Members of the Federated Church in Edgartown voted Sunday to sell the Mayhew Parsonage on South Water street, capping a long planning process that began more than two years ago and included litigation.

Built in the early 1820s, the parsonage has housed the church’s settled ministers for most of its history.

Proceeds from eventual sale of property will be used to pay off church debt and secure a new parsonage. — Ray Ewing

But the high cost of maintaining the property, combined with a nationwide trend of declining church membership, weighed against keeping the parsonage, according to a summary provided to the Gazette by Federated interim minister Charlotte Wright, who declined to comment on the decision.

Overlooking Edgartown Harbor, the parsonage sits on the 17th-century homestead of preacher Thomas Mayhew, who founded the church in 1642.

The current meeting house, with its slender steeple, was built in 1828 on South Summer street, a block inland from the parsonage, which remained in the Mayhew family until the mid-20th century.

In 1956, descendant Sarah Joy Mayhew bequeathed the parsonage to the church on condition it remain occupied by ministers or otherwise used for church purposes, or else be donated to the preservation society now known as Historic New England, according to records.

A state rule against perpetuities subsequently imposed a 30-year limit on the amount of time such a condition can be enforced, paving the way for the church to seek a clear title to the property.

A complicated legal battle with Historic New England ended in 2020 when the Massachusetts Court of Appeals ruled in the church’s favor.

The church then began two years of conversations among its members and leaders on whether to keep or sell the parsonage. The property is assessed at $12 million.

“Unsurprisingly, it requires upkeep and renovation beyond our current budgetary means. The trust left by Sarah Joy Mayhew, to be used for parsonage maintenance, no longer suffices to meet all its maintenance demands,” said a church newsletter that went out to church members by email earlier this month.

Proceeds from selling the property could fund a new parsonage, settle the church’s outstanding debts of about $200,000, fund its $80,000 annual structural deficit and have enough left over to establish an endowment that would support church operations, including building maintenance, service work on and off Island and missions worldwide, the newsletter said.

At Sunday’s meeting, which took place both in person at the church and over Zoom, a total of 82 church members voted their choices, easily meeting the 75 per cent majority required for a “sell” vote to prevail, according to a followup newsletter that went out to members yesterday.

But don’t look for the for-sale sign to go up right away.

“We will have much to decide in the coming weeks and months as to how quickly we need to proceed,” the newsletter said.

“The congregation will have multiple opportunities to participate in the upcoming decisions on how the proceeds of a sale can be used.”