The End of the Affair

CLINTON, Maryland – Fr Samuel Edwards, rector-elect of Christ Church, Accokeek, said he was ‘not downcast’ by the decision of the Fourth US Circuit Court of Appeals to reject his appeal of his ouster by a federal district court in Maryland last November 30.

Fr Edwards acknowledged that aside from some minor irrelevant points, the ruling ‘was a complete defeat’ for his appeal. Even so, no decision has yet been made on whether or not Fr Edwards and the vestry of Christ Church will appeal the decision to the US Supreme Court.

‘Nothing has been decided,’ Fr Edwards said. ‘We are still digesting the decision.’

The court’s ruling was based on its conclusion that the Episcopal Church is hierarchical and that, as such, a bishop is the final authority. The court noted that the Episcopal Church has done nothing to challenge Dixon’s decision to reject Fr Edwards as rector in March 2001, long after the 30-day review given bishops under the canons and constitution of ECUSA. The court also noted that the Church’s Review Panel’s decision last September, if it had gone against Dixon, may not have been binding.

Referring to revisionists who have the reins of power in the diocese, the national office of the Episcopal Church, and its House of Bishops, Fr Edwards says, ‘After today, their position has gained considerable strength. I will not be surprised to see them take this and run with it.’ The Diocese of Washington posted the decision on its web site shortly after Nalls learned of the decision from the Associated Press.

The usual protocol for court decisions is that attorneys for both sides are informed of a decision before it is made public.

Fr Edwards said the decision was beneficial it one sense. ‘It provides a greater deal of clarity’ about the authority of bishops, essentially confirming that bishops can interpret the canons as they wish and pretty much ‘do anything they please.’

Fr Edwards said he was surprised by the court’s decision, which was unanimous. ‘I thought we had a case that was very, very strong.’ He points out that the court itself raised the question of whether or not there was diversity of jurisdiction sufficient to allow the case to be brought in the federal courts.

Fr Edwards says he ‘has no idea about the potential fallout, noting that God can write straight lines with a crooked stick.’

‘In some ways if this is a federal precedent defining the nature of the Episcopal Church, it should probably cause all traditionalist types on the Episcopal Church to think how much longer they can endure under such a regime.’

He says the decision potentially sets ECUSA bishops up as infallible popes. ‘It is hardly progress to exchange one infallible pope for another pope, or rather hundreds of infallible popes who contradict each other,’ Fr Edwards said.

It is unclear how the injunction prohibiting Fr Edwards from conducting religious services will apply after June 1, when Acting Bishop Jane Dixon is no longer ecclesiastical authority in the Diocese of Washington.

‘It was awarded to her in her role as Ecclesiastical Authority,’ notes Fr Edwards, and not as an individual. Thus, her rights under the injunction that was upheld expire June 1. This also suggests, says Fr Edwards, that perhaps the rights are transferable to Bishop-elect John Chane, who will be consecrated on June 1 and installed as the eighth bishop of Washington on June 2, although this is by no means clear.

The court’s ruling noted that federal district Judge Peter Messitte’s original decision last November 30 ousting Fr Edwards and barring him from the property at Christ Church, Accokeek, either by omission or intention, did not and does not apply to St John’s, Pomonkey, a chapel under the jurisdiction of Christ Church, Accokeek.

The court remanded the case to Judge Messitte to determine if his decisions prohibiting Fr Edwards from holding services 300 feet from Christ Church was meant to be interpreted as 300 feet from the church building itself, or 300 feet from the Christ Church boundary line.

When asked when the decision did not make Fr Edwards downcast he replied, ‘I’ve read the end of the book and we won.’

Robert Stowe England is a member of the congregation of the Church of the Ascension and St Agnes, Washington DC

A letter from Fr Samuel Edwards and Family

Dear Friends in Christ,

We are going to be out of touch for the next few days, but wanted you to know that today we received word that the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the adverse ruling in the lawsuit brought against Fr Edwards and the Vestry of Christ Church, Accokeek.

Naturally, we are greatly disappointed by this decision. We are still in the early stages of reflection and consultation concerning our response to this ruling. We intend carefully to weigh any proposed response in light of its likely impact both on the life of our congregation and that of other congregations within the Episcopal Church that find themselves in conflict with their bishops over issues of basic faithfulness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and of the canonical and legal rights of vestries. While no final decision has been reached at this early stage, when a decision has been made, we will let you and the press know what it is.

We thank you for your prayers and urge you to continue them: There are some major decisions to be made by Christ Church and by the Edwards family in the next few weeks — not to mention all orthodox Anglicans still immured in the Episcopal Church.

Fr Samuel Edwards & family

A Comment from the Bishop Elect of Washington

‘With this decision, all parties involved have a tremendous opportunity to begin a very hopeful, healing process,’ said the Very Reverend John Bryson Chane, who will be installed as the Eighth Bishop of Washington on June 1. ‘This healing will enable not only the members of Christ Church, Accokeek, but also the Episcopal Church at large, to refocus our energies where they should be, affirming the mission of the church. That mission is to live into our unity as the body of Jesus Christ. I look forward, as the next Bishop of Washington, to this important work and welcome the opportunities for continuing this work of healing.’

(reproduced from the website of the Diocese of Washington.)