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What happened to the church buildings these North Texas Episcopalians lost in April?

A yellow-brick church building with a slanted triangular roof. The sign outside is blank, with no church name.
Keren Carrión
/
KERA
The building that used to be St. Christopher Episcopal Church in Fort Worth. St. Christopher's congregation lost this building in a legal battle and now shares worship space with a local Lutheran church.

Several Episcopal congregations were displaced in April after a 12-year legal battle. The courts handed five church buildings to a more conservative breakaway group. Since then, the losing side has found new places to worship, while the conservative side figures out what to do with the buildings it won.

The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth split in 2008 over disagreements about how women and LGBTQ+ people should be allowed to participate in religious life.

The more conservative side left the national church, kicking off a 12-year-long legal battle that posed a fundamental question: Which faction is the true Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth?

The answer is the conservative side, according to the courts.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case. That meant a Texas Supreme Court decision stood. It handed over the name and five church buildings occupied by national church congregations.

The conservative side won four Fort Worth area churches, and one in Wichita Falls:

  • All Saints’
  • St. Luke’s in the Meadow
  • St. Christopher
  • St. Elisabeth/Christ the King
  • St. Stephen’s

Both sides had been sharing a sixth church, St. Mary’s in Hillsboro, but that agreement ended after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

Where did the losing congregations end up?

In April, the national church congregations had to pack up and move out of the buildings they had worshipped in for decades.

The legal battle continues today, not over buildings, but the belongings inside those buildings.

While that gets worked out, the losing congregations have found new places to worship, with one exception. Parishioners at St. Elisabeth’s/Christ the King’s dispersed to join other congregations.

  • All Saints’ is meeting in the chapel at All Saints’ Episcopal School in Fort Worth.
  • St. Luke’s in the Meadow moved its services and its food pantry to Texas Wesleyan’s campus.
  • St. Christopher and St. Stephen’s are sharing space with other churches in Fort Worth and Wichita Falls, respectively.
  • St. Mary’s meets in a renovated Bank of America drive-through building.

What did the winning side do with the church buildings?

The late Father Jay Atwood, a leader on the conservative side, told KERA a few months before his death that his diocese wanted to use the buildings they won.

“What we plan on doing with those five churches is to literally open them up, do in-person worship immediately, as soon as we can and see what there is in interest in hopes of encouraging people to come back to those buildings,” he said.

That happened for some. St. Luke’s in the Meadow is now St. Timothy, and All Saints’ goes by the same name, but with a different priest and congregation.

However, the conservative side has sold two of the five buildings: St. Christopher and St. Elisabeth’s & Christ the King.

“We had hoped to resume services in both locations, but when we got in to look at conditions, it was too costly,” diocese spokesperson Suzanne Gill wrote in a text message.

St. Christopher’s old building went to a Catholic church. As for St. Elisabeth’s & Christ the King, city records show that, as of August, a developer planned to build up to 20 single family homes on the site.

The future of St. Stephen’s in Wichita Falls is uncertain. The church was reopened in the early summer, “but it is not clear whether a viable congregation will be formed there,” Gill said.

St. Mary’s in Hillsboro, which had been shared by both sides for many years, has continued to hold services without interruption, Gill said.

Got a tip? Email Miranda Suarez at msuarez@kera.org. You can follow Miranda on Twitter @MirandaRSuarez.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gift today. Thank you.

Miranda Suarez is KERA’s Fort Worth reporter. Before coming to North Texas, she was the Lee Ester News Fellow at Wisconsin Public Radio, where she covered statewide news from the capital city of Madison. Miranda is originally from Massachusetts and started her public radio career at WBUR in Boston.