by WorldTribune Staff, November 21, 2017
Christ Church of Alexandria, Virginia says its motto is “All are welcome – no exceptions”.
With one exception: 20-year former member and tither George Washington.
The church announced last month it will tear down a memorial plaque to the Founding Father, saying he has become too controversial and is “chasing away would-be parishioners,” Stephen Dinan wrote for The Washington Times on Oct. 27.
Washington was one of the founding members of the church, Dinan noted. Washington bought pew No. 5 when the church opened in 1773 and attended for more than two decades whenever he rode north from Mount Vernon to do business in town.
The church also will remove a plaque honoring Robert E. Lee.
While acknowledging “friction” over the decision, the church’s leadership said both plaques, which are attached to the front wall on either side of the altar, are relics of another era and have no business in the church, Dinan’s report said.
“The plaques in our sanctuary make some in our presence feel unsafe or unwelcome. Some visitors and guests who worship with us choose not to return because they receive an unintended message from the prominent presence of the plaques,” the church leaders said in a letter to the congregation.
Dinan noted that “Some supporters praised the church for a ‘courageous’ stand, while critics compared leaders at the Episcopal church to the Taliban or the Islamic State.”
Washington was a vestryman and contributed to the church throughout his life, according to the Washington Papers project. His family considered the church important enough to him that it donated one of his Bibles after his death.
Lee attended Christ Church beginning at age 3, when he moved from Stratford to Alexandria. The church was so integral to his family that Mary Custis Lee, his daughter, left the church $10,000 in her will upon her death in 1918. That money was used to begin the church’s endowment. Church leaders did not say whether they will attempt to return the $10,000 gift from Lee’s daughter.
Christ Church said Washington and Lee “were inextricably linked in history” and whether to keep the plaques honoring them “had to be considered together, since they were erected together and visually balance each other,” Dinan wrote.
In their letter to parishioners, the church’s leadership praised Washington as “the visionary who not only refused to be king but also gave up power after eight years, and a symbol of our democracy.” Lee was described in less-glowing terms, as a longtime parishioner who for some “symbolizes the attempt to overthrow the Union and to preserve slavery,” but added “today our country is trying once again to come to grips with the history of slavery and the subsequent disenfranchisement of people of color.”
Despite his generosity to Christ Church, Dinan noted in his report that Washington “was a more regular attendant at Pohick Church, which stands south of Mount Vernon.”
A staffer at Pohick said they have no plans to delete Washington from their church.