed to stay in the rectory, but the court refused that request in a fax message sent to the attorney late Thursday.
The struggle for control of the church has gained nationwide attention because of its implications for the future of the church. Many of the Episcopal Church's 2.2 million members share Mr. Edwards' objections to the ordination of women and what he says is the church's growing acceptance of homosexuals.
Yesterday, as his daughter, Rachel, 12, curled her arms around his waist and his son, David, 15, sat glumly behind him on a fence, the priest suggested his situation "is a revelation of the state of how things really are in the Episcopal Church."
It's either a constitutional body, he said, or a place "where its members live by arbitrary rule and have things dictated them by people who have the power."
Faced with having to vacate in 24 hours, the Edwards family summoned about a dozen parishioners to help them sort out furniture, pack dozens of boxes and help transport the family of four plus two cats to rented quarters eight miles away.
"This is such a waste of time and energy," said senior warden Barbara Sturman, who had spent the day helping the family pack. "They are keeping a godly man out of God's church. This is a persecution to the max.
"What has [Bishop Dixon] won except to make everyone miserable?"
As Christ Church is one of the few parishes in the diocese that owns title deed to the church and property, it could legally leave the diocese and operate as an independent church. When asked if Christ Church would take that option, Mrs. Sturman demurred.
"We're still in the appeals process and we want to keep going in that direction until we've exhausted all possibilities," she said.
The parish is being pastored by an interim rector, the Rev. Stephen Arpee, during an appeals process that has cost the diocese nearly a half-million dollars.
Mr. Edwards said he plans to use his enforced sabbatical to travel, write and speak.
"I'll do what I need to do to help with the appeal," he said, "and also sit on the porch and smoke my pipe."

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