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Occupy the tension: an interview with Jim Cooper

Occupy the tension: an interview with Jim Cooper

Nathan Brockman interviews the rector of Trinity Wall Street, The Rev. Dr. James Cooper, on the tension of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Nathan Brockman: If I look at my inbox since last December, a lot of the emails say “shame on you.” Do you feel shame about anything around Occupy Wall Street?

Jim Cooper: I don’t feel ashamed of anything. But I certainly reflect on the course we have taken, and I think we’ve taken the right course.

NB: Do you think Trinity as a whole should be ashamed of anything?

JC: No, it should be reflective and responsive to criticism.

Brockman continued with questions most found on comment boards including the convictions, Trinity’s motivations, and Bishop Packard. Lots of talk concerning Duarte Square and current relationships to individual people and public opinion in general.

Telling is the last part of the exchange:

NB: In hindsight, is there anything you would have done differently with regard to Occupy Wall Street?

JC: Occupy Wall Street is a leaderless, grassroots movement and it goes where the wind blows it, so I don’t know what there would have been to counter that.

The interview switches gears at this point to reflect on the positions of the Vestry, how the leadership has been challenged at Trinity, and the church’s place in relationship to New York City. Another interesting exchange:

NB: During times of conflict, is it tempting to think about revising that, to think that maybe you could have a foundation, a real estate operation, and a church with more distinct boundaries between them?

JC: Well, I think there actually are distinct boundaries. But they complement each other and serve each other. And really the church is the primary reason for all of it. But it wouldn’t exist in its current form, and ministries, without the real estate, finance, and information systems and media to help the entire mission be heard and promoted.

NB: Can you say some more about your perception of what Trinity does for New York City?

JC: Well, Trinity, certainly in the lower part of Manhattan, is a place of respite and spiritual renewal. Music, art, concerts, those kinds of things, feed that. And it’s a place of community life that not many offer. Trinity does. But in addition to that, a profound caring daily for homeless and the hungry, on the streets and in person.

NB: Does Trinity pay taxes?

JC: Trinity pays real estate taxes on all the holdings except for the churches themselves and those pieces of ministry that are direct ministry. Trinity does not pay, like other not-for-profits, federal [or state] income tax.

NB: Do you see anything wrong with the fundamental model of what Trinity is—a church that is funded with stewardship, but mostly by a real estate portfolio?

JC: Well, whether it’s a real estate portfolio or a more traditional endowment, there are not many city churches that are able to have a vibrant ministry based upon solely the gifts of the living, the people in the pews. We’re in historic buildings. They’re wonderful buildings but are very, very expensive—would exceed the ability of any worshiping congregation to maintain. So endowments, whether it’s the real estate portfolio or the more traditional one, are necessary for most churches.

The interview is rather extensive and can be found on Trinity Wall Street’s website.


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