Dixon Appears to Accept Arpee as Interim by Robert Stowe England
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Tue Nov 20 00:54:39 EST 2001
Dixon Appears to Accept Arpee as Interim
By Robert Stowe England
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Acting Bishop Jane Dixon today wrote in a letter
to Fr. Stephen Arpee that "the decision" on whether or not he will
serve as interim rector at Christ Church, Accokeek "must be yours."
Even while giving the choice to Fr. Arpee, she objected to him as the
"It is my considered judgment that you are not in the position or do
you have the gifts to bring this congregation together and that must be
the primary ministry in this parish at this time," she wrote in the
letter that was faxed to Fr. Arpee's home in Washington, D.C.
Bishop Dixon also encouraged Fr. Arpee to reject the vestry's offer to
serve the parish. "Therefore, as you bishop, my godly advice is that
you not accept the vestry's offer."
In a letter replying to Dixon, Fr. Arpee stated that "I have already
indicated to the vestry of Christ Church my willingness to serve as
interim priest-in-charge according to their request." The decision had
been made in late October, Fr. Arpee says.
Fr. Arpee also indicated in his letter that he understood some of
Dixon's description of the difficulty facing him at the parish. "I
understand your concern, which is also mine, about the difficulties
involved in the pastoral care of the congregation as a whole in St.
John's Parish, Accokeek."
Despite Dixon's leveing "the decision" to Fr. Arpee, her strong
objections to him raise some concerns that she may still interfere with
his ministry at the parish.
Dixon had indicated to the vestry in late October that she had the
right to accept or reject their choice for interim, even though the
canons do no provide for a bishop's review of a vestry's selection of
an interim rector or priest-in-charge.
On November 4 Lay Canon Carter Echols, spokesman for Dixon, said that
no decision had made been regarding Fr. Arpee and that Bishop Dixon
would be in discussions with the parish about their choice.
Dixon and Fr. Arpee met initially last week and Dixon told Fr. Arpee
that she wanted to think over whether or not she would approve of him
as interim rector and promised to let me know on Tuesday, according to
Fr. Arpee. He was unable to meet with Dixon until yesterday, at which
point she told him that she would give her answer to him today, Fr.
Dixon also told Fr. Arpee yesterday that she had already asked someone
else to lead services at Christ Church Sunday, according to Fr. Arpee.
Today when the two spoke she told Fr. Arpee that retired Maryland
Bishop Ted Eastman would be coming to Christ Church to hold services
Fr. Arpee assisted Bishop Eastman, who was celebrant November 4, the
first Sunday after Judge Peter J. Messitte issued an order ousting Fr.
Samuel Edwards as rector, dissolving his contract with the vestry and
ordering him and his family out of the rectory. Fr. Edwards.
Judge Messitte's order has been appealed by Fr. Edwards, who is also
seeking a stay against the order, pending the outcome of the appeal.
Charles Nalls of deKieffer & Horgan is arguing for a stay in the U.S.
District Court for the southern district of Maryland in Greenbelt. If
Judge Messitte turns down the stay, the motion for a stay will then
immediately be taken up in Richmond.
Fr. Arpee expects to participate in the service Sunday morning,
although it is not clear who will be celebrant and who will be
assistant or if they will be co-celebrants.
Eastman Visit Follows Week of Sabotage
By Robert Stowe England
ACCOKEEK, Maryland -- The divisions within Christ Church St. John's
Parish here were clear and unmistakable today as Acting Bishop Jane
Dixon, for the third consecutive week, sent a representative to the
parish to lead or take part in services, thwarting the ability of the
interim rector, Fr. Stephen Arpee, to be celebrant and preacher.
The visit came after a week of efforts presumed to come from the Dixon
camp to sabotage the parish's 76th annual ham and oyster dinner on
Retired Maryland Bishop Ted Eastman, who had celebrated mass at a
single 10 a.m. service on November 4, was back again as the celebrant
and preacher at both the regular 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. services. In both
services Fr. Arpee, who was cleared to go ahead as interim rector by
Dixon on Friday, assisted on the altar.
When asked if he intended to be present every Sunday, he replied, "Oh,
no. I'll be here when just I am ordered to be." Eastman was Dixon's
choice for interim rector. Dixon suggested his name to the vestry
shortly after a federal court ousted Fr. Samuel Edwards as rector in
response to a civil lawsuit brought by Dixon. The vestry, however, told
Dixon they had already selected Fr. Arpee.
Fr. Edwards is appealing the judge's order and is also seeking a stay
of the order pending appeal, which would allow him to return as rector.
He and his family face possible eviction from the rectory after
November 30. He has stayed away from church services, since he was
barred from holding them, and has been attending other Episcopal and
Anglican parishes in the Washington area each of the last three
The congregation's Dixon supporters were delighted at Bishop Eastman's
return, while the rest of the congregation were asking one another
whether Fr. Arpee would be allowed to pursue his ministry in the parish
in peace. There was considerable resentment from some against his
return so soon after his November 4 visit.
The vestry is unable to refuse Bishop Eastman's visit because Judge
Peter J. Messitte of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District
of Maryland in Greenbelt, has issued an order in late October that they
must allow Dixon or her surrogate to come to the parish to hold
services and meetings. Charles Nalls of deKieffer & Horgan, who
represents Fr. Edwards and the parish, wanred Judge Messitte that if he
granted such an order Dixon or one of her delegates might possibly be
at the parish every single Sunday.
Normally, a bishop of a diocese only visits each parish once every two
or three years. Since the crisis at Accokeek erupted in March when Fr.
Edwards took up his position as rector, Dixon has visited at least six
times, and Eastman has been here at least three times. Several other
bishops were sent at Dixon's request to sit in the congregation over
Some of those who oppose Dixon's relentless campaign against Fr.
Edwards and the parish stayed away because Bishop Eastman was
celebrating the mass, while a half dozen others who attended did not go
forward for communion. Some stated afterward that it was because Bishop
Eastman was there as a representative of Dixon that they felt they
could not take communion.
Attendance at the 10 a.m. service today was an unusually high at 83,
boosted by the arrival of a 16-member contingent from an African-
American Bible church, Save the Seed Ministries in White Plains, Md.
Members of the traditionalist church have expressed sympathy for Christ
Church's struggle against the diocese's attempt to impose its
heterodox, revisionist views.
"We're here to offer our prayers" said one of the visitors from Save
the Seed after the service. He indicated they would be returning,
perhaps with additional members from their congregation, from time to
On November 11, when Fr. Arpee was co-celebrant with Fr. Ken Howard,
the vicar of St. Nicholas Episcopal Church, a mission in Darnestown,
Md. Attendance was low at this service, as nearly all of the pro-Dixon
faction in the parish stayed away.
Attendance was over 130 on November 4, when Bishop Eastman was the
celebrant, and the church was filled with more than 20 people whom
parish leaders say had never visited the church before. Forty people
dropped pledge cards in the offering plates that Sunday even though
none had been given out by parish officials. A source from the pro-
Dixon faction claims that the diocese provided these cards for those
who had attended the alternative services during the summer and fall
and were now just returning to the parish.
The newcomers from Save the Seed were invited by the vestry. Their
presence suggested the parish would not sit idly by as the diocese
attempted a takeover by sending in people loyal to the bishop from
outside the parish. Their presence was all the more relevant, as
details of a planned coup against the vestry orchestrated by Dixon had
continued to leak out over the last two weeks.
While members of the pro-Dixon group reported they were happy to see
Bishop Eastman, some expressed frustration with the fact that Fr. Arpee
was the interim and that so far they had not gained very much from
their efforts on behalf of the bishop. Some of them falsely believe
that Fr. Arpee is a member of Forward in Faith and had been told this
by the diocese. Fr. Arpee is a member of the American Anglican Council,
but not Forward in Faith.
Many in the pro-Dixon group are elderly and support the bishop because,
they say, they believe that the bishop's wishes for the parishes must
be obeyed. Only a small number of the pro-Dixon group has expressed
support for the diocese's pro-homosexual agenda, while many in this
group say they do not believe that these policies will ever affect
Resentment against the vestry and the traditionalist majority in the
parish appears to have erupted in a series of incidents surrounding the
parish's annual annual ham and oyster dinner, which is held annually to
raise funds for the parish.
On Wednesday morning vestry member Wes Courtney discovered that the
signs for the dinner that had been posted around Accokeek had all been
taken down over night.
Courtney phoned Senior Warden Barbara Sturman and asked "What are you
going to do?" she told the gathering in the church during the
announcement period following Bishop Eastman's sermon.
Mrs. Sturman reported that her husband, Frank Sturman, "made some
makeshift signs" to replace the signs that were taken down. These new
signs were put out every morning around the community and then taken in
every evening, from Wednesday through Saturday.
While no one has taken credit for removing the signs, members of the
parish suspect one or more persons from the pro-Dixon faction is behind
Thursday morning Mrs. Sturman found yet another incident aimed at
disrupting the annual dinner when she drove past the church and saw a
white car with a Prince Georges County logo on it. She stopped and
found that a health inspector from the county was there to inspect the
parish kitchen. "I hear there's an illegal dinner going on here," the
woman inspector told Mrs. Sturman. Not so, Mrs. Sturman replied, and
told the inspector about the annual affair.
The inspector conducted an inspection and gave the kitchen a clean bill
of health, Mrs. Sturman reports. "It was nice to know we do everything
according to the health code," she said. This incident, like the one in
which signs were removed, is believed to be the work of one or more of
the Dixon's supporters.
Mrs. Sturman also reported that some of the people in the community who
regularly attend the annual dinner had been told by members of the pro-
Dixon faction that there would be no ham and oyster dinner this year.
In spite of all the efforts to sabotage the dinner, it was a success,
says Mrs. Sturman, raising over $4,000. An additional $1,000 was raised
from the sale of candy and another $1,400 was raised for the altar
guild. While nearly all congregation applauded the success of the
dinner, a number from the pro-Dixon faction did not applaud.
The tension was all the greater as leaks came from the pro-Dixon
faction and elsewhere that Dixon was plotting a coup against the vestry
at some future meeting of the congregation when, so one source claims,
the entire vestry would be replaced by one that was willing to support
Dixon's revisionist policies affirming the practice of homosexuality as
morally upright, including blessings by the church of same-sex couples
and the ordination of non-celibate homosexuals into the priesthood.
The weeks ahead promise to continue the tension between the two camps,
as more interference is expected both from Dixon and her supporters,
who seem to have grown increasingly hostile and aggressive toward the
vestry and the traditionalist majority in the parish.
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