Dixon's Friends Plot Coup to Take Over Parish
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Fri Nov 16 01:12:55 EST 2001
DIXON'S FRIENDS PLOT COUP TO TAKE OVER PARISH
Controversial Accokeek church mired in politics as outsiders move in
By David W. Virtue
Phony pre-printed 2002 pledge cards, a spurious "unity Sunday," a not-
as-yet ousted priest, public misstatements to the media, and a winner
take all mentality by Washington Bishop Jane Dixon have coalesced in a
conspiracy to take over the vestry of Christ Church, St. John's parish,
Accokeek, in what one vestryman called a "blatant power grab."
"We saw it coming," said vestryman Wes Courtney, "but it still came as
a shock, nonetheless. We knew something would happen, but we weren't
sure. Then it hit us like planes smashing into the two world trade
On November 4th, the first Sunday after Judge's Messitte's ruling,
(currently on appeal to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals), which
gave Dixon near total power over the small parish, some 134 people
turned up to the Sunday morning service with mysterious 2002 pledge
cards in hand that the vestry had neither authorized nor printed.
"The way they did it took us by surprise," said Courtney a gentle but
outspoken leader of orthodox faith in the parish. "Carter Echols, the
bishop's development officer called it 'unity Sunday' saying, "look we
are altogether again isn't this wonderful."
"You brought people into this church we have never seen before and you
call this unity?" said a stunned Courtney.
"It was a lie, and I told her so. It was completely contrived. First of
all, most of those who came had never been to this church before. I
personally counted a total of 134 of which only 62 were regular
members, that is, those coming on a regular basis over the past year,
taking communion and paying their dues."
"Some 34 we had not seen in four to five years and had clearly been
recruited for the occasion, and 38 we had never seen before. The whole
thing had been rigged."
"They came with pledge cards from the diocese in order to infiltrate
the parish so they could vote and throw out the old vestry and
controlling board of the parish and replace it with Dixon's theological
ward heelers. It was the most blatant takeover act we have seen to
date. It was blunt the way they did it," said Courtney.
"By doing this, they hope to oust the conservative vestry, and replace
it with a new pro-Dixon vestry that would immediately move to sign the
parish title over to the Diocese of Washington, which at present it
does not have. It was a blatant attempt to intimidate us. It failed."
The judge in his summary ruling argued that the parish was held "in
trust" for the diocese based on the national church's 1979 Denis Canon.
Nonetheless the title is still held by the colonial church, which
predates the formation of the diocese.
Barbara Sturman, senior warden was then informed that about 85 members
were going to be petitioned in as new members of the parish. "I was
told this by the press. I did not learn it from the diocese," said
When the judge ordered a stay of 22 days before the rector Fr. Sam
Edwards had to leave the parish and his home, (though he was not
permitted to go near the pulpit), Dixon took credit for the extension
of time on public television. It was untrue. Canon lawyer Charles
Nalls, the parish's lawyer had personally pled his case to the judge
for an extension. The judge granted it. Had the judge not extended the
time federal marshals could have kicked Edwards out in 10 days. The
crisis could return at the end of the month and Edwards and family
evicted before the 4th Circuit hears the motion.
The bishop took credit for the stay and The Episcopal News Service
(ENS) the official news arm of the National Church reported Dixon's
generous extension. On the Monday following the decision, the judge
called Nalls and screamed at him, telling him to "keep the vestry in
Echols then went on public television to continue the spin and lies by
telling the world that Fr. Edwards belonged to a group (Forward in
Faith North America) that takes churches away from the diocese and out
of The Episcopal Church.
"It was another lie," said Courtney. "Forward in Faith North America
has never done that. They are the small but loyal opposition within The
When Courtney confronted Channel 8 with the untruths the diocese was
telling, the station agreed to give credit to the vestry and Nalls for
the extra days given to Edwards, on the 5:30pm news last Thursday.
Diocesan spokesperson Echols then went on to say that, "we own the
title in trust."
"But the diocese's name is not on the title," said Courtney. "If they
were so confident they owned it why would they try to stack the parish
and take over the vestry? Clearly they know it is not a done deal, and
if the Court of Appeals overturns Messitte's decision, they are right
back to square one."
To date the Diocese has spent nearly three quarters of a million
dollars to get rid of Edwards. That figure could climb to well over $1
million with appeals.
"Last Sunday (Nov. 11th) we counted only 79 who came to church.
Furthermore there was not one phony pledge card," said Courtney. "We
put out the word all week long that we were not going away and would
not back down, and they clearly backed off. Some 55 people from the
previous week did not show up," he said.
"A lot of folk would not take communion from the evangelical interim
rector Fr. Steve Arpee, demonstrating that this has nothing to do with
Fr. Edwards, but their agenda in trying to take back the parish. It was
a remarkable lack of inclusivity and bad manners, indicating the depth
of hatred towards anyone of orthodox persuasion," said Courtney.
The vestry had elected the Rev. Arpee, an Evangelical, as interim. He
is a legally, licensed priest and "duly qualified" (Church without
Walls) in the Diocese of Washington. The vestry has the right to
appoint its own interim and does not need to consult Bishop Dixon.
"He's preaching now. The bishop asked to see him once and wants another
meeting. If he is denied our pulpit, he and us together will fight with
everything we have got to keep him. She has no excuse to keep him out.
If she does we will know for a surety that it is all about orthodoxy in
faith and morals," said Courtney.
Still stunned by the judge's decision Courtney said, "It is horrifying
what he has done to the Edwards and the parish."
"We have spoken to at least eight lawyers and they are confident we
will win on appeal. Dixon was very angry when she learned that we were
appealing the judge's decision. But we have and we are confident we
will win. We will take this all the way to the Supreme Court of the
U.S. We will not let Jane Dixon roll over on us, not now, not ever,"
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