THE BATTLE OF ACCOKEEK
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Mon May 28 00:17:12 EDT 2001
THE BATTLE OF ACCOKEEK
By David W. Virtue
It was ground zero for The Episcopal Church USA yesterday in Accokeek
For the first time in the ECUSA's 300-year history a canonically
resident bishop of one jurisdiction crossed diocesan boundaries and
told another sitting bishop that he was taking a parish under his
"Episcopal oversight and protection."
According to Fr. Samuel Edwards, the beleaguered priest of St. John's,
Christ Church parish, the last known time this happened was during the
Not since the Civil War has a battle of this magnitude raged in
northern Virginia. This time it was done with all the beguiling pomp
and sleaze of a third rate dramatic show. Instead of guns it was
declarations, instead of bullets it was words.
Others viewed yesterday's confrontation as an ecclesiastic Pearl
Harbor, the only difference being that, when Jane Dixon's SUV and those
of her entourage swept into the rural parish church driveway ready to
drop their "bombs" the vestry, clergy and media were ready and waiting.
All the players were in place.
The wardens and vestry paced nervously in front of the 303-year old
Colonial parish; two police cars with their officers were ready to move
in, to enforce the law, should the action move from the verbal to the
violent. A dozen or more media with cameras, video cameras, micro
cassette recorders stood ready to record every word and gesture.
The 8am service was already in process. Fr. Sam Edwards, who had barely
slept the night before was well into the first service when Bishop
Dixon pulled into the driveway.
Bishop Jane Dixon's advance guard, already stationed at the church with
cell phones in hand, relayed the action back to Dixon and her coterie
of supporters a mile away as they waited on a side road for the right
moment to strike.
As the 8am service began retired Washington Bishop Ronald Haines
slipped quietly into the church via the back of the parish and through
the graveyard to avoid the media out front. He sat quietly in the pews.
Wes Courtney, vestryman and a community leader along with Barbara
Sturman, senior warden, nervously paced the church parking lot. In
their hands they bore documentary evidence, the title deeds to the
property, stuffed in large brown envelopes. Thus satisfied, the Police
were ready to take action. Should Bishop Dixon step foot on the
church's property and demand she take the service she would be told
three times that she was trespassing and face possible arrest.
Suddenly Dixon's tinted window SUV appeared and the media surged
forward as she stepped out dressed in red cassock and silver cross. A
camp follower jumped out of the back seat and handed her her shepherd's
crook and Dixon strode forward towards the church, her trucked in
followers trailing behind.
Wes Courtney stepped forward and greeted Dixon. They politely exchanged
after which Courtney informed her that a church service was presently
underway and she was welcome to sit in the pews and "worship with us."
Dixon said she was there to fulfill her canonical right to preach and
give communion and she would do it whether Courtney approved or not.
She pushed past the vestryman other bystanders and with 100 or so
followers in tow, including her defensive and nervous husband, David
Dixon she proceeded to the door of the church.
At the church entrance she was met by two men and senior warden Barbara
Sturman who informed her that "you cannot officiate or disrupt the
service." Two men with hands folded blocked the doorway. After viewing
the situation Dixon and her entourage turned and made their way across
the parish lawn to a covered basketball court known as the Pavilion.
There the group assembled a makeshift communion with a card table,
produced four votive candles a cheap bottle of Taylor wine and some
wafers. Of the assembled group only 22 were members, mostly former
members of the parish, said Courtney.
As she began the Rite II service, Dixon suddenly found herself
confronted by a young man in jeans, Stan Hubert, who began to ask why
she was doing this when a perfectly valid service was taking place 100
feet away. He got no answer. The argument persisted for some minutes
when the junior warden Frank MacDonough stepped forward to take
control of the situation. Immediately Dixon's husband David M. Dixon
stepped forward and placed both his hands on the shoulders of the
warden pushing him back. A verbal exchange ensued. It ended with
MacDonough saying "you don't put your hands on me."
I have been informed that there is every likelihood that charges will
be pressed against both Dixon's. The complaint against Jane Dixon is
for trespassing and against David Dixon for assault.
Ignoring the heckler, who continued for some moments, Dixon proceeded
to read from the Prayer Book. Next to her stood co-celebrant Bishop
Ronald Haines. He had slipped out of the church and now provided the
necessary moral and spiritual support for what Dixon was now about to
Unbeknownst to Dixon and Haines, the retired bishop of Quincy, Edward
MacBurney had quietly slipped onto the parish grounds and now stood
among the renegade congregation of largely geriatric Episcopalians.
A pause in the proceedings allowed the Bishop to step forward and read
the following statement. As the group saw that this man was a bishop
quiet descended on the 107 present.
"Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ," he intoned. "I am writing in
response to your letter of May 22, 2001, in which you request that St.
John's parish be placed under my 'Episcopal oversight and protection.'
After a great deal of prayer and reflection, I have decided to agree to
your request, effective immediately...I am taking this step because the
Suffragan Bishop of the Diocese of Washington, acting as Bishop pro
tempore, is refusing to accept your Vestry's call of Fr. Edwards as
your Rector, is denying you that 'sustained pastoral care' which, in
their Pastoral Letter of 2001 from Kanuga the Anglican primates
committed themselves to secure."
"Bishop Jane Dixon's actions appear to be contrary to the canons of the
Episcopal Church, and violate the spirit of the 1998 Lambeth Conference
Resolution 111. 2 on 'the unity of the Anglican Communion."
Raising his voice so that everyone could hear his final paragraph,
MacBurney looked both bishops in the face and then said, "The failure
in the Diocese of Washington to find a way to respect recognized
theologically positions shared by many throughout the Anglican
Communion is in danger of breaking the peace and unity of the Church
and is depriving you of necessary pastoral care. This I pray may now be
rectified by my intervention."
The letter was sign by the Rt. Rev. Jack Leo Iker, Bishop of Forth
Worth. Copies were immediately sent to the Presiding Bishop Frank
Griswold and to Dr. George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury.
After he had read the statement, Dixon picked up where she had left off
and completed the service following which she served Communion. A
collection was taken up for the Presiding Bishop's Fund for World
As she left the church she passed in front of the now open doorway of
the church in time to hear the congregation singing songs of praise.
As she stepped into her car she was asked what about the future of the
parish. She replied, "I have appointed Bishop Haines to act as the
Interim Rector of St. John's," publicly ignoring the fact that the
vestry will continue to employ Fr. Edwards who has a three-year
contract. They have made it clear they will not permit anyone but Fr.
Edwards from officiating in the church.
Reviewing the situation, Courtney said, "it was a sad day for all of
our friends who have worked so hard over the past 25 years. No one
could get it together and everyone used us as pawns. I think this is a
stepping stone to the beginning of the end for The Episcopal
Church USA. Three other colonial churches were present today and were
"shocked" at what they saw, said the vestryman.
They too, own their own properties, and they may well consider now that
they have found through title searches that they own the properties,
and could go their own way.
"The cat is out of the bag. We will be having a meeting with all the
colonial churches to contemplate our future. We want to stay but they
are forcing us out."
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