Dio Rochester takes the decision to sell Diocesan House

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In a letter to diocesan membership, the Rt Revd Prince G. Singh explains the process, rational and ultimate decision to sell the diocesan property.

Dear friends,

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,

+Prince

The Rt. Rev. Prince G. Singh
VIII Episcopal Bishop in Rochester

The letter and the photo are from the diocesan website.

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John Chilton
Editor
John Chilton

Yes, Jon, kudos.

Now if we can just fix historic preservation:

http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2016/06/against-historical-preservation.html

"The opportunity cost of preservation is future greatness."

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Jon White
Admin
Jon White

There was a great line in a British TV mystery a few years back (which one I'm not quite sure, Inspector Lewis maybe?) where they were talking to a bishop and they were working the angle that the murder of the week was related to trying to stop the sale of a church. The bishop said, "I'm trying to make a difference in the world, not running an historical building society." Though not a real bishop, I think its an important point. Our buildings serve as tools to further the gospel, and nothing else. And though they were the result of gifts of the saints who have passed that doesn't mean they have to be used forever. My predecessors as rector used to get a free car every year, but no one expects me to still be driving around in a 1959 Cadillac. Not all gifts last forever and tools wear out over time and get replaced by better tools - not many building sites without circular saws and air hammers these days. Kudos to this diocese for realizing the tools they had were no longer fit for purpose.

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Joshua Castano
Guest
Joshua Castano

Its an oft repeated and yet still a very false dichotomy to put the building up against the ministry. The building is one of the most valuable tools we have for ministry -- absolutely -- and when we give up on historic properties we're often saying we don't care to develop the resources to steward our assets and building upon them. We have built a tradition that values beauty and has put rich craftsmanship and design to the service of the Gospel. Taking the usual line today that we can do without and just use any building, any space, any tool is an unfortunate rejection of centuries of work and labor and prayer. What do we offer to God if not our best? What kind of place do we welcome people to if not a home that is beautifully prepared for them? I think the thinking here of the bishop is sadly too much of a particular moment in time that holds up cost-effectiveness, economical utility, and the mundane in art as values rather than defects.

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Jon White
Admin
Jon White

Yes, we appreciate beauty. But Joshua, if you could show an example where Jesus was anything but a rootless wanderer in his ministry, the ministry which is the example we're supposed to follow, then I'd say yes, you're right. But there are no such examples in the gospels. The liturgy is as beautiful and affecting in an abandoned gas station parking lot as it is in the finest cathedral.

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Joshua Castano
Guest
Joshua Castano

What is discouraging to me is that we can't imagine a church of growing abundance with ever greater resources -- instead we believe that our future is one of decline and scarcity. I unfortunately view much of the talk about being nimble and divesting our physical assets as a way to shirk the responsibility for the great assets we've inherited from the saints before us. In so many dioceses we our selling and closing is no less than retreat. I

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Eric Bonetti
Member
Eric Bonetti

I admire the bishop, standing committee, and diocese for the courage to look the issue in the eye and deal with it, versus our propensity as a denomination for kicking the can down the road.

Sure, it's nice and reassuring to have a beautiful diocesan house, cathedral or church. But many of these become albatrosses that tie up ever-increasing amounts of revenue, yet still amass all sorts of deferred maintenance. And these structures too often encourage us to look back with misplaced nostalgia on the good old days as the quasi-state church, forgetting that the so-called good old days came replete with sexism, exclusion for sexual, racial and ethnic minorities, and some appallingly loose ethics in the inner corridors of power.

Time to live into being a resurrection people!

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John Merchant
Guest
John Merchant

May God bless the bishop, clergy, and people of Rochester on their prayerful journey to fulfill this spiritual transformation of the Church gathered in that diocese.

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