Nestled among towering trees in an affluent section of west Nashville, the Anglo-Catholic St. Andrew’s Church — with its confessional and use of a processional therable — is unlike other area Episcopal churches.
It’s different in another way as well — it’s involved in a legal dispute with the Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee over who rightfully owns the huge piece of property on which it rests.
When asked how St. Andrew’s compares with the city’s other Episcopal churches, senior warden and chancellor Henry Carpenter simply said the church is “unique.” Now its legal battle continues that description.
Since the original rector, the Rev. Donald E. Mowery, began his tenure in 1956, only three rectors have followed, giving the parish leadership continuity and stability. St. Andrew’s is home to a congregation of about 70 — tiny compared with other influential churches on the city’s socioeconomically powerful west side.
But what might make St. Andrew’s even more of an anomaly is its 5.14-acre home at the northeast corner of Woodmont Boulevard and Lynnbrook Road. Whereas many high-profile west Nashville churches are located on major mixed-use thoroughfares, St. Andrew’s is surrounded by mainly residential — and very valuable — property.
Land value likely is a factor in the ongoing lawsuit that pits St. Andrew’s against the diocese, which governs Middle Tennessee’s Episcopal churches. In short, the church claims it severed its relationship with the diocese in 2006 — a claim the diocese, which filed suit in October in Davidson County Chancery Court, and presiding Bishop John Bauerschmidt, refute.
More specifically, and stated in a December response to the suit, St. Andrew’s claims it owns the property — having paid $15,000 for it in 1966. The diocese says the St. Andrew’s property is held in trust for the benefit of the state diocese and, as such, the national Episcopal Church.
“We contend St. Andrew’s is a parish of the Diocese of Tennessee, and all its property is held in trust for the diocese,” Bauerschmidt said.
Nashville-based law firm Cornelius & Collins LLP is representing St. Andrew’s. Ben M. Rose, a firm partner, said the warranty deed, a copy of which Nashville Post reviewed, reflects “standard boiler plate language,” indicating $10 paid as consideration.
“The actual amount of consideration is reflected by the tax stamps on the deed,” Rose explained. “If you take the amount of the stamps, $16.50, and look at the rate of tax back in 1966, you can determine that at least $15,000 in actual consideration was paid.”
“I don’t dispute [the $15,000 figure],” Bauerschmidt said.
Rose said the $15,000 represents more than $100,000 in 2009 dollars adjusted for inflation — but does not account for more than four decades of appreciation.
St. Andrew’s claims the church property is not held in trust, Rose said.
“St. Andrew’s’ position was ultimately agreed to by then-existing Bishop John Vander Horst on behalf of the diocese,” Rose said. “This reflects a conditional relationship that existed between St. Andrew’s and the diocese. The diocese — which drafted the deed, after all — is trying to change the deal to reflect what the parties discussed and specifically rejected over 43 years ago.”
The Office of the Metro Assessor of Property most recently (January 2009) appraised the property at almost $1.5 million.
Alan Looney, whose Castle Contractors builds high-end homes in the Green Hills/Woodmont area, said the 5.1 acres could fetch between $3 million and $4 million. Looney, who built Arundel Court on nearby Estes Road, said given the desirable area’s scarcity of empty lots, home tear-downs and rebuilds are common, and the St. Andrew’s property is “prime.”
“There is a lot you can do with five acres,” Looney said. “You could easily get 16 homes [on the land].”
Richard Exton, owner/principal of Nashville-based real estate appraisal company Manier and Exton, said the future of the St. Andrew’s property might involve redevelopment rather than reuse by another church.
“In a general sense, churches don’t sell for anywhere near the cost to recreate them,” Exton said. “There is not a lot of market for them.”
If the diocese (represented by Bass Berry & Sims PLC) wins the lawsuit, St. Andrew’s’ Carpenter predicts most, if not all, current church members would leave, possibly creating an uncertain future for the property.
“It would be difficult to imagine another garden variety Episcopal church being established here given the close proximity of St. George’s and other churches,” Carpenter said. “The diocese attempted this back in the 1960s with a mission called the Church of the Transfiguration, but it failed.”
Bauerschmidt said it “remains to be seen” how many church members would leave the congregation if the court sides with the diocese.
“Our contention from the beginning is we hope for reconciliation,” Bauerschmidt said. “I would not preclude the continuation of a congregation. We’re very hopeful.”
The Diocese of Tennessee conducts its annual convention Jan. 22-23 at St. George’s Episcopal Church.
- ALEX B FRUIN INHERITANCE TRUST; CANDACE F STEFANSIC INHERITANCE TRUST; CANDANCE F STEFANSIC INHERITANCE TRUST; FRUIN, ALEX B TRUSTEE; FRUIN ALEX B INHERITANCE TRUST; STEFANSIC, CANDACE F TRUSTEE; STEFANSIC CANDACE F INHERITANCE TRUST; STEFANSIC CANDANCE F INHERITANCE TRUST
- ROSS, BRIDGETT D
- COOKE, ETHEN LANYARD TRUSTEE; COOKE, ETHEN LEWIS ESTATE
- JACOBS, JESSICA ALEXANDRA; JACOBS, ERIKA BESS