- The Washington Times - Monday, May 28, 2001

The conservative rector of an Episcopal church in southern Prince Georges County yesterday won the first round of a dramatic showdown with church authorities bent on removing him from the rectory because of his opposition to the churchs views.
Rector Samuel Lee Edwards celebrated Mass before a divided congregation at Christ Church in Accokeek, while a rival service was held outside before a makeshift altar on a church basketball court by acting Episcopal Bishop of Washington Jane Holmes Dixon.
Bishop Dixon, who arrived shortly before the 9 a.m. service, wore red and carried the staff symbolic of her office. Already in the church parking lot were two Prince Georges County police officers, congregants and members of the churchs vestry, or governing body, who warned her that if she stepped on church property she would be arrested for trespassing.
Supporters came to her defense, and police stood close by as Bishop Dixon conducted the service while hecklers attempted to shout or sing her down.
Mr. Edwards said Bishop Dixons attempt to oust him, as well as her dueling service, would not affect his resolve to stay at Christ Church.
"Im sorry she did that," he said. "What is being demanded is something that we just cant accede to."
"We celebrated the Lords feast, the Gospel was read, the word was preached, the prayers were prayed," Bishop Dixon said. "Thats what Christians do on the Lords day."
But some congregants didnt find it so easy to turn the other cheek.
Rosalie Puterbaugh, 55, is a fourth-generation member of Christ Church. Her parents, grandparents and great-grandparents are buried in the cemetery of the 303-year-old church. She attended Bishop Dixons service yesterday and described the showdown as "despicable."
"[The crowds] mannerisms were absolutely terrible," she said. "This is something that should have never happened in this parish. No matter which way this comes out, it will never be the same."
The clerical dispute began in December when parish officials offered Mr. Edwards a three-year contract to become rector of their 130-member parish. Mr. Edwards, a 46-year-old priest from Texas, had formerly been executive director of Forward in Faith North America, a conservative group founded in November 1992 in England in the wake of the churchs decision to proceed with the ordination of women to the priesthood.
But in a March 8 letter to the vestry at Christ Church, Bishop Dixon rejected the appointment, objecting to comments written by Mr. Edwards and posted on the Forward in Faith Web site claiming "the machinery of the Episcopal Church is hell-bound" because of its acceptance of ordaining women and homosexuals and its support of sexually active, unmarried couples.
She cited an October 2000 article attributed to Mr. Edwards that "encourages dioceses, congregations and clergy to prepare to sever their connection with the Episcopal Church."
Several congregations nationwide already have broken ranks with the Episcopal Church in the debate.
Bishop Dixon said that during a Feb. 26 interview with Mr. Edwards he refused to renounce his views on women in the priesthood and said his obedience to her would be "limited."
During a visit to the diocese last month, Archbishop of Canterbury George L. Carey conferred with Bishop Dixon. The archbishop said he hoped for a "compromise" but insisted he would not intervene.
On Thursday, the diocese released a letter of support for Bishop Dixons position signed by 57 bishops. Former Bishop Ronald Haines and the legal counsel of the diocese also said Bishop Dixon had acted within her authority. However, five other bishops have censured Bishop Dixon for her refusal to license Mr. Edwards.
Over Bishop Dixons objection, Mr. Edwards formally began his rectorship on March 25.
Since priests are allowed to preside over services without formal approval from a bishop for as long as two months, the showdown occurred yesterday, when Bishop Dixon attempted to take back the ministry.
Bishop Dixon promised she will have representatives at the church each week to provide Mass for the faithful and said she will wait until a June 4 meeting with leaders of the Washington diocese before she makes her next move.
The vestry said it will file trespassing charges against Bishop Dixon for stepping on church property. Mr. Edwards said again yesterday that he doesnt plan to take Christ Church out of the diocese, a claim that Bishop Dixon says she does not believe.
* This article is based in part on wire service reports.


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