From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Fort Worth standing committee issues presentment against Edwards

Date Wed, 19 Dec 2001 09:47:58 -0500 (EST)


Fort Worth standing committee issues presentment against Edwards

by Jan Nunley

     (ENS) Members of the standing committee of the Diocese of Fort Worth issued 
a presentment against the Rev. Samuel Lee Edwards on December 17, charging him 
with violating the canons of the Episcopal Church.

     The charges stem from a dispute between Edwards, who is canonically resident 
in Fort Worth, and Washington bishop pro tempore Jane Holmes Dixon. Dixon filed 
suit against Edwards and the vestry of Christ Church in Accokeek, Maryland, 
contending that Edwards' hiring over her objections violated the 1798 Maryland 
Vestry Act requiring that the appointment of rectors be subject to the canon law 
of the Episcopal Church. In, a federal judge ruled in favor of Dixon and ordered 
Edwards to vacate the parish rectory. The case is currently on appeal to the 4th 
US Circuit Court in Richmond, Virginia.

     The charges were issued May 29, 2001, by clergy of the Episcopal Diocese of 
Washington, under Title IV, Canon 7, Section 1 of the Constitution and Canons of 
the Episcopal Church. The standing committee the charges to a church attorney for 

Two month limit violated

     On the third charge, the committee issued a presentment accusing Edwards of 
violating Title III, Canon 16.2, which requires that no priest officiate more 
than two months within the limits of any diocese other than that in which he is 
canonically resident "without license of the Ecclesiastical Authority." Edwards 
was denied a license to officiate by Dixon, but continued to hold services in the 

     "The circumstances that give rise to the necessity of reviewing charges 
against our brother in Christ, the Rev. Samuel Lee Edwards, throw into high 
relief the unhappy divisions present in the Episcopal Church today," the 
committee stated in the preface to the charges. "We find ourselves faced with 
this task because of the estimation made by the Ecclesiastical Authority of the 
Diocese of Washington that Fr. Edwards is not a 'duly-qualified priest' and is 
thereby considered unfit to be rector of the parish that has called him.

     "While we strongly disagree with that assessment, we are also faced with 
upholding the canonical integrity of the Episcopal Church."

'No core doctrine' on women's ordination

     On the first charge, of a violation of Article III, which requires ordained 
persons to "conform to the Doctrine, Discipline, and Worship of the Episcopal 
Church," the committee found that no offense had occurred, and the charge was 
dismissed. In defending the decision, the committee referred to a 1997 resolution 
of General Convention (A053) which declared that "no member of this Church shall 
be denied access toa call to a cure in a Diocese or Letters Dimissory on account 
of their sex or their theological views on the ordination of women." The 
committee said there was "no core doctrine" of the church mandating the 
ordination of women.

     That 1997 resolution also called the canons relating to the ordination, 
licensing and deployment of women "mandatory" and called for a process to 
implement women's ordination "fully" in those dioceses (including Fort Worth) 
which do not ordain women or permit them to serve as clergy. Resolution A045, 
passed at the 2000 General Convention, gave the job of monitoring the 
implementation of women's ordination to a task force, anticipating full 
compliance with the canon by September, 2002.

     The second charge, alleging that Edwards had held or taught doctrine 
contrary to that of the Episcopal Church, was withdrawn by those bringing the 
charge in correspondence dated November 13, 2001.

     The committee's presentment will be given to the Ecclesiastical Trial Court 
of the Diocese of Fort Worth, which will try the case. In Fort Worth the court 
consists of 3 priests and 2 lay members who are "confirmed communicants in good 
standing" elected by the diocesan convention. A date for the trial has not yet been 

--The Rev. Jan Nunley is deputy director of Episcopal News Service.

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