- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 30, 2001

Washington Episcopal Bishop Jane Holmes Dixon won a resounding victory yesterday when a U.S. District Court judge said a dissenting rector of a rural Prince George’s County, Md. church must step down from his pulpit immediately.
In an opinion handed down by Judge Peter J. Messitte, the Rev. Samuel L. Edwards as of yesterday is not the rector or chief pastor of Christ Church in Accokeek and St. John’s, an affiliated chapel in Pomkey.
Mr. Edwards, of Fort Worth, Texas, was hired Dec. 13 by the vestry, or governing board, of Christ Church and given a contract Jan. 13.
That contract was not valid, the judge ruled, because Bishop Dixon did not approve of Mr. Edwards’ hiring. Mr. Edwards delayed meeting with the bishop until Feb. 26, he said, rendering it difficult for her to rule on his hiring before that. On March 6, the bishop forbade Mr. Edwards to take the position, saying he was unqualified.
Mr. Edwards is now unlawfully using and occupying the premises at Christ Church, the judge said.
His injunction gave the priest and his family 10 days to move out of the parish rectory, saying the bishop has the right to preside at parish gatherings and worship services instead of him.
“We’re very pleased,” diocesan spokeswoman Carter Echols said. “This is the ruling we had hoped for. The judge made it clear how we are all to proceed. We’re looking forward to a period of reconciliation where the congregation will worship together as a community.”
In recent months, the parish has been split in two, with most of the leaders of the church worshipping on church property with Mr. Edwards. Another group of parishioners meets at a community center with a bishop’s representative.
This coming Sunday, Miss Echols said, the bishop’s representative expects to take Mr. Edwards’ place at 8 and 9 a.m. worship services.
Chuck Nalls, attorney for the parish, said an appeal is likely to the 4th Circuit Court in Richmond. He and parish leaders say the bishop was canonically required to rule on Mr. Edwards’ hiring by Jan. 13, a deadline she missed by almost two months.
“We are very disappointed in the decision,” he said. “We feel it reaches really far into the religious life of individual parishes. It’s a more activist ruling than I expected. It means in the Episcopal Church, the possibility of transferring a duly qualified orthodox priest into a revisionist diocese is highly problematic.”
Bishop Dixon has said Mr. Edwards’ conservative views, among them a refusal to agree to the ordination of women and to fully accept her authority, are unacceptable to her.
The bishop gave the priest until late May to vacate the parish, which he refused to do on the grounds that he had been legally hired. On May 27, the bishop arrived at the church demanding to be allowed to lead services there, on the basis that Mr. Edwards’ license had expired. The vestry refused her entrance. Surrounded by media and supporters, she conducted an alternate service outdoors.
The conflict drew international attention, including comments from Archbishop of Canterbury George L. Carey on the need for compromise. But the bishop, who is due to retire next spring, sued the priest in June, saying the Maryland Vestry Act, a law dating back to 1789, affirmed her authority over all diocesan parishes and clergy. The judge, who quoted liberally from the vestry act in his ruling, appeared to agree.

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