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George Washington's church to remove plaque honouring first US president as monuments row takes twist

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 10/30/2017 By Rob Crilly
Snow hangs from tree branches as a man crosses Cameron St. on Monday January 30, 2017 in Alexandria, VA. Christ Church is seen in the background. © Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images Snow hangs from tree branches as a man crosses Cameron St. on Monday January 30, 2017 in Alexandria, VA. Christ Church is seen in the background.

The church where George Washington worshipped is removing a plaque honouring the memory of America’s first president in the latest example of the way historic monuments are influencing contemporary politics.

Officers at Christ Church, in Alexandria, Virginia, said it was removing the plaque for the slave-owning president along with one for a second parishioner, General Robert Lee, who rose to the head of the Confederate army during the Civil War.

“The Vestry has unanimously decided that the plaques create a distraction in our worship space and may create an obstacle to our identity as a welcoming church, and an impediment to our growth and to full community with our neighbours,” church officers said in a letter to the congregation following a month-long consultation period.

Washington was one of the congregation’s founding members in 1773, paying for pew number five, while General Lee’s daughter left the church $10,000 in her will.

The two plaques have hung on either side of the altar since 1870, soon after Lee’s death, paid for by city residents.

At Christ Church the pew owned by George Washington includes a nameplate with his signature. © Dayna Smith/The Washington Post/Getty Images At Christ Church the pew owned by George Washington includes a nameplate with his signature.

But local authorities across the US have removed a string of Confederate statues and memorials from public places in recent years.

Critics say there is no place in modern America for symbols associated with racism and slavery.

The issue is highly charged. One person died in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August when counter-protesters clashed with white nationalists protesting against the removal of a General Lee Statue.

The controversies prompted Donald Trump to ponder whether Washington would be targeted next.

In its letter, first reported by the Republican Standard website, church officers said that times had changed.

“We understand that both Washington and Lee lived in times much different than our own, and that each man, in addition to his public persona, was a complicated human being, and like all of us, a child of God,” they wrote.

The plaques are due to be relocated by next summer as the church decides how better to commemorate its famous worshippers.

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