Wednesday, June 4, 2014

'Animal Farm' at 815 Second Avenue?

Over at Episcopal Café, there is an article by former Executive Council member Del Glover, who served as Chair of the Council's Finances for Mission Committee. Entitled "Should We Sell the Church Center?" (Part I), it is guaranteed to draw attention and comment.

The "Church Center", otherwise known as 815 Second Avenue (in New York City), is of course the eleven-story building which has served as the headquarters for ECUSA since it was built in 1963. Located in Turtle Bay, just behind the United Nations, it used to contain the entire staff of the Presiding Bishop, the General Convention, a bookshop selling Church publications, a chapel, and much more.

However, with the decline in ECUSA's membership (accelerated in 2003 by the consecration of V. Gene Robinson as a bishop) and the consequent decline in donations and diocesan assessments, budget strictures have dictated the downsizing of much of the staff, the closure of the bookshop, and the leasing out of a number of floors to provide rental income. The building no longer serves the functions it once did, and thus there has been widespread discussion about selling it.

Indeed, Resolution D-016 passed by General Convention in 2012 began as a direction to the Executive Council to sell the Church Center, but as finally adopted by both Houses, it stated only:
"Resolved, That it is the will of this Convention to move the Church Center headquarters away from the Church Center building at 815 2nd Avenue, New York City."
Moving the headquarters "away" from 815, of course, can happen without selling it; the building would be a pure source of rental income, and ECUSA just a landlord. Is that, however, a proper function of the Church's mission -- to be a New York landlord?

And of course, if the Church sells the building, the headquarters will have to move, so Resolution D-016 would be fulfilled. It thus appears on the surface that there is little to no difference between moving the headquarters and selling the building.

It is fascinating to observe how liberal Episcopalians will go to any length to ascribe the changes that are being forced upon ECUSA to causes which do not include the 2003 consecration of a bishop in a same-sex relationship, in an outright betrayal and jettisoning of its mandate from Scripture. Mr. Glover's article, in typical fashion, points the finger at "the changing dynamics in society, in the marketplace, shifting global financial structures, demographic shifts, and advances in technologies ...". These will serve as tokens for almost any organization encountering the cultural winds; they are so general as to be decidedly unhelpful in this specific case.

The questions to ask are these:
  • Why has a headquarters built for the Church in 1963 become obsolete (or superfluous, or non-functional -- choose your poison) in a bare half-century?

  • How has the Church's mission so changed in just fifty years that it no longer can sustain its structure?

  • If the headquarters are moved and the building is sold, what better and improved structure will replace it?  Or, said another way: just how will ECUSA be better off?

It appears that not even the Task Force on Re-imagining the Church (TREC) has any idea of what  answers could be given to these questions. Its most recent product is all over the map -- no doubt due to the fact that TREC is empowered only to propose, and not to dispose.

The severity of the decline in 815's functionality may best be seen in this anecdote, told by a commenter on Mr. Glover's article, who recounts his recent attempt to pay a visit to the headquarters:
I'll share here a story I told Gay Jennings a few weeks ago.

As a South Carolina Episcopalian, I've been involved in the transition of our diocese, and much of that transition has been informed by the need to reconnect with our Episcopal heritage, since many of our now-departed leaders dedicated themselves to tearing TEC down.

I was in Manhattan on business a few months ago, and decided to visit 815. I'd never been, and I figured I could pick up some materials (like the tracts one finds in TEC churches), browse the bookstore, or even pray in the chapel.

Admittedly, I didn't have an appointment. But I didn't really have an agenda, either--just wanted to visit the HQ of my Church...feel connected to the larger organization. You can't imagine how precious that connection is in our diocese these days.

So I enter the lobby of 815 at about 1pm on a Wednesday. A security guard who I can only describe as annoyed asks me my business. I'm a little thrown--there's no welcome center, no sign beyond the facade that I'm in a place associated with religion. I ask if there's a reading room or information desk.


I ask if there's any brochures, newsletters, or TEC printed media I can take back home.


So I stand there like a chump and then head back out onto Second Avenue.

I'm not qualified to comment on real estate values, but selling the current "church center" might allow our leaders to re-imagine what a "church center" can be. If right now the "center" of our church is little better than Trump Tower in terms of atmosphere and outreach, what good is it?
Once again, the denial of what has brought matters to this point is astonishing. ("[J]ust wanted to visit the HQ of my Church...feel connected to the larger organization. You can't imagine how precious that connection is in our diocese these days.") But the fact remains: if 815 has become a barricaded citadel for ECUSA's elite, akin to the farmhouse in George Orwell's novel, then it is not serving the Church. (And the elite are not serving the rest of the animals on the farm, either.)

Actions have consequences. Pretending that there were no consequences from 2003, or that if there were, they were completely acceptable, simply allows those consequences to multiply.


  1. @Pewster, Or the ubiquitous... 'The Episcopal Church welcomes you" sign. Hmmm, perhaps TEC is not as welcoming as we once thought. Thanks, Curmudgeon for posting this. The comments over there are interesting indeed. The most interesting to me were this moaning and groaning over a lack of denominational guidelines for church curriculum,etc. forgetting that such materials can found at the diocesan level (and once agains points to the diocese as the most useful unit of the church larger than a parish) and this little gem, "so let's send a message that we are moving from Christendom and sell the building." Yep. TEC is indeed moving from Christendom- no doubt about that.

  2. Trespasser:
    We do not forgive you, nor or you welcomed. You are in a no welcoming zone. Please strike your tent. Your rod and your staff are not welcomed. Your biometric analysis upon approach indicated that you are not a tolerant and accepting person. Therefore, leave or we shall summon appropriate authority from Tiberius Caesar himself, and we will banish you because you are not tolerant.
    Please, for a change, think globally and act locally. No person can be called "illegal", and all people should be allowed to love who and how they might so will, as the greatest community said very clearly in the Good News Weekly Bible and current cultural issues roster.

    1st Wednesday after Kwanza
    Sermon to-day: Wisdom of Frida as seen through the eyes of Rigoberta Manchu and Carolina Fernandez Vda de Kirchner.

    Thought for the Day: How can so few have so much when so many have so little? There are no angels, there are no devils. Where there is no peace there is no justice.
    Processional and Recessional and Offertory Hymn - Imagine
    Inspirational Interludes: Medley of Guthrie and Seeger

    Hope and Change, Bro.

  3. What is wrong with being a New York landlord? Further, it is not exceptional, even with the Episcopal church. Trinity Church Wall Street owns some 14 acres on Manhattan Island.