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Church named after Confederate General changing name

Wed 20 Sep 2017
By Eno Adeogun

An American church named after a Confederate general has decided to change its name after debating the issue for two years.

R.E. Lee Memorial Church in Lexington, Virginia, where Robert E. Lee once served as senior warden will no longer honour the Confederate general in its name, following the vestry voting 7-5 to change the church's name to its previous name, Grace Episcopal Church.

Southwestern Virginia Bishop Mark Bourlakas backed the decision and told Episcopal News Service: "It's been a costly process both spiritually, financially and emotionally for the congregation, but I'm proud of their work and encouraged by it."

AP Photo/Steve Helber


The violence that broke out at the Charlottesville, Virginia, white supremacist protest last month has amplified the national debate over Confederate symbols in public places, including churches.

Rev Tom Crittenden, the Lexington church's rector, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch: "It's been a very divisive issue for two years.

"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."

Other churches in the US have also made similar moves to rid themselves of links to Confederate figures.

Washington National Cathedral in the nation's capital removing stained-glass windows depicting general Lee and a fellow Confederate general, Stonewall Jackson. Christ Church Cathedral in Cincinnati, Ohio, has also drafted a plan to study removing memorials to Confederate figures.



Defenders of Confederate memorials, including President Donald Trump, have warned against "changing history" by removing them.

Asked about the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Mr Trump defended some who had gathered to protect the statue of General Lee, and criticised the "alt-left" counter protesters who had confronted them.

He said: "So this week, it is Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down."

He noted that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were also slave owners and added: "I wonder, is it George Washington next week?

"And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after?

"You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?"



Following the Charleston church shooting, that took place at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015, members of Lee Memorial Church spent several months discussing the church name. While the church voted against changing its name, recent violence prompted a u-turn.

Bishop Bourlakas said the church shouldn't not be hindered by distractions like disagreements over a name or Confederate statues.

He added: "There's still an amount of healing that will have to take place.

"In the long run, I think the church will be stronger and will be a strong gospel witness in Lexington."

The new name is a return to what the church was called when General Lee served as senior warden in the 1860s. The name was changed in his honour 33 years after his death in 1870.

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