The following statement was shared by Emily Bryan, Senior Warden, at morning services on Sunday, October 29, 2017. 

Good morning. I’m Emily Bryan, the senior warden of Christ Church.

This summer, the Vestry made the decision to begin a discussion of the appropriateness of the marble memorial plaques to George Washington and Robert Edward Lee in our worship space. This was not a discussion we entered lightly, but rather a sincere attempt to have a difficult family conversation about our worship space, our history, and our future.  

The plaques were erected in 1870, just two months after Robert E. Lee’s death, by parishioners eager to memorialize two men who had an impact on our parish and an outsized impact on our nation and the world.  

As our country’s founder and father, Washington is unique in our nation’s history.  Lee was a longtime parishioner, whose family had a significant presence in our church. Each man, in addition to his public persona, was a complicated human being, and like all of us, a child of God.

Today, the legacy of slavery and of the Confederacy is understood differently than it was in 1870. For many, Lee now symbolizes the attempt to overthrow the Union and to preserve slavery.   

Hebrews 13:2 says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”  Christ Church lives into this call, inviting all to worship with us.  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.  Many in our congregation feel a strong need for the church to stand clearly on the side of “All are welcome—no exceptions.”

Because the sanctuary is the worship space of a vibrant, living congregation, not a museum, there is no appropriate way to inform visitors about the history of the plaques, or other aspects of the Christ Church past, except for those fortunate enough to experience in-person tours provided by our docents.

The Vestry believes that the memorial plaques to George Washington and Robert E. Lee should be considered together.  The plaques were erected as a pair at the same time.  They visually balance each other, maintaining the symmetry of our sanctuary. 

The Vestry has unanimously decided that the plaques create a distraction in our worship space and may create an obstacle to our identity as a welcoming church, and an impediment to our growth and to full community with our neighbors.  Accordingly, the plaques will be relocated to a new home on our campus next year after a parish-wide process to identify an appropriate, dignified home that will allow us to better convey our history.

It is important to clarify that the only markers the vestry considered are the marble memorial plaques on the front of the sanctuary.  The Washington box pew will remain,  the Washington pew marker will remain, the plaque memorializing Washington’s funeral by the entry to the sanctuary will remain, the Lee plaque on the communion rail and Lee pew marker, strangers’ pew marker, and the three silver plaques from Roosevelt and Churchill’s visit to our campus during WWII will also remain exactly as they are today.  Additionally, the artifacts on display in the church Library and the history display highlighting both men outside the gift shop will remain intact.

I also want to emphasize that the plaques will remain in place until the parish discernment process has identified an appropriately dignified and respectful location for them on our campus. At no time with they be placed into storage or removed from our campus.

This decision is a beginning, not an end.  

First, this decision is the beginning of a new, parish-wide process to take ownership of our history.

Second, this decision is the beginning of a parish-wide process for discerning the new location of the plaques, where we will be better able to share them with the community, tourists, and parishioners.  

Third, this decision is the beginning of a parish-wide process for determining how we use our whole campus to tell our story.  

The discussion about the appropriateness of the plaques in our worship space caused friction in our parish family.This decision is the beginning of a prayerful, parish-wide effort to come together.  

We are actively seeking your hopes for the process ahead and nominations for parishioners to serve on the various committees.  Information about how to share your hopes and nominations is available in the email and letter sent to parishioners this week.