In a letter to diocesan membership, the Rt Revd Prince G. Singh explains the process, rational and ultimate decision to sell the diocesan property.
I’m writing to update you on ongoing discernments related to Diocesan House, our administrative offices and chapel located at 935 East Avenue. For 15 months, the Building & Property Committee of Trustees, district representatives, treasurer and staff have been discussing potential alternative uses for Diocesan House, including options to sell and reimagine our offices in a new way. Thus far, the topic of Diocesan House use has been discussed at no fewer than 14 meetings; we are blessed with leadership who have engaged this issue as a serious matter involving the stewardship of our real, financial, human, and spiritual resources.
In these discussions, I have felt a constant gratitude for the blessing of Diocesan House, and for the saints who helped arrange its purchase more than 60 years ago. It has served the Diocese of Rochester very well, providing a space of beauty and history. What we have also learned in these discussions is that Diocesan House is as much an asset as a liability: it is expensive to maintain as an office, provides four times more square footage than needed by our target staff size, and ties up resources that could otherwise be used for mission and ministry. Diocesan House is a great asset, but that asset comes with $100,000 in annual expenses and perhaps even higher opportunity costs.
In truth, the greatest asset we have as a Church is the dynamic discernment in following Jesus Christ. One of my recent metaphors for this dynamic comes from the Church of the Multiplication on the shores of the Sea of Galilee/Tiberius, where the miracle of hospitality is said to have taken place. The mosaic on the floor nearest to the altar has an image of four loaves and two fish implying that the fifth loaf is on the Eucharistic table/altar today. It conveys to us the sense that every generation, every culture, every group of Christian leaders has the invitation from Christ to remember and be re-membered and subsequently reconstituted out of that remembrance.
It is my opinion that in this era of missional Church, one of the clearest ways we are reconstituting ourselves is through becoming more nimble in following Jesus, into our neighborhoods while traveling lightly. In our discernment of stewardship of 935 East Avenue, we have an opportunity to set an example by living into this dynamic approach to following Jesus. In that spirit, I asked the Trustees to consider:
how we can live into our network-like structure by using other existing church properties in our Diocese and districts for important meetings, which moves us away from being a centralized organism.
how a smaller Diocesan operations center could meet our administrative requirements and thus invest the majority of our human and financial capital towards growing and developing congregations spiritually and in missional leadership – more than in concrete real estate.
These conversations have evolved into a decision, if you will, to travel lightly. This May, the Trustees approved a plan to sell 935 East Avenue. We will be reviewing plans around the sale and potential budget implications at upcoming district meetings. While the Trustees work to select a broker, staff will collaborate with appropriate bodies to research interim office locations and solutions for our archives.
This is not the first time we’ve discerned whether God is leading us towards or away from centralized administration. I am beginning to take inspiration from our spiritual DNA in our Diocesan discernment of moving away from the concept of having a Cathedral, and instead embrace the practice of a Bishop, unencumbered by bricks and mortar, moving around the Diocese and the greater Church/world — a missional Diocesan is more accessible. When most of the Church was moving toward centralizing Diocesan leadership in concretized manners such as Cathedrals, we did not. At the heart of this discernment is a drive to be dynamic, working in networks and not being tied down by property and location but instead by vocation and embodied interpretation. This is enhanced further by the fact that we are technologically a lot more mobile than we have ever been. Therefore, as Bishop, I would be comfortable in experimenting for a season in an interim space which will function as our Diocesan office for the sake of location and an address. This will give us the necessary flexibility and time to listen deeply and discern where our vision guides us and how the next location could best meet our long-term intentions to follow Jesus.
I hope this update gives you a sense of where my heart is in all this. I wish for us to intentionally follow Jesus into our neighborhoods and to travel lightly for the glory of him who had no place to lay his head. Please keep diocesan leadership and staff in your prayers.
Your servant in Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Prince G. Singh
VIII Episcopal Bishop in Rochester
The letter and the photo are from the diocesan website.