R.E. Lee Memorial Church, a Virginia Episcopal parish whose name honored the Confederate general who once was a prominent member there, has voted to change its name in an effort to “move on” and seek racial healing.
After two years of tense debate in the congregation, the Episcopal News Service reported, church leaders voted 7 to 5 Monday to return the church’s name to what it was decades ago: Grace Episcopal Church. The 177-year-old parish is in the small central Virginia city of Lexington.
“It’s been a very divisive issue for two years,” the Rev. Tom Crittenden, the church’s rector, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “But Charlottesville seems to have moved us to this point. Not that we have a different view of Lee historically in our church, but we have appreciation for our need to move on.”
The Washington Post profiled the parish last month when the long-standing debate flared again after deadly riots in nearby Charlottesville. It described the way congregants debated whether aspects of Southern history and the Confederacy could be teased out from the evil of slavery — a debate happening nationwide as monuments and icons of Confederate figures begin coming down.
“I firmly believe that Lee was an admirable man of faith, with flaws like the rest of us,” one man told the congregation in 2015 after a contentious vote. Said another at the time: “This name-change issue has surfaced a deeper issue … now is not the time to postpone dealing with our divisions.”
Some had left the church over the years because of the name. Others were steadfast in favor of keeping the name to honor Lee, the Episcopal News Service reported this week. Episcopalians on both sides of the issue filled the church when Southwestern Virginia Bishop Mark Bourlakas spoke there Sept. 7, and they again gave competing views this week before the vestry’s vote, ENS said.