By Dan Webster
Deputies at last year’s General Convention seemed pretty clear about the Episcopal Church selling its New York City headquarters building and moving Church Center offices out of Manhattan.
Last month the Executive Oversight Committee recommended the headquarters stay put at 815 Second Avenue. The report to Executive Council listed several reasons including that it would be financially imprudent—not good stewardship—to move. Plus, leaving New York City would undermine our mission as an international church. After all, from NYC there’s direct air service to the 17 countries where we have congregations.
Bishop Stacy Sauls, chief operating officer, said the report took a year to compile and that 75 of the 102 employees at the Church Center would not move to another city. I could not help but notice how only senior staff at 815 make up the Executive Oversight Committee.
What was missing from the report was any information about what effect leaving NYC had on the Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans and United Church of Christ. The Lutherans even operate their three international and national relief agencies from Baltimore, a city not on Sauls’ list of 15 possible sites for a new church headquarters.
And just last month the National Council of Churches announced it was leaving the “God Box”—the Interchurch Center on Riverside Drive in NYC—and moving to Washington, DC.
“The critical NCC policy work can be coordinated from any location but to be the prophetic ‘voice of the faithful’ on the ground in the places of power, it is best served by establishing our operations in Washington,” NCC Transitional General Secretary Peg Birk said.
Our Deputies appear to be closer to new realities in 21st century congregations. Across the Episcopal church they see parishes closing, sharing clergy leadership, offering only part time salaries (or no salaries), and telling dioceses they can no longer pay their assessments – the source of the funding dioceses send to 815. Some parishes growing in membership may be seeing more pledges but for fewer dollars.
I suspect if Executive Council were to direct an independent special committee to look into selling and moving they might be surprised by the findings.
For example, the building next to the National Cathedral that housed the College of Preachers is not being used. Other dioceses in the northeast and mid-Atlantic probably have vacant church buildings that could be rehabbed into office space in locations proximate to Washington and NYC.
That independent group might also discover the wisdom shared last month by NCC President Kathryn Lohre,
“This consolidation will free us from the infrastructure of a bygone era, enabling us to witness more boldly to our visible unity in Christ, and work for justice and peace in today’s rapidly changing ecclesial, ecumenical and inter-religious world.”
Maybe we can find a way for the Episcopal Church to do that.[See also the 2 previous essays on Daily Episcopalian. ~ed.]
The Rev. Dan Webster is canon for evangelism and ministry development in the Diocese of Maryland. He is the former media relations director of the National Council of Churches.