The Troubled Years

Contents

St. Mary's Parish Hall design by Eimer Cappelmann.
St. Mary’s Parish Hall design by Eimer Cappelmann.

The 1960s

Fund raising for the parish house brought to a head a controversy that had developed between the rector and ten of the 17-member vestry.  Fr. Reinheimer stated his views on the problem in a letter to parishioners, dated January 12, 1961. He indicated that ten members of the vestry had refused to pledge to the building fund and were campaigning to defeat the wishes of the congregation to go forward with the building and also to elect seven new vestrymen who were also opposed to the building program. Fr. Reinheimer urged parishioners to attend a parish meeting on January 16 to vote for a motion to proceed with the building and to elect seven new vestrymen who favored going forward.

Earlier, in the January Messenger, Fr. Reinheimer had explained that a battle was going on at St. Mary’s even before his arrival as rector. In his view there was a small but powerful group of conservative parishioners (including, he implied, the 10 vestrymen) who opposed socially prophetic ministry — whether his or that of his predecessor. The group was organized and unchecked in its efforts to obstruct and propagandize.

The Rev. John Reinheimer, rector at St. Mary's from 1957-68.
The Rev. John Reinheimer, rector at St. Mary’s from 1957-68.

A written response was prepared and signed by 94 parishioners — many of whom were or had been officers of various organizations of St. Mary’s Church. They indicated that there was no organized opposition group. In their view the principal problem was the rector’s conduct of his interpersonal relationships. They stated that he showed little Christian compassion, conciliation, or forgiveness in those relationships. They were not opposed to the building program, but some had withheld their support as the only effective means of registering a protest. They had individually and separately — but also reluctantly, sadly, and prayerfully — concluded that St. Mary’s could not effectively give Christian ‘ witness under the leadership of their present rector.

A parish meeting was held on January 16 to elect seven new members to the vestry. The vote was very close, and six of the seven candidates favored by the rector were elected.

Members of the protesting group chose to leave St Mary’s Church. After many meetings with the Bishop of Virginia and various diocesan organizations, as well as the Arlington Parish Council, the group was given permission in mid-1961 to form a new mission church, which it named St Peter’s. At the Diocesan Council meeting in February 1963, St. Peter’s was admitted into the diocese as a separate congregation.

The number of baptized members of St. Mary’s had peaked at 1,857 in 1957, and the number of communicants had peaked at 1,141 in 1958. Fr. Reinheimer stated in a letter to the vestry in July 1961 that St. Mary’s had lost 200-250 communicants and was living beyond its income. Nevertheless, the congregation voted to proceed with building the parish house. Construction was completed and the building was turned over to the church in January 1963.

Fr. Reinheimer was keenly interested in starting a day school. The vestry voted in August 1963 to make the parish house available to the rector for that purpose. The school opened with sixth and seventh grades, and one new grade was to be added each year. St. Mary’s Day School, later called the Episcopal Academy, was quite successful. In 1967 a second campus was opened in the education building of the Chesterbrook Methodist Church.

The day school became the focus of a second round of dissent at St. Mary’s, beginning in 1964. Other factors were also involved, such as a controversy over reinstituting Morning Prayer, but the main source of contention had to do with the allocation of the rector’s time between parish and school. Some on the vestry felt that the rector was devoting too much time to the school and too little to his pastoral duties. Some felt that the rector should serve only as chaplain of the school rather than as headmaster. The rector felt that the church should employ an assistant rector to handle many of the pastoral duties. These conflicting views led, in turn, to the question of the authority of the vestry versus that of the rector.

In May 1964 the vestry adopted a resolution that “it is the opinion of the Vestry that St. Mary’s Parish will strongly encourage both the growth of the Church and the growth of the School as a separate enterprise. To this end, the Vestry now authorizes its Rector to participate as Chaplain in the school so as to provide religious services and religious education.” The vestry defeated a motion that “a qualified Assistant Rector be engaged not later than September 1 to work in the parish exclusive of the parish school.”

The rector called a special follow-up meeting of the vestry in May. The meeting was long and, at times, heated. It did not, however, resolve the differences between rector and vestry with regard to the rector’s role at the school or to the desirability of hiring an assistant rector. A special parish meeting was called in June by a a group of concerned parishioners. Afterwards, the rector wrote in the Messenger that “the congregation expressed to the Vestry its feeling that an assistant minister be engaged at once. If the Vestry heeds the wishes of the majority of parishioners, and at its next meeting on Monday, June 15, sees fit to reverse its former stand against an assistant—the whole long delayed program for growth and development for the future can get underway.”

At its June 15 meeting, the vestry held to its position. Responding, the rector reported in the July 12 Messenger that “the School is being set up as a separate corporation. This means the Vestry will no longer be the corporate body responsible legally or otherwise.”

Conflict between rector and vestry lasted for four more years, during which time several vestrymen and trustees resigned and many parishioners left St. Mary’s. Finally, in April 1968, an agreement was worked out between the rector and the vestry for the separation and dissolution of pastoral relations. Fr. Reinheimer would resign as rector of St. Mary’s Parish, and the parish would lease the parish house to the Episcopal Academy for one year with an option for a subsequent year. Fr. Reinheimer would be headmaster of the academy.

The toll of these troubled years was severe. By the end of 1968, St. Mary’s had only 199 members, 103 communicants, and 14 children in church school. The operating budget of the church was in the red.

One bright spot in the last year of Fr. Reinheimer’s rectorship was the election of the first woman to St. Mary’s vestry: Doris Murphy.