Robert E. Lee's former church is no longer named after him

A Virginia church that Robert E. Lee belonged to after the Civil War will no longer be named after the Confederate general.

Leaders of R.E. Lee Memorial Episcopal Church voted Monday to return to the parish's original name of Grace Episcopal Church.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that the 7-to-5 vote follows two years of heated debate, the hiring of a conflict resolution consultant and the departure of some members from the church in Lexington.

Parish leaders first considered a name change in 2015 after white supremacist Dylann Roof killed nine people at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina. The vote to remove Lee's name failed, but it divided the congregation.

Then came the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, last month. White nationalists had rallied against the planned removal of a Lee statue. A group of counter protesters was rammed with a car. One woman died.

"It's been a very divisive issue for two years," the Rev. Tom Crittenden, the church's rector, told the newspaper. "But Charlottesville seems to have moved us to this point. Not that we have a different view of Lee historically in our church, but we have appreciation for our need to move on."

Lee moved to Lexington to lead Washington College after the Civil War ended in 1865. He is credited with saving the school, which is now named Washington and Lee University.

At Grace Episcopal, Lee served in the church leadership as senior warden. He died in 1870. The church changed its name to R.E. Lee Memorial in 1903.

In 2015, after the majority of the church's leadership voted to keep Lee's name, they hired a conflict resolution consultant at a cost of $16,000.

The congregation had become divided and exhausted. Feelings were hurt. Two church leaders resigned in protest of initial inaction.

A committee was formed. A report issued in April recommended restoring the original name while finding other ways to honor the general.

Church leaders did not fully embrace the recommendation, voting instead to possibly take up the issue in the future.

They reconsidered after Charlottesville.

Congregant Doug Cumming said he hopes parish members will be able to come together and move forward.

"My ancestors were very proud, brave and articulate Southerners," he said Monday, "and like Robert E. Lee, I think they'd be very proud over what our church has done tonight."

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Information from: Richmond Times-Dispatch, http://www.richmond.com