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If the Episcopal Church leaves 815, where should it go?

If the Episcopal Church leaves 815, where should it go?

Just before Holy Week, Bishop Chris Epting floated on Twitter the idea that the Episcopal Church should sell its headquarters at 815 Second Avenue in New York and move into the vacant College of Preachers complex at Washington National Cathedral. When I replied that I thought the idea was intriguing, he asked if I would float it on Episcopal Cafe.

So consider it floated.

I am not sure that the College of Preachers can be transformed into modern offices, and I don’t think it could accommodate a staff of the size currently housed at 815. But it got me wondering not only what people made of this particular suggestion, but whether they had other locations to recommend.

I can hear this systematic thinkers among us saying that this discussion puts the pony ahead of the hay wagon (as we used to say in my native Scranton, where we had neither ponys nor hay wagons, and so didn’t really know what we were talking about) and that we need to make sense of what sorts of tasks we want the general church to perform, and what sorts of functions are best left at the diocesan and parish levels before moving people all about the country.

Fair enough. But sometimes the existence of an attractive alternative to the status quo stimulates enthusiasm. And we could all use a shot of that.


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tobias haller

Jon, I noted that point about ELCA, but it requires further examination. First, and most importantly, most of the work TEC does in conjunction with ELCA is not at the national level: Called to Common Mission was primarily geared to address mission needs in the field, and allow Lutheran and Episcopal Clergy to be interchangeable in congregational settings. (I do a number of things with my Lutheran neighbor!) But we are not geared to merging programs at a national level.

When it comes to international, it’s likely important to note that Lutheran World Relief has its offices in Baltimore MD, with a branch in Minneapolis. A “natural” cooperation between ERD and LWS does not necessitate being in the same building.

It should also be noted — forgive me for flogging history again — but the creation of the “God Box” for offices of churches participating in the NCC was intended to include TEC — but we dropped out to build our own building… Perhaps we should have thought ahead back then. But now that the Lutheran’s left NYC, we at least have a number of other mainline churches who still have their offices there.


I think Tobias is right that an important conversation to have is to decide what exactly we want a church-wide staff to do. But the reason I started this commentary with the suggestion to move to Chicago isn’t because I think Chicago is inherently better than NYC or to make some kind of statement about moving away from the seat of the cultural establishment or some such. It is because that’s where the ELCA is.

It seems to me that the future of Mainline Christianity in America is going to include a lot more (A LOT MORE) ecumenical cooperation. Therefore it makes sense (to me) to move to Chicago to begin to facilitate a conversation with our communion partners here in America about what combining some of HQ efforts together.

Such a move would also give us alot of flexibility as not owning property allows us the ability to more easily expand or contract our HQ as needed.

I think there’s a lot of potential in our communion relationships with the Lutherans (who are twice as big as us btw) and the Moravians as well as the emerging relationship with the UMC. There is a great deal more potential for spreading the Gospel in our context in these partnerships than we currently are taking advantage of.

Jon White


While it’s tempting to recommend using a facility here in VA, where we have a high percentage of Episcopalians and plenty of empty real estate, it seems like Jesus would have had a good bit of fun in plopping HQ down in an underprivileged area where we could actually do some good. And in the present economic downturn, we’d have plenty of places from which to choose.

Eric Bonetti

tobias haller

Speaking demographically, the “center” of TEC is east of the Mississippi — by 2 to 1. Just what is so significant about geographical centrality? For Lutherans Chicago made demographic sense, but much less so for Episcopalians. There are more Episcopalians in just the four dioceses of New York, Long Island, Newark and New Jersey than in all of Province V! Not that most of them care where the Church HQ is… I guess I just don’t see an abstract attachment to the geographical middle as a strong reason to move. Nothing is “keeping us from moving” other than the lack of a good reason to move — and geography is not a good reason.

If it is a question just of the finances, as I said above, moving to the South Bronx would be even cheaper than Chicago, and closer to LaGuardia. Cheapest of all is simply downsizing the staff and leasing out more of the building to other tenants. The real question shouldn’t be about moving but about the work of the church and its hq — maybe we don’t need one at all!


I assume that a financial statement would be meaningful enough?

Clearly TEC needs to address the costs of 815, to return many functions of the church HQ to the dioceses, and it should probably consider placing a smaller national staff at a location that is both geographically convenient and less expensive.

I propose Chicago as a good option, with easy access to a major airport hub. But other options in the midwest would work well, too.

And let’s not pre-set the goal posts here. Moving the headquarters to a major hub in the middle of the country wouldn’t be “just as good” as NYC or DC. It would be significantly better. NYC and DC aren’t the standard; they are but two out of many possible cities that we could consider. Perhaps they score rather low on the list when we consider the important criteria.

The real question isn’t “Why do we need to move?” It is “What is keeping us from moving outside of NYC?” With the old cultural reasons for being in NYC no longer as meaningful to the rest of the country the automatic assumption that the church would be headquartered in NYC no longer applies. We are free to find a headquarters for the church that works for the entire church. NYC is just one of many cities that would work. Yet it is no longer the center of the known universe, and the prudent thing for the church to do now is to find a location that is affordable, geographically central, and easy to reach.

And I think that this is exactly the sort of question that we need to address right now. We could spend years and years with all sorts of fun committees and commissions asking what sort of church we want to be. But for now we should probably take the responsible step and move the national headquarters to an affordable and geographically central location with access to a major airport hub.

Dennis Roberts

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