Cincinnati cathedral drafts plan to study removing memorials to Confederate figures

September 13, 2017
Cincinnati Lee

Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general, is depicted as receiving a blessing from Virginia Bishop William Meade in this stained-glass window at Christ Church Cathedral, Cincinnati, Ohio. Photo: Sarah Hartwig/Christ Church Cathedral

[Episcopal News Service] The Episcopal cathedral in Cincinnati plans to launch a discernment process as it considers removing memorials to Confederate figures after the dean called for their removal in a sermon last month.

Christ Church Cathedral’s vestry, which discussed Dean Gail Greenwell’s request at its Sept. 13 meeting, agreed to study the memorials’ historical significance, engage in conversations with parishioners on the issue and consider ways of memorializing abolitionists and heroes of racial justice.

“The vestry believes that a proper response requires an active period of discernment,” Senior Warden Don Land and Junior Warden Julie Kline said in a statement dated Sept. 14. The statement did not provide a timeline for the discernment process.

The latest development comes a month after a white supremacist rally on Aug. 12 in Charlottesville, Virginia, turned violent and deadly, fueling a national conversation about the appropriateness of Confederate monuments in public spaces, including Episcopal institutions.

Neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members and other hate groups chose to rally in Charlottesville to oppose the city’s plan to remove its statue of Robert E. Lee. The Confederate general also is depicted in a stained-glass window at Christ Church Cathedral, a fact that Greenwell highlighted in her Aug. 20 sermon.

“The church itself has been complicit in enshrining systems and people who contributed to white supremacy, and they are here in the very corners of this cathedral,” Greenwell said.

The cathedral’s stained-glass window, a gift from a Lee descendant, shows Lee receiving a blessing from Virginia Bishop William Meade. Greenwell also pointed to the cathedral’s plaque honoring Leonidas Polk, who was consecrated in 1838 in Cincinnati and served as the missionary bishop of the Southwest.

Polk plaque

This plaque honoring Leonidas Polk, an Episcopal bishop and Confederate general, is displayed in Christ Church Cathedral. Photo: Sarah Hartwig/Christ Church Cathedral

Polk, one of the founders of Sewanee: The University of the South, was bishop of Louisiana when he served as a Confederate general. He was known to wear his Episcopal vestments over his military uniform, “a thoroughly offensive merge of his professed faith and his fervor to see the institution of slavery endure,” Greenwell said.

She called for the vestry to re-examine the two memorials in the cathedral with the hope they will be removed.

“We need to be very careful, very thoughtful about what we choose to revere on a plaque or put on a pedestal,” she said in her sermon.

The vestry responded this week with its three-part plan. For the first part, it “will host an educational event to explore the contextual historical significance of these memorials and discern their impact on present day members of the Cathedral Community,” the wardens’ statement said.

That will be followed by conversations within the congregation, which should offer “the input necessary to make final determinations.”

The third step comes in response to Greenwell’s additional challenge to the cathedral to replace the Confederate symbols with tributes to those who fought for racial justice, with special consideration for Cincinnati’s role as a stop on the Underground Railroad helping slaves find freedom in the North.

Washington National Cathedral announced last week it was removing two stained-glass windows featuring Lee and fellow Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson, installed in 1953.

That decision abruptly ended the Washington cathedral’s own lengthy process of discernment, which began in the aftermath of the June 2015 massacre of nine members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Gunman Dylann Roof had shown a fondness for the Confederate flag.

“These windows are not only inconsistent with our current mission to serve as a house of prayer for all people, but also a barrier to our important work on racial justice and racial reconciliation,” Episcopal leaders in Washington said in a written statement. https://cathedral.org/press-room/announcement-future-lee-jackson-windows/ “Their association with racial oppression, human subjugation and white supremacy does not belong in the sacred fabric of this Cathedral.”

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at [email protected].

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