Iker Takes Pastoral Oversight of Accokeek
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Mon May 28 00:25:42 EDT 2001
Iker Takes Pastoral Oversight of Accokeek
By Robert Stowe England
ACCOKEEK, Maryland -- Fort Worth Bishop Jack L. Iker has agreed to a
request by the parish's vestry to assume Episcopal oversight and
protection of Christ Church in this rural community beginning
immediately and continuing as long as it is necessary.
A letter from Fort Worth announcing the move was read twice today by
retired Quincy Bishop Edward MacBurney at competing services, once to a
standing ovation at the end of the 9 a. m. service held by the parish's
rector, Fr. Samuel Edwards, and the other ahead of a competing service
held at the same time outdoors by renegade Washington Suffragan Bishop
The move appears to mark the first time a sitting bishop has crossed
boundaries within a single church jurisdiction since the early
centuries if Christianity, according to Fr. Samuel Edwards, the
parish's scholarly rector.
"This extraordinary step" of a traditional bishop taking episcopal
oversight of a traditional parish in a revisionist diocese is also a
signal that the United States has moved into a "post-Christian era that
has more in common with the world of Constantine than with the Middle
Ages," Fr. Edwards told reporters, including several from local TV
An exhausted-looking Fr. Edwards told reporters who mobbed him as he
was leaving the 9 a.m. service that "the congregation wants to stay in
the Episcopal Church and I'm in complete support of that."
The alternative oversight from Bishop Iker allows the parish to remain
within the denomination, while giving it some relief from a relentless
persecution and threats of litigation against Fr. Edwards by Dixon.
During his sermon Fr. Edwards addressed the issue of unity within the
Episcopal Church. "The world does not understand where our Christian
unity comes from. It comes from sharing the mind of Christ. It doesn't
come from anything outward, or from an institution. When there is no
sharing of the mind of God there is no unity. When we do share the mind
of God, unity will manifest itself both inwardly, outwardly and
visibly," he said.
In his letter to the congregation, Bishop Iker writes: "The Rev. Samuel
Edwards, who has served as a priest in good standing under my oversight
for the past eight years, will continue to serve as your duly called
Rector. This arrangement will continue for as long as the current
circumstances make it necessary," Bishop Iker stated in his letter,
which is dated May 26.
"I am taking this step," Iker writes, because Dixon, "in 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.
"The failure in the Diocese of Washington to find a way to respect
recognized theological 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," Iker writes.
The arrangement is intended to be only temporary, he states, adding it
is his prayer that "in due course a graceful accommodation may be made
by the Diocese of Washington whereby your call to Fr. Edwards may be
When Bishop MacBurney was asked if the events of the day might be a
prelude to a split in the national church and the Anglican Communion,
he said. "We hope the Diocese of Washington will be more generous to
the people who are orthodox and traditional within the diocese" and
prevent the conflict from escalating into a broad split.
While some were jubilant about Iker's move, MacBurney was more
cautious, "It's a cause of great sadness that something like this
should have to happen. We need to ponder more on the fact that Jesus is
Lord," he said.
Dixon rejected the call of Fr. Edwards March 8, long after the 30-day
deadline that bishops have to respond and review a parish's call of a
Dixon took her own counter-offensive Sunday by appointing retired
Washington Bishop Ronald Haines as priest in charge at the parish for
one month, eliciting no audible response from the crowd of supporters.
She was doing so, she said, because the parish was vacant because a 60-
day period has passed during which Fr. Edwards could hold services
without a license.
Haines, who had arrived quietly by going around to the back of the
church, served as a co-celebrant of a card-table mass that was
frequently interrupted by a heckler.
It is doubtful Haines will be allowed to hold services and doubtful he
has legal authority to do so, according to Nalls, since it is the legal
responsibility of the vestry, not the bishop, to call interims and
rectors. If he returns, he too, may face arrest.
Haines will not be returning next week, Dixon said. Instead, a yet-to-
be named priest is expected to try to enter the property to hold
services as supply clergy.
The day bristled with a sense of history and the destiny of the
Anglican Communion seemed to hang in the air. There was a feeling among
the supporters of Fr. Edwards they had won the day and that the tide
was turning in favor of them and against the aggressive revisionist
Some observers speculated that Dixon's misadventure in Accokeek might
prove to be the beginning of the retreat of the power of revisionists,
who have steadily gained and consolidated power over the last half
century. Dixon had failed because she went too far and provoked Bishop
Iker into establishing alternative episcopal oversight, some reasoned.
"It's like D-Day," said one observer, where the traditionalists have
won an important victory and the tide of the war has turned in their
Indeed, Dixon's oft-tried and by now tiresome use of force on parishes
seemed today to degenerate into a parody of itself, if not a farce. It
was a success simply to get through it.
Dixon's feisty determination to hold a service outside even after she
was refused entry into the church for the 9 a.m. service turned the day
into a media circus. There were more than a dozen reporters there,
including several from local television stations. At one point a
visitor from another parish interrupted Dixon by loudly singing a hymn
and was joined by several others who drowned at Dixon's voice.
Dixon, who looked bedraggled and besieged, entered the property to
celebrate mass in an open-air pavilion on the property after being
asked to sit in the congregation during the service and to not attempt
to preach and celebrate mass. When Dixon indicated she would not be
content to sit in the congregation, Senior Warden Barbara Sturman, who
stood at the door, told her she would have to leave.
"Well, I'll just celebrate in the pavilion," she said huffily and
marched away with an entourage of reporters and supporters following
her, including the chairman of the Standing Committee, Fr. Thomas
Andrews of Holy Trinity in Bowie, Maryland.
Two Prince Georges police officers, who were there at the request of
the vestry to maintain the peace, asked Dixon to leave the property
three times. She refused.
The parish intends to swear out a warrant for Jane's arrest for
trespassing tomorrow, with police officers as their witness. They will
also be filing an assault charges against her husband, David, according
to parish attorney Charles Nalls. David Dixon put both hands on Junior
Warden Frank McDonough and pushed him, after McDonough tried to
persuade Dixon to leave the pavilion.
The parish owns the property in fee simple. The diocese, however,
contends that the parish owns the property in trust for the diocese.
As she tried to begin her service Dixon, who wore a scarlet robe, was
interrupted and heckled by Stanley Hubert, a young man who regularly
attends services at Christ Church, but who is not a member. The service
seemed more an act of vengeance than an act of love.
Hubert talked loudly over her voice as he stood directly in front of
the card table that served as a make-shift altar. After repeatedly
interrupting Dixon and later Carter Echols, the diocesan deployment
officer, who was doing the reading of the Scripture, Hubert sat down in
front of the folding card table that was set up as an altar and
remained there in protest throughout the service.
Dixon and Haines had to walk around him to serve the wafers and wine.
Afterward Hubert said he had hoped to persuade Dixon to "come inside
rather than separate the congregation." He faulted her for her ongoing
campaign to stir up division in the parish in an effort to defeat the
call of Fr. Edwards, "She's trying to divide the people. That's not a
Christian thing to do," he said.
Dixon has spent $10,000 or more on Fed-Ex letters to current and former
parishioners in an effort to vilify Fr. Edwards and divide the parish,
according to Nalls.
David Hoffman, an Accokeek resident and parishioner of St. Mark's on
Capitol Hill, was there and brimming with anger at the parish leaders
and even the press who were there to cover the event. He tried to pick
arguments with several press members. Hoffman has attended several
parish meetings to speak harshly against Fr. Edwards and appears to
show up every time Dixon comes to the parish.
There were about 120 people in the pavilion at one point, including 22
members of the parish and about 35 former members, according to a tally
by a vestry members. About 70 people took part in a communion,
including wafers and wine poured directly from an entire bottle of
There were about 50 to 60 people at the 8 a.m. service inside the
church, and nearly 100 at the 9 a.m. service. The parish was founded by
the Church of England in 1698 and predates the Diocese of Washington by
The ramifications of the move by Iker are yet to be unraveled. Several
sources report that Iker and Presiding Bishop Griswold discussed the
matter yesterday and that both called Dixon to try to persuade her to
avoid a clash at Accokeek.
At noon Saturday Dixon had agreed to come and merely sit in the
congregation, according to Fr. Edwards. Later that day, perhaps after
she learned Iker was set to assume episcopal oversight, she let it be
known she would be coming to celebrate mass and preach.
Griswold is reported to have responded to Iker's notice that he would
assume episcopal oversight by washing his hands of the whole affair, in
a move reminiscent of Pontius Pilate, according to informed sources.
A copy of Iker's letter is being sent to Griswold, as well as
Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey.
There were several moments of comic relief during the boisterous day.
One came when a banner was unfurled after the 9 a.m. service that was
prepared by a parishioner of Ascension & St. Agnes, Thomas Whinerey.
It read as follows;
"Dear Ms. Dixon:
Tis obvious you have our church outgrown
perhaps it's time you go and start your own
& leave this old and faithful church alone
until our Lord returns to take us home.
There were a number of supporters of the parish from around the diocese
at both the 8 a.m and 9 a.m services, including a large number of
supporters from Ascension & St. Anges in D.C., St. Luke's Bladensburg,
Md., St. George's, Valley Lee, Md., as well as St. Paul's, K Street in
D.C., Christ Church, Georgetown in D.C., St. James, Potomac, Md. St.
Francis, Potomac, Md., and Christ Church, Clinton, Md.
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