Christ Church announces plans to relocate Washington, Lee plaques

Christ Church announces plans to relocate Washington, Lee plaques
The exterior of historic Episcopal church Christ Church (Photo Credit: Alexa Epitropoulos)

By Alexa Epitropoulos |

Historic Alexandria Episcopal church Christ Church announced plans on Thursday to relocate two plaques inside their worship space honoring some of its most famous parishioners: George Washington and Robert E. Lee. The decision was voted on unanimously by Christ Church vestry, according to an email sent to members of the congregation.

The church announced in the email that they had made the decision to move the plaques no later than the summer of 2018. They said the decision was made after a parish-wide process consisting of “seven listening sessions, many emails, numerous phone calls, countless informal conversations and many one-on-one meetings and discussions with parishioners.” 

The email said, in the wake of renewed conversations about the legacy of Confederate leaders across the country, including the protests surrounding the Lee statue in Charlottesville, Virginia, the church began to consider relocating the plaques. The email acknowledged the place that Washington and Lee occupied in the history of the country, as well as the history of the church.

The email said that, since both plaques were erected in 1870, they considered them together.

“The Vestry believes that the memorial plaques to George Washington and Robert E. Lee should be considered together,” the email read. “The plaques were erected at the same time. They visually balance each other, maintaining the symmetry of our sanctuary. The men they memorialize are giants in our nation and were members of this parish. Robert E. Lee has taken an outsized symbolism in the national conversation about race and inclusion.”

In the end, the email read, the church decided to relocate the plaques based on the changing understanding of the Confederacy in U.S. history, as well as in the interest of making church attendees feel welcome.

“Many in our congregation feel a strong need for the church to stand clearly on the side of ‘All are welcome – no exceptions,'” the email read, referencing a sign in front of Christ Church with the same message. 

The email, in addition, said the plaques are a “distraction in our worship space” and “create an obstacle to our identity as a welcoming church, and an impediment to our growth and to full community with our neighbors.” 

The church said that it would begin a parish-wide process for “discerning an appropriate new home for the memorial plaques.” The newsletter said the vestry will create three committees composed of parishioners to decide how to tell Christ Church’s story.

The first committee will decide options for relocating the plaques, the second will explore how to “better define” how Christ Church tells its story, including the story of famous parishioners including figures like Washington, Lee, David Griffith, Armistead Boothe, Sallie Stuart, Henry and Trudye Fowler, and the third will explore locations to “tell our story across the entire campus.” All three committees are slated to launch in January 2018, and the committee dealing with the relocation of plaques will recommend a course of action by April 15, 2018. 

The newsletter said the plaques wouldn’t be removed to a storage area, but, rather, to a “place of respectful prominent, where they will be fully visible to parishioners and tourists alike.” 

The work of committees, the email said, will result in a recommendation to the vestry for “changes to how we interpret our history across the campus, which could include a museum or interpretive center.” 

Th full text of the email can be read here.