The Rt. Rev. Jane Holmes Dixon, who was the Diocese of Washington’s bishop suffragan beginning in 1992 and its bishop pro tempore in 2001-02, died at her home Christmas morning of a heart condition. She was 75.
Bishop Dixon was the second woman elected to the Episcopal Church’s episcopate. “If the Gospel of Jesus Christ weren’t inclusive, I wouldn’t be standing here,” she said during walkabouts that preceded her election in June 1992.
Born Jane Hart Holmes in Winona, Mississippi, she was a graduate of Vanderbilt University and Virginia Theological Seminary. She was ordained deacon in 1981 and, in 1982, was the second woman ordained to the priesthood in the Diocese of Washington. She served as associate at Church of the Good Shepherd in Burke, Virginia, 1981-84; associate at St. Alban’s Parish in Washington, 1984-86; and rector of St. Philip’s Church in Laurel, Maryland, 1986-92.
She advocated for gay and lesbian Episcopalians throughout her ministry and was an early supporter of administering Holy Communion to the unbaptized.
The bishop was involved in a protracted conflict in 2001-02 when Christ Church in Accoceek, Maryland, called the Rev. Samuel Edwards as its rector. Fr. Edwards, who led the Episcopal Synod of America for many years, opposed the ordination of women to the priesthood or the episcopate. Dixon, who said she was not consulted properly when the parish called Edwards, filed a lawsuit and prevailed in a federal court.
The Rev. Brian Vander Wel, rector of Christ Church since 2007, told The Washington Post that he had spoken recently with the Rt. Rev. Mariann Budde, Bishop of Washington, about convening reconciliation meetings between parishioners and Bishop Dixon.
Years before the novel and film The Help depicted the phenomenon, Bishop Dixon spoke of being reared mostly by Julia Toliver, an African American woman who worked in the Dixon home.
Dixon spoke on The Diane Rehm Show about The Help, and her grief after Mrs. Toliver’s violent death.
“She was murdered in the summer of 1961,” the bishop said. “I had married in 1960 and moved away from there so she and I never had a chance to talk after my life changed and became aware of the really terrible conditions that we white folk imposed on our African-American brothers and sisters. … And I will go to my grave regretting that, that she and I never were able to sit down and talk about all of this.”
The bishop is survived by David Dixon, her husband of 52 years; sons David Dixon, Jr., of Bethesda and Edward Dixon of Shelburne, Vermont; daughter Mary Raibman of Washington; and six grandchildren.
Photo: Bishop Ronald Haines with Jane Dixon after her election as Bishop Suffragan of Washington. David Werth, ENS/Archives of the Episcopal Church