- The Washington Times - Friday, August 30, 2002

An agreement has been reached between leaders of an Episcopal church in Prince George's County and their diocese, ending the acrimonious dispute between the two over the parish's appointment of a conservative priest.

Members of Christ Church in Accokeek agreed to drop their appeal of a federal court decision that removed the Rev. Samuel Edwards as their priest last year. In return, Diocese of Washington Bishop John B. Chane agreed to appoint a new priest picked by the church to replace Mr. Edwards.

The deal was announced yesterday at a news conference in Accokeek.

The diocese and church had fought for most of last year over the appointment of Mr. Edwards, a conservative who once referred to the Episcopal Church as "hell-bound" for ordaining women and tacit acceptance of homosexuality.

Bishop Jane Holmes Dixon refused to approve the appointment in January 2001, fearing Christ Church would follow a growing trend of traditionalist parishes that have split with the 2.2-million-member Episcopal Church USA over doctrine.

But Mr. Edwards stayed on despite Bishop Dixon's order to leave. Members of the church barred Bishop Dixon from preaching in the sanctuary when she arrived one Sunday. The struggle split the tiny Prince George's County parish between Edwards loyalists and those who supported Bishop Dixon.

Bishop Dixon filed suit in federal court, and U.S. District Court Judge Peter J. Messitte ruled in October that Mr. Edwards had to leave. Church leaders appealed, but the judgment was upheld in May by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond.

Christ Church will not appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court under the agreement reached with Bishop Chane, bringing an end to the legal battle over whether a bishop has the right to fire a priest. The Rev. Stephen Arpee, who has served as interim pastor at Christ Church, will take the position permanently.

The dispute was symbolic of a larger schism between the Episcopal Church hierarchy and traditionalists who said it had moved too far away from the teachings of its parent church, the 77 million-member Anglican Communion.

Some parishes have formed splinter organizations, aligning themselves with overseas Anglican dioceses. The president of the conservative group Forward in Faith, the Rev. David Moyer, was suspended from his suburban Philadelphia parish and could be defrocked early next month.

Mr. Edwards, a one-time president of Forward in Faith, left the Episcopal Church in June, joining the breakaway Anglican Province of Christ the King. He is trying to start a mission in Southern Maryland, said Christ Church attorney Charles Nalls.

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