Poetry

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Accokeek
by Lionel E. Deimel

  

Two services the old church sees today:

The preacher celebrates inside,

The normality of the rite belied

By the bishop turned aside

On a Maryland morning.

 

The bishop starts an outdoor mass

At a card table on a basketball court—

In the ecclesiastical storm, an unlikely port—

Yet, an opportune place for episcopal retort

On a Maryland morning.

 

Worshippers within and worshippers without—

Parishioners current and recent,

Malcontents who need to vent,

And a bishop present without consent—

On a Maryland morning.

 

Each worshipper part of the larger war—

Some by intent, but others not,

Not engaged in any plot,

Just enamored of this ancient spot

On a Maryland morning.

 

No long-laid plans this day are used

To conjure such an ugly fair

To entertain reporters there

With outdoor Eucharistic Prayer

On a Maryland morning.

 

The day’s events are not a celebration,

But a battle of notions old and new,

A clash between the many and the few,

Twixt holdouts and those whose change is overdue

On a Maryland morning.

 

The new-called priest recalls his past—

Becoming object of the vestry search,

Though his own he did besmirch

With foul epithet “Unchurch”—

On a Maryland morning.

 

The call she has undone usurps the bishop’s thoughts—

Not for ugly words he used,

But for schismatic acts excused,

And clerical obedience refused—

On a Maryland morning.

 

A letter says the Fort Worth bishop will protect the rector-elect.

And so, as cruet and bottle are put away,

The clerics leave, and the children play,

And all resign to fight another day

On a Maryland morning.

 

Maryland flag
 
 
The origin of this poem is complex. What are described are events at Christ Episcopal Church, Accokeek, Maryland, on May 27, 2001. This church called a controversial priest, the Rev. Samuel Edwards, to be rector of the parish, a move that itself turned out to be controversial within the parish. Fr. Edwards had headed an organization of Episcopalians opposed, most notably, to the ordination of women, a practice almost universally accepted within the American church in 2001. Not only was Fr. Edwards a strong advocate for his views and a vicious critic of the Episcopal Church (or “Unchurch,” as he called it), but also he was willing to advise congregations that his issues could be sufficient to justify their leaving the Episcopal Church. Not surprisingly, the bishop of the diocese, the Rt. Rev. Jane Dixon, Bishop of Washington, Pro Tempore, was not too keen on having such a potential troublemaker in her diocese. She demanded an unambiguous statement of obedience to her authority from Fr. Edwards, who, supported by the Christ Church vestry, refused to give one. Eventually, Bishop Dixon declared that Fr. Edwards could not officiate in her diocese after May 25. The following Sunday, Bishop Dixon traveled to Accokeek to celebrate the Eucharist. She was barred from the church, where Fr. Edwards would officiate, whereupon the bishop, accompanied by both supporters and hecklers, and surrounded by press and police, celebrated outdoors. Rather than resolving the situation, the Sunday events set up an even greater conflict, as a letter was read from the conservative Bishop of Fort Worth, the Rt. Rev. Jack Iker, saying that he was granting Fr. Edwards and Christ Church his “episcopal oversight and protection.” Bishop Dixon has meanwhile declared Bishop Ronald Haines, recently retired Bishop of Washington, as priest-in-charge. As of today, Christ Church, Accokeek, appears to have two priests serving under separate bishops. God save us all!

— LED, 5/30/2001 (with minor, later revisions)

Much has happened since the above discussion was written. With the help of a Federal court, Bishop Dixon has removed Fr. Edwards from his position at Christ Church. The decision was appealed and upheld. The Diocese of Washington has has consecrated a new Bishop, Dixon has retired, and Edwards has left the Episcopal Church. More information is available at Accokeek Links.

— LED, 10/8/2003

I have never been too keen on the first line of the last verse of this poem. Of course, there is no fixed pattern to the meter of the first lines, but this one is long and has a lot to say. The original line began with “The letter read says,” but I have simplified that ever so slightly. The line is still hardly ideal, but I do think it improved. Such is the burden of writing poetic history!

— LED, 3/13/2006

Music courtesy of Doug Starr.

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