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George Washington's Church To Relocate Plaque In His Memory

10-30-2017

The church where George Washington was a faithful member has decided to relocate a plaque honoring the first president of the United States because he was a slave-owner. 

Church officials at Christ Church, in Alexandria, Virginia, said it was relocating the plaque for Washington along with one honoring a second famous parishioner, Confederate General Robert Lee, who lead the Army of Northern Virginia during the Civil War.

"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 neighbours," church officers said in a letter to the congregation following a month-long consultation period.

Washington, one of the congregation's founding members, even paid for pew number 5 where visitors are still invited to sit. The Reverend Mr. Thomas Davis, then the rector at Christ Church, was one of the ministers at his funeral at Mount Vernon.

According to the church's website, Robert E. Lee attended Christ Church throughout his life from the time he was three. A silver plaque on the chancel rail marks the spot, where on July 17, 1853, with two of his daughters, Lee knelt to be confirmed by the assistant bishop of Virginia, John Johns. Lee married George Washington's step-great-granddaughter, Mary Anna Randolph Custis.  

One of Gen. Lee's daughters, Mary Custis Lee, left the church $10,000 in her will when she died in 1918.

The two plaques which read "In Memory of George Washington" and "In Memory of Robert Edward Lee"  have hung on either side of the church's altar since 1870. They were placed soon after Lee's death and were paid for by city residents. Over the years, there had been some continuing discussion by church members about the plaques -- their location and their lack of religious significance. 

The recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, caught the attention of church officials.

"After the events in Charlottesville, those conversations came more to the forefront, they became more intense. It became clear to the Vestry -- the governing body of the Church -- that we needed to take these conversations more seriously," Noelle York-Simmons, the Rector of Christ Church, a small colonial Episcopal parish that was founded in 1773, told The Associated Press

"None of those other markers are to be moved," York-Simmons said. "People can come visit, can sit where great people have sat in prayer. We have no intention of wanting to erase history or change history or pretend that history didn't happen. We're proud of it."

Critics say symbols of racism and slavery should have no place in our society today. 

In its letter, first reported by the Republican Standard website, church officers said that times had changed.

"We understand that both Washington and Lee lived in times much different than our own, and that each man, in addition to his public persona, was a complicated human being, and like all of us, a child of God," they wrote.

The plaques are scheduled to be relocated elsewhere within the church by next summer. 

In the meantime, there's a banner placed in front of the church that reads, "All Are Welcome. No Exceptions."
 

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