- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 30, 2001

The attorney for a small Episcopal church in Prince George's County said yesterday that the church's rector plans to bring a case against the acting bishop of Washington, charging she broke church law.

The announcement was in response to Bishop Jane Holmes Dixon's federal lawsuit against the Rev. Samuel Edwards, rector of Christ Church in Accokeek. The lawsuit, filed this week in U.S. District Court, seeks to oust Mr. Edwards from his post.

Bishop Dixon argues in the lawsuit that Father Edwards' appointment is invalid because she did not approve it. Under church law, the bishop must approve an appointment.

But parish members also cite church law in their defense of fatherEdwards: According to church law, they say, approval or rejection must be done within 30 days of appointment. Parish members claim Bishop Dixon waited 90 days to reject the appointment.

"A bishop is not above the law," Father Edwards said yesterday.

The struggle at Christ Church has gained national attention as a battleground over the future direction of the church. Father Edwards, a self-described conservative, is a vocal opponent of homosexuality and the ordination of women. He has said that he doesn't view the bishop as a spiritual authority.

"She is out of time and out of bounds," Charles Nalls, the church's attorney, said yesterday.

Father Edwards and some parishioners are planning to take Bishop Dixon to Ecclesiastic Court, a panel of bishops. To do so, the parish must make a presentment or charge and can only go to court with the support of others. They must gain the support of either three bishops from any diocese in the country or two clergy members and nine laypersons within the Washington diocese to go to court.

Mr. Nalls said they are in the "preliminary stages" of developing a presentment.

"There's a long line of laypersons who have stepped forward, though members of clergy may be too terrified to stand up," Father Nalls said.

The lawsuit argues to enforce church laws, which are not under federal control, Mr. Nalls said.

"It's a matter of church business," Mr. Nalls said. "It should stay in the church, not the court."

On May 27, Bishop Dixon tried to enter the church to conduct services. She ended up performing services outside on church property, where a parishioner and David Dixon, the bishop's husband, got into a shoving match.

The majority of parish members stand behind Mr. Edwards, according to Barbara Sturman, a senior vestry member.

Yet 20 members have left since the conflict began, so the congregation now has roughly 120 members, according to Melinda Courtney, coordinator of the Sunday School program. Mrs. Courtney said members of the parish were shaken by the lawsuit and worried about the future of the church.

"It's scary," Mrs. Courtney said. "[Bishop Dixon's] trying to intimidate us, and she's doing a good job of it."

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