WHEN URBAN CHURCHES disband, congregations face decisions about what to do with their property. In cities with hot real estate markets, church buildings are often sold off and redeveloped as condominiums or for other profitable uses. But the logic of the market need not guide all such decisions.
In 2016, the Community of Christ, a small church in central Washington, D.C., gave away the building it had owned for more than 40 years, a property worth more than $1 million. During the process of disbanding, the church members had decided that they wanted to pass their building on to an organization doing socially meaningful work in the neighborhood. Their story demonstrates ways of thinking about property as a spiritual and collective resource—and how to put those ideals into action.
The Community of Christ was formed in 1965 in Washington’s Dupont Circle neighborhood. Although founded by Lutherans, it was from the beginning an ecumenical church. And like several other congregations forming in D.C. around the same time, the community was an experiment in church: dedicated to social justice and to doing God’s work in the neighborhood, including building relationships with their neighbors. In 1973, the group purchased an 11-room storefront building in the nearby Mt. Pleasant neighborhood, a diverse and relatively affordable area where a number of church members had already moved, and began worshipping in that space. Shortly thereafter, the Community of Christ became a lay-led, shared-leadership congregation, with no single minister and no paid staff. All activities of the church—both spiritual and logistical—were from then on carried out on a volunteer basis by members, and all major decisions were made by consensus.