Should We Sell the Church Center? Part 1

by

by Del Glover

Part 1 of 2

Could it be that the reason the discussion about the Church Center evokes such passionate discourse is that the discussion is really more about the future of the church and less about the finances or the geographical location of the building? Others have previously made this point and I wonder if it would be prudent for us to encourage a fuller discussion of it. Clearly, there are significant financial and logistical consequences to the relocation decision but it might be helpful if we explored the strategic issues in more detail first. The adage in architecture (that is also used to explains some phenomena in some natural sciences studies) is ”form follows function.” This concept may help us understand how to take an objective approach to the decision about the Church Center. That process might begin with us posing these questions:

• What is the purpose of the Church Center?

• What functions does it need to house and what staff is essential to support these functions?

• Where is the optimum location consistent with those functions?

The decision about locating (or relocating) the Church Office needs to respond to these questions. Related decisions about selling or leasing the current building need to be made, but these decisions are the financial and logistical consequences of the more fundamental issues being addressed.I find it interesting that there is no comparable discussion about the need to relocate the headquarters of Episcopal Relief & Development or the Episcopal Church Foundation or, with some hesitancy, I add to this list the Church Pension Fund. So, what is it about the location of the central office of the Episcopal Church in New York City that evokes such passionate discourse?

Others have suggested that the “issue” about the location is really about absence of a common “vision” for the Church or a lack of alignment about policies and practices. The suggestion has also been made that unless we begin to address these issues, relocating the office will only ”relocate the problems.” Looking to the decisions taken by other denomination that previously had headquarters in New York City is instructive but not conclusive. The Presbyterian moved to Louisville, Kentucky in a modern, 300,000-square-foot office facility, made possible by the donation of two former warehouses. The United Church of Christ moved its national headquarters from New York City to Cleveland, Ohio. The Lutheran Church moved its national headquarters to the Chicago area. The fact that these groups chose to relocate is not justification for the Episcopal Church to relocate its offices, but they do confirm that other denominations having wrestled with the same issues we named . . .high costs of New York City, the importance of “presence” in New York, the potential loss of critical staff members, etc., . . .but still made the decision to leave New York City. But some of these organizations also report that they continue to get comments about the policies and practices from the new ”head office” suggesting that the comments have little to do with the specific city. where the headquarters are located.

To continue to debate simultaneously the strategic and financial issues is not helpful and only serves to distract us. It might be helpful to remind ourselves how we got to this point. The Church Center was located in New York City at a time that our leaders saw the need for offices and staff to support the rapid growth of the Church. Over time the role of the Presiding Bishop evolved from one that was primarily pastoral and legislative to that of a Chief Executive Officer leading a complex corporate entity and overseeing a staff and facilities necessary to deliver services and programs to the Church.

Today, the changing dynamics in society, in the marketplace, shifting global financial structures, demographic shifts, and advances in technologies have all combined to change the way secular organizations manage their affairs and conduct business. Decentralization of decision making to allow faster and more targeted responses to local market demands have been essential to the viability of organizations whether they are nonprofit or for-profit entities. Responding to these forces, the Church is also adapting to calls for new ways to be Christ’s presence in the world.

The Church Center for Episcopalians is not a symbol of our unity; regrettably, we have no such site that functions to symbolize what it means to be an Episcopalian. It is not a pilgrimage site and so to many Episcopalians its significance is minimal. In this context it seems appropriate that we re-examine the current Church Center as we respond to the strategic questions. And some of our recent actions provide some valuable information about the course we have already begun to plot, even if unconsciously, as a first step of the implementation of a deliberate strategy. The notion of “form following function” might even be said to be already influencing our decisions about how and where we deploy Church Center staff away from the central office and evolving our structures to accommodate the environmental (specifically financial and societal forces) that are already at play.

Our task in the near-term might be to reflect on the strategic questions while taking into account the actions that are already underway so that we are more deliberate in how we respond to the major changes we and all Christians are experiencing.

In a subsequent commentary, I will offer my observations about the financial and logistical consequences of the strategic challenges before us. As we await the TREC report and prepare for General Convention in 2015, might we use this time to hone our idea about strategic issues we need to face to better serve God’s mission.

Del Glover is a layperson who lives in Providence, Rhode Island. He has served as a Deputy to several General Conventions and on Executive Council where he chaired the Finances For Mission Committee.

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Gary L Harke
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Gary L Harke

In this discussion it may be helpful to recall that both the PC(USA) and the ELCA "relocated" new communions (aka denominations) following the merger of related but separate bodies. In the case of the UCC, it was trying to consolidate entities once in different locations (which was the after-affect of the 1957 merger). All this suggests that the case of TEC, while appearing similar, is different: the presenting issues are different, the politics are different, etc.

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Jim Jordan
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Jim Jordan

Thank you, Del, for your clear separation of the two questions: 1. What should the form (organization) of the Episcopal Church be to conduct its God-given mission (function) in the early 21st Century? 2. Should the Episcopal Church sell the building that houses the existing Church Center? The first question is strategic and, to my way of thinking, the important one for TREC and General Convention. Once we have settled on answers and established our strategy, we can develop action plans with their associated costs - and figure out how we're going to pay for them. The question of selling 815, the building, is a tactical one of asset management, important to answer in a responsible way, preferably by folks with asset management expertise.

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it's margaret
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it's margaret

Perhaps we should sell the all the property on that island while it still has some value --before the water rises too high what with melting ice caps and such...

Margaret Watson

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Bp Pierre
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Thank you Del, for raising this question again. You have identified some of the issues, but the central one is, what are the staffs supposed to do? It really does not matter where the offices of the Presiding Bishop, President of the House of Deputies, Treasurer, and Secretary of Convention are located, if that question is not raised and answered. Because as you say, form follows function.

Looking forward to part two...

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GeorgeSwanson
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Restoring unity is the job of every Episcopalian. All members are expected to work at it. See page 855 in the prayer book:

Q. What is the mission of the Church?

A. The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.

Some people interpret the 17th chapter of John's Gospel as Jesus praying for the success of the ecumenical movement.

I doubt Jesus was praying for important Christians to fly to Constantinople, Rome, or Geneva to create the One True Church for us all.

Jesus sounds more like Julian of Norwich and John of the ross. More like the Wesley brothers.

Yes, let us discuss what the Church is FOR. What each of is is FOR.

The Prayer Book offers a beautiful assignment--maybe starting with ourselves first and influencing others by HOW WE LIVE rather than what we say:

Restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.

George Swanson

george@katrinasdream.org

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