Last week, leaders of the historic Christ Church in Virginia announced they would be removing and then relocating plaques from the church’s sanctuary that honor two former parishioners of the church: Former President George Washington and General Robert E. Lee.
The Episcopal church in Alexandria is 244 years old, and the plaques have hung on either side of the altar since 1870.
According to a letter sent to members of the Christ Church congregation, leaders at the church said that the plaques do not belong in the church.
“The plaques in our sanctuary make some in our presence feel unsafe or unwelcome. Some visitors and guests who worship with us choose not to return because they receive an unintended message from the prominent presence of the plaques,” the letter reads.
“Many in our congregation feel a strong need for the church to stand clearly on the side of ‘All are welcome – no exceptions,'” the letter reads.
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 letter reads.
The two plaques have been hung on either side of the altar since 1870. The announcement to the parishioners came Sunday.
“Because the sanctuary is a worship space, not a museum, there is no appropriate way to inform visitors
about the history of the plaques or to provide additional context except for the in-person tours provided by
our docents,” the letter reads.
Noelle York-Simmons, the Rector of Christ Church, said the decision was made after spending a large portion of September deliberating whether or not to take down the plaques.
Noelle York-Simmons said that discussions on the plaques had previously taken place, but there was a sense of urgency following the Charlottesville protest that killed one person and left several others injured.
“After the events in Charlottesville, those conversations came more to the forefront, they became more intense,” York-Simmons said. “It became clear to the Vestry — the governing body of the Church — that we needed to take these conversations more seriously.”
The church said the decision to remove the plaques will take place no later than summer 2018.
According to the email, the plaques will be relocated to a “place of respectful prominent, where they will be fully visible to parishioners and tourists alike.”
A committee will be formed to tell the church’s story and tell the stories of famous parishioners such as Lee and Washington.
“Washington is unique in our nation’s history: the leader of the Revolution, the visionary who not only
refused to be king but also gave up power after eight years, and a symbol of our democracy. He regularly
worshiped in our pews and helped shape our city’s character,” the letter reads.
“Lee was a longtime parishioner, whose family had a significant presence in our church. From ‘Light-Horse
Harry’ Lee’s membership in our parish at the time he memorialized George Washington as ‘first in war,
first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen,’ to Mary Custis Lee’s gift of $10,000 to begin the
Christ Church endowment, the Lee family was a prominent part of the Christ Church family,” according to the letter.