Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Cost of an Incoherent Strategy Just Went Up

Now there is a new downside to ECUSA's take-no-prisoners strategy of driving congregations from their churches and then letting them sit vacant (rather than allow them to be sold to, or rented by, the congregation which was forced out): in Pennsylvania, at least, county assessors have begun to remove the property tax exemptions on church properties that sit vacant. The article explains that the impact will be felt most by Catholic dioceses:

Although this applies to any religion, the impact would essentially be felt by the Diocese of Scranton, which has already started implementing a plan to close some schools and half of the 90 churches in Luzerne County.

[County Assessment Director] Alu said he recently learned that several other counties already started taxing closed churches and religious schools, maintaining that their closure no longer qualifies them for tax-exempt status.

It might seem that this would be a counter-productive strategy for the counties -- demand that properties which are generating no income start paying their share of local taxes -- but in reality, it is better for all in the long run. By making vacant properties more expensive to retain, it forces churches to order their priorities: do they want to use their hard-won donations and tithes from parishioners to further their religious mission, or do they just want to pay for the privilege of being a dog in the manger? And why should a church escape contribution to the cost of local services for property for which it has no current use?

I am not informed as to whether an impending property tax assessment is the reason that St. Mark's in Philadelphia decided, after holding the property for three years, to have a summer vacation Bible school at the beautiful and historic, but very vacant, church of St. James the Less (see previous link). And now I learn from St. Mark's latest newsletter that they are holding "work days" at the church in preparation for repainting the interior. I hope that all of this is a precursor to a plan to make such a beautiful place of worship once again ring with music, psalms, sermons and prayers.

But it has taken three years. At least now there will be no reward for doing nothing. And the cost of ECUSA's litigation strategy just went up another notch.

It is also worth noting that apart from paying its own attorneys and subsidizing a few rump dioceses, ECUSA contributes nothing of its own funds toward the long-term costs of its strategy, which are borne by the Dioceses and the parishes that remain in them. When a Diocese takes over a vacant church property, the funds required to maintain it (and now pay property taxes on it) have to come from the rest of the parishes in that Diocese. Thus in commanding that suits be brought to recover the properties from departing congregations, the Presiding Bishop claims to be acting as a "faithful steward" of property entrusted long ago to the Church. But that is empty rhetoric. The burden of her "stewardship", as always, falls on the regular pewsitters -- of whom there are, each year, fewer and fewer.

The market for vacant church buildings has to be even more depressed than the one for single-family residences. Can there be any doubt that the Presiding Bishop is being penny-wise and pound-foolish in pushing her litigation strategy? Unless new numbers of churchgoers are recruited to replace those driven out, simple mathematics tells us that the pro-rata cost of the strategy will go up among those who remain. That is a recipe for increased disaffection, and increased departures from the Church.

I put up a post recently about how no one, paradoxically, seems to be in charge as the country's monetary system lurches toward disaster. The same seems to be true of ECUSA, as it slouches toward bankruptcy -- of both the temporal and the spiritual kind.


  1. Encouraging news, indeed. Thank you for posting.

  2. My wife and I am are former members of St. James the Less, Philadelphia. We were very glad to hear that St. Marks was doing somethings at the St. James property, simply because the building urgently needs to be opened up regularly to get air. The dampness that accumulates inside will rapidly deteriorate the inside stone, as well as things like the triptych painting over the Lady Altar. Proper ventilation and heating of that building are essential for its physical preservation.

    St. James the Less is a prime example of a property that cannot be used for anything except as a Church. It sits squarely in the middle of the graveyard, and the graveyard cannot be moved by Pennsylvania law. Parts of the parish property across the street could conceivably be used for other purposes, but there is really very little demand for real estate in that part of Philadelphia. The design of the Church is such that it will have very little appeal to most modern congregations because it is small, long, narrow, and dark. All in all, it is very medieval, as it was intended to be, being an exact copy of the Church of St. Michael the Archangel at Long Stanton, England, built around 1230 AD.

    In throwing the parish out, the diocese got nothing at all except the buildings and grounds, which means simply a maintenance headache. The did manage, of course, to terminate the very successful school and neighborhood outreach that St. James was conducting there in the area. That is not quite true; the parish still continues the outreach to some degree, but it is hampered by lack of facilities because it no longer has a building to use. The evil intent of the ECUSA diocese was clear, and it seems to know no bounds.

  3. (P)ECUSA/TEC is finally starting to reap what it has sown. Indeed, as it lives by the sword of the state through its litigation strategy so shall it die by the sword of the state tax policies. Poetic justice.

  4. Like the moth that mistakes the flame for the moon, steering a course that seems straight to its own navigation system but instead sends it spiraling into a flaming death,

    So also does TEC. In its own navigation system of "no quarter given to competitors for the TEC brand" it believes it is steering a straight course to its own survival, but instead it will circle blindly into the black hole of empty churches and fiscal disaster.

    Br_er Rabbit

  5. TEC may yet be forced to deal with the former parishioners! Good for the counties who implemented this.

  6. " it slouches toward bankruptcy -- of both the temporal and the spiritual kind. "

    In my opinion, it has already reached the point of spiritual bankruptcy. But then, that may just be me.