Michelle Boorstein of the Washington Post today has This is the church where Robert E. Lee declared himself a sinner. Should it keep his name?
Less than two weeks after a deadly white supremacist rally, leaders of the R.E. Lee church found themselves back at the table Monday night, with some again pressing the issue of a name change. While the church has been divided in the past over the issue, Charlottesville has pushed more members and some in leadership to conclude that, no matter what good Lee did in Lexington a century ago, white supremacists have taken ownership of his reputation and made him their symbol. The bishop [Mark Bourlakas, Episcopal bishop for Southwestern Virginia] has made clear that the Lee name is a distraction from sharing the gospel and is heading to Lexington in the next week or two to push the issue.
Last night a vestry divided over whether to return the church to its original name issued this unanimous statement:
— Episcopal SWVA (@DIOSWVA) August 22, 2017
The internal debate over a name change has been brewing for some time. In November 2015 the Episcopal Café quoted WDJB7:
After Lee’s death, the church became “Grace Memorial Church,” and the college, a totally separate entity, was re-named Washington and Lee. In 1883, a larger church building, the current stone Gothic Revival structure at the corner of W. Washington Street and Lee Avenue, began holding services. In 1903, the Vestry re-named the church R.E. Lee Memorial, although no record can be found of reasons for this change or a debate over it. This year is the church’s 175th Anniversary, which was celebrated this month with a reception after an All Saint’s Day Choral Evensong service Nov. 1.
Off and on, members of the church have quietly discussed whether the name was inappropriate or misunderstood in the 21st century as the name for a church seeking to be, like all Christian churches, part of the “Body of Christ.” But loyalty to tradition and attachment to the name as an identity made the issue too emotional for an all-out debate – until this summer. Two weeks after the horrific fatal shooting of nine leaders of an African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, S.C., a member of R.E. Lee Memorial Church wrote a letter to the church rector, senior warden and junior warden saying she felt that, in the wake of the tragedy, it was “time for us to have a frank, Christ-centered discussion about the name that our church has borne since 1903.”
From March, a report from ENS on the deliberations and tensions within the parish over its name.