- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 2, 2001

Just when Episcopal Bishop Jane Dixon thought she had the Diocese of Washington all to herself, along comes a challenger.
The diocese says it had no prior warning of the nature of the Rev. Samuel L. Edwards, the 46-year-old Texas priest who resigned his position at the helm of Forward in Faith to take over a 130-member parish in south Prince Georges County. Forward in Faith is a theologically traditional Anglican/Episcopal group.
All he wanted, Mr. Edwards said, was to pastor a rural parish. On Dec. 13, the diocese received a letter from Christ Church in Acokeek saying it intended to hire Mr. Edwards. It was three weeks before Washington Bishop Ronald Haines was to retire, leaving the diocese in the hands of Bishop Dixon.
A bishop typically conducts a background check on a priest within 30 days. Bishop Dixon was handed the task. When parish officials had not heard from Bishop Dixon by Jan. 13, they waited another few days, then sent Mr. Edwards a contract. By the time the bishop issued her March 6 decision rejecting the priest, he already was moving his family to Maryland.
Four months later, Bishop Dixon has flooded the church with multiple mailings — several of them sent by FedEx — to parishioners outlining why Mr. Edwards shall "never" be rector, or senior pastor, of the parish. Mr. Edwards, who opposes womens ordination, does not recognize her authority, the bishop said, and he probably would try to sever the 303-year-old parish from the Episcopal Church.
In a March 8 letter to the vestry, the bishop said her decision was based on a Feb. 26 interview she had with the priest. At that time, he refused to renounce his opposition to women in the priesthood. Moreover, the bishop added, his obedience to her would be "limited."
In the past year, several dozen parishes have left the Episcopal Church because of the denominations decision to ordain homosexual clergy and to support sexually active unmarried couples.
Mr. Edwards has been functioning as rector since March 25 at Christ Church and its affiliated chapel, St. Johns in Pomokey, Md. According to canon law, a priest can function in the diocese without a license from its bishop for up to 60 days.
Bishop Dixon has announced she will appear at Christ Church on May 27, when she is expected to declare the rector position vacant and send an interim priest to conduct services at Christ Church.
Meanwhile, six Episcopal bishops have condemned her.
Fort Worth, Texas, Bishop Jack Iker has accused Bishop Dixon of "blatant discrimination" against conservatives, suggesting Bishop Dixon recuse herself and find another prelate to mediate the situation. He also has asked Episcopal Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold to help break the impasse.
Bishop Iker will be preaching in the diocese May 12 for a gathering of Episcopal conservatives at St. Lukes Episcopal Church in Bladensburg.
Another of the six, Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan, has implored Bishop Dixon to "back away from the battle." In a letter to the presiding bishop, he said, "You will certainly also understand that we cannot be silent in our opposition."
Observers have taken this as a hint that if Bishop Dixon does not back off, the bishops who oppose her could take her to a church court. It takes three bishops to issue a "presentment" against a fellow bishop for an ecclesiastical trial.
Leaders of the parish have traveled to diocesan offices twice in recent weeks to try to broker a compromise. The diocese responded by offering to pay the church $50,000 to move the priest out of the area.
The vestry unanimously rejected the offer.
"I dont even think she heard us," says Barbara Sturman, senior warden of the parishs vestry, or governing council. "Here weve been talking to her, and her response was this buyout."
However, Bishop Dixon was obligated to listen to Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, who breakfasted with her on April 24 while in Washington. He told reporters he had instructed her to reach some sort of compromise with the parish.
But Bishop Dixon appears in no mood to compromise. She is fully backed by the Episcopal presiding bishop, who last week told a clergy gathering in Dallas that he had read some of Mr. Edwards writings. Bishop Griswold said the priest is a "schismatic," whom he would not allow into his diocese were he a diocesan bishop.
The recently retired bishop of Washington, Ronald Haines, says he supports Bishop Dixon "110 percent."
He added the search process was "an anomaly" because the diocese was not kept abreast of who was on Christ Churchs short list. If presented with Mr. Edwards, "I would have done the same thing Bishop Dixon is doing," Bishop Haines said. "Its her call."
But Mrs. Sturman said the parish followed Bishop Haines instructions to the letter when their rector position went vacant several years ago. The vestry had refused to work with the diocesan clergy placement officer, the Rev. Ted Karpf, who has been accused by conservatives of stacking the diocese with liberal and homosexual priests.
"We were not dealing with Ted," Mrs. Sturman said. "We didnt see eye to eye on things."
The vestry did not know Mr. Edwards was accepting its offer and moving to Christ Church until he was interviewed on Dec. 10, Mrs. Sturman said. The bishop was notified three days later.
"He was only our second applicant in three years." Mrs. Sturman said. "We had no help from anyone in finding people."
Dissident clergy are not new in the Diocese of Washington.
Three other conservative rectors in the diocese who oppose womens ordination allow Bishop Dixon to visit, but they do not accept Communion from her.
Mr. Edwards proposed the same arrangement. But Bishop Dixon foresaw problems with Mr. Edwards because of "his acrimony, disrespect and divisiveness of prior teachings in the Episcopal Church," according to a diocesan press release.
Bishop Dixon is known for taking on conservative parishes. In 1996, she started a series of forced visitations to diocesan parishes that oppose womens ordination.
Parishioners largely boycotted a service Bishop Dixon held in January at St. Lukes Episcopal Church in Bladensburg.
Others picketed the service she held at Ascension and St. Agnes Episcopal Church in downtown Washington. Mrs. Sturman says the same thing will not happen at Christ Church on May 27.
Bishop Dixon, "is planning to conduct services, but thats not going to happen. We have a rector, whether she wants to recognize it or not," Mrs. Sturman said.


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