A Different Model for Churches Changing Hands

Christ Church, Accokeek, Maryland

By Kirk Petersen

In an era of bruising litigation over ownership of church properties, a prominent diocese and a church founded in 1698 are showing that amicable solutions are possible.

On April 29, Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde announced that the Diocese of Washington has sold Christ Church in Accokeek, Maryland, to the congregation that worships there — which has left the Episcopal Church (TEC).

Rector Brian Vander Wel told TLC by email that Christ Church “has been received as a congregation of the Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic in the Anglican Church in North America” (ACNA).

“The leadership and congregation of Christ Church feel it best to pursue their ministry outside of The Episcopal Church. While the leaders of the Diocese of Washington regret that decision, we honor it and have worked with Christ Church leaders toward mutually agreeable terms,” Budde said in the announcement.

The terms were not announced, and Budde and Vander Wel both declined to comment beyond their written statements.

The Rt. Rev. John Guernsey, bishop of ACNA’s Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic, confirmed that Accokeek had joined his diocese. “The Rev. Brian Vander Wel and his people walked through their long process of negotiations with prayerfulness, faithfulness, and real, humble godliness,” he told TLC.

At the same time this agreement was being finalized, the Diocese(s) of Fort Worth were careening toward open warfare.  The TEC and ACNA Diocese(s) of South Carolina expect to return to their state Supreme Court this year to consider a conflict they thought had been settled. Perhaps there are no winners when Christians sue Christians.

The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh in 2018 reached a “distinctively Christian compromise resolution” regarding possession of nine churches that left TEC for ACNA.  The Anglican congregations will continue possession and use of the church buildings, while paying an annual assessment to the Episcopal diocese, which has “trust beneficiary” rights in the properties. The assessment is 3.25 percent of revenues for 20 years, and 1.75 percent in perpetuity thereafter.

Accokeek is an unincorporated community of 10,000 people, situated along the Potomac River 15 miles south of the nation’s capital in an area first occupied by Native Americans four millennia ago. Christ Church began meeting in private homes in 1698, and its original structure was built a few years later. The current building was constructed in 1745.


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