Council considers proposal to stay at church center to further mission

Relocation is ‘only a mask for the real reform needed,’ report says

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Feb 26, 2013
The Episcopal Church Center at 815 Second Ave. in New York would remain the denomination’s headquarters under a recommendation being considered by the Executive Council. ENS photo/Mary Frances Schjonberg

The Episcopal Church Center at 815 Second Ave. in New York would remain the denomination’s headquarters under a recommendation being considered by the Executive Council. ENS photo/Mary Frances Schjonberg

Editors’ note: Story updated Feb. 27 to include link to “Locating the Episcopal Church Center For Missional Strategy” report.

[Episcopal News Service – Linthicum Heights, Maryland] The church’s denominational offices would remain at the Episcopal Church Center in New York if the Executive Council accepts a recommendation it received Feb. 26 from a group of Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society executives.

Of four main scenarios analyzed, “God’s mission of reconciliation is best furthered” by remaining at 815 Second Ave. in Manhattan and consolidating DFMS operations at the church center to free up even more space to rent to outside tenants than the 3.5 floors that are currently leased out, a report to council says. This choice would be “in the organization’s best interests financially, both in terms of budget effect and for long-term investment purposes,” according to the report.

The DFMS, the church’s corporate entity, currently rents 2.5 floors to the Ad Council and one floor to Permanent Mission of Haiti to the United Nations. The church center has nine floors of office space.

The study began in February 2012, five months before General Convention met, when council’s Finances for Mission committee asked DFMS management to study the possible relocation of the church center.

General Convention Resolution D016, passed last July, said “it is the will of this convention to move the church center headquarters” away from that building.

The report said the group believes that “the real underlying energy in examining the location of the church center is less about its location and more about how it actually functions,” adding that the writers “could not be in greater agreement about the need to reform how the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society functions and serves the needs of the church, particularly as to fostering, encouraging, and supporting mission at the local level in partnership with local leadership.”

Calling the desire for relocation “only a mask for the real reform needed and called for,” the group asks “how long, we wonder, would it be before complaints about the isolation of the Church Center in New York would become complaints about the isolation of the Church Center in some other city?”

“Perhaps rather than shifting the locus of our communal anxiety from one site to another, we would be better served in the long run to use our best judgment to make a rational and strategic decision in the best interests of the church’s engagement of God’s mission and then clearly articulate that decision to the church.”

Episcopal Church Chief Operating Officer Bishop Stacy Sauls told the council that the question of relocating the church center is regularly asked. The first time was about eight years after the building began to be used, and the issue seems to return at the same interval, he said.

Sauls, Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer Kurt Barnes, Deputy Chief Operating Officer and Director of Mission Sam McDonald, Director of Human Resources John Colon and Legal Counsel Paul Nix, all members of the 10-person Executive Oversight Group, conducted the study that began last spring.

The study considered Chicago, Atlanta, Washington, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Houston, Minneapolis, Detroit, Miami, Philadelphia, Boston, Charlotte, Ft. Lauderdale and Cincinnati, as well as another location in New York as alternatives to the 50-year-old church center.

Global real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield assisted in the study and its work was paid for by the Diocese of Los Angeles.

“We think the best alternative is to sell the asset,” John Cushman, the chair of the real estate firm, told council’s Finances for Mission and Governance and Administration for Mission committees earlier in the day. That conclusion stems, he said, from the sense that real-estate ownership and management is “not aligned with the core competencies of the church.”

Later in the day, Nat Rockett, Cushman & Wakefield executive vice president, told the entire council that it is not unusual that his firm came to a different conclusion that the Executive Oversight Group because the real estate firm looked at a different, limited set of factors.

After the recommendation was presented, council discussed the conclusion during an executive session on the second day of council’s three-day winter meeting. The session was closed because part of the discussion of the group’s report involved proprietary information such as the anticipated per-square-foot market rental rate for the 11-story building and its presumed value on the Manhattan real estate market. That information will also be absent from the version of the report posted here.

Council took no action on the recommendation and Finances for Mission and Governance and Administration for Mission will take up the report at council’s June 8-10 meeting.

The Executive Oversight Group came to its unanimous conclusion, the report says, after analyzing five “mission considerations,” including the unity of the church, mission partnerships, continuation of services provided, promoting justice and maximizing financial resources for mission. The overall consideration, according to Sauls, was stewardship in terms of financial management of the church’s resources for mission.

The unity of the church is most strengthened when the church’s home office is accessible to its members, they say. New York best serves that goal because 80 percent of  Episcopalians (nearly 567,000, based on 2011 average Sunday attendance) worship in the central and eastern time zones and the city is most conveniently reached by air by Episcopalians from outside the United States, according to the report.

Important missional partnerships would be negatively impacted by moving the church center to another city, the report says, because such a move would mean a greater separation between the DMFS and such partners as the Church Pension Group, Episcopal Relief & Development, Trinity Wall Street, the United Nations and the Anglican U.N. Observer, resettlement agencies including Episcopal Migration Ministries, the Episcopal Church Foundation, the National Association of Episcopal Schools and the Colleges and Universities of the Anglican Communion.

A move from New York would have “a very negative impact” on continuing to provide services to the church and the world because 73 percent of the New York staff (75 of 102 employees) would likely be unwilling to leave the city. The report estimates it would cost $2.6 million for severance and moving costs. While money might be saved by reduced labor costs in other cities, those employees who did move with the church center would have their salaries frozen while replacement workers are hired at prevailing, presumably lower rates. Thus, a two-tiered wage structure would exist which could have a negative effect on staff morale, the report says.

“We question the prudence of such a disruption at precisely the time when the church is reforming itself to have an increasingly missional focus and the staff is most needed to facilitate, encourage, and lead the initiatives being implemented as part of the Marks of Mission Budget as adopted at the 2012 General Convention,” the writers say.

In addition, Episcopal Migration Ministries might be threatened by a move because it is unlikely many staffers would leave New York since resettlement jobs abound there. If a major loss of staff impacted EMM’s abilities to offer the services for which it receives government grants, the ministry might have to be discontinued, the report says.

The report expresses concern about leaving New York because of the laws that might be encountered elsewhere. Married same-sex couples would be forced to choose between their jobs and moving to a jurisdiction that did not recognize their marriages, the writers suggest. New York recognizes same-sex marriage.

“We wish to be clear that we, as management, will implement whatever needs to be done to serve the church, and further, that we believe the entire staff of the Church will exercise its best efforts to the same end,” the writers say. “However, we do wonder about the effect on our prophetic voice of the indiscriminate dismissal of staff in order to replace them with cheaper labor absent some persuasive, if not compelling reason, to do so.”

“As leaders in the church, we have a particular concern about the effect on our witness on the issue of marriage equality when some married persons employed by us would be forced to make a choice between keeping their jobs and having their marriages recognized.”

And, a number of the cities considered are in states with “regressive immigration laws, laws banning marriage equality, and laws that encourage gun violence,” the report says.

“What does where we locate our home office say about what we believe?” the writers ask.

The report’s recommendation also calls for negotiating written agreements with all the associated agencies currently housed rent-free on 1.5 floors of the church center “to more equitably share costs, risks, and rewards, and most importantly, to enhance missional partnerships.” Those agencies include Episcopal Relief & Development, Episcopal Church Foundation, National Association of Episcopal Schools, Colleges and Universities of the Anglican Communion, the Anglican United Nations Observer, the Bible and Common Prayer Book Society and the Church Periodical Club. The DFMS also provides various services to the agencies, including accounting and banking services, benefits administration, mail, telephone and information infrastructure at no charge.

Of those seven agencies, the DFMS only has a written agreement with Episcopal Relief & Development, which occupies close to half of the space given over to the agencies.

“What we have never done before is consciously take into account, and fully informed the church, that these arrangements have a real cost — an actual operating cost and a cost in terms of lost revenue from otherwise rentable space,” the report says.

Council resolved in October 2008 that any new agency housed at the church center would pay a negotiated rent “unless there are compelling reason not to charge rent,” the report notes.

The writers recommend charging the agencies for the space and making a grant to offset the charge, in whole or in part. This “would make the reality that the current arrangement has actual costs being borne by DFMS more clear to all and help all parties understand the actual costs of their ministries and plan accordingly,” they say.

The report notes that at least four agencies (Episcopal Relief & Development, Episcopal Church Foundation, Colleges and Universities of the Anglican Communion and the Anglican United Nations Observer) probably would not leave New York if the DMFS moved. Thus, they would be faced with having to rent space.

“This led us to a simple question: If our affiliated agencies would be willing to pay market rates to a third party, might they be willing to share in costs with the entity that has hosted them at no charge over many years?” the writers say.

The grants in this triennium would completely offset the rent charged, but in the future, the report suggests the rent offset by those grants might be less than 100 percent and could be negotiated differently with each agency, “depending on differences in circumstances and the goals of the partnership.”

Forging such agreements “would distribute the risk of owning the church center among several entities instead of concentrating it only in DFMS,” the report says.

The report acknowledges that part of the interest in church center relocation was rooted in a desire to eliminate debt service from the DFMS budget. The budget includes service on two loans and a line of credit for operating expenses for which there is no balance.

One loan is for a parking lot in Austin, Texas, that was purchased as a potential site for relocating the Archives of the Episcopal Church. Revenue from that operation covers the interest on the loan and has allowed for repayment of some of the principal, the report says.

The second loan, for $37 million, was taken out in 2004 to pay for an extensive remodeling of the church center after council decided not to relocate the denominational offices. Much of that work had to do with asbestos abatement. The loan was renegotiated in 2010 and is due to be renegotiated again in 2016, the report says.

The loan balance at the end of 2012 was $32,642,800 and the annual debt service is $2,684,519. The loan is secured by unrestricted securities in the investment portfolio, not the building itself.

Because the interest rate is 3.69 percent and the DMFS expects annually to earn 8 percent on its investment (based on experience), it would be more prudent to invest the proceeds from the sale of the church center rather than pay off the loan, the report says.

The report also includes a detailed analysis of the eventual financial impact over 15 years of choosing each of the four scenarios.

In other plenary business Feb. 26, council:

* authorized a $250,000 line of credit for the Episcopal Church in South Carolina.

* heard a recap of the 15th meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council meeting late last year in Auckland, New Zealand by Josephine Hicks, the lay member of the Episcopal Church’s  delegation. Hicks’ three-meeting term ended with the Auckland meeting.

* received an update on earthquake recovery in the Diocese of Haiti.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.


Comments (41)

  1. Bruce Green says:

    This church has spent decades knowing and saying that New York City is neither the center of the country, the church, nor our mission. What does lunch cost you in NYC? What salary must you pay for employee housing? How do we move toward a Missionary Society.
    I don’t think you get the new image.

    1. Karen Birr says:

      I totally agree with your comments, Bruce. Boo Hoo if some employees are given the opportunity/choice to move with the Church Office or stay behind. How many other companies have moved and told their employers the same thing? Get a grip on what the majority of the faith want. Not just a few New Yorkers.

  2. Marylin Day says:

    Perhaps moving to a city that is less tolerant socially than New York would increase the opportunities in witnessing to a community the values our church places on ALL people. Our example could change many lives as we demonstrate our faith by being true to Jesus commandment – love one another.

    1. Karen Birr says:

      Yes, we ARE to witness to others, not just stay in the same comfortable place. Listen to the people who were the Deputies to Convention. This will make others wonder why even bother attending General Convention.

  3. God’s mission of reconciliation is best served? Bp Sauls et al have a direct line to God that they know this? Besides flying in the face of the process of General Convention and Executive Council – what other outrageous statement can they make to do what they want? And I am a supporter of staying in NYC.

    1. Karen Birr says:

      I guess Sauls thinks he is the only one who has a direct line to God. Gotta tell you something, I also have a direct line to God. I talk to Him everyday. Sorry to burst your bubble.

  4. JOHN SCHAFFER says:

    This proposal doesn’t make sense. Why even have a General Convention if we’re not going to follow it? This is not the only instance. The convention said it will allow “same sex blessing”; not marriages. Yet the Dean of the National Cathedral said he is going to perform “marriages”. That’s OK? Yet the Church is suing the Diocese of SC to keep the property. Why is that OK? The result of staying in NYC will broadcast to the world that we have no principles, except when it comes to money. I think there is more to our tradition than that.

    1. David Yarbrough says:

      There is more to our tradition than that.

      TEC is turning its back on our tradition, which is orthodox Christian theology. As a result it’s headed out the door into ACNA and other groups.

  5. Richard Murphy says:

    I’m not sure how the mission of the Church so critically coincides with the location of the Church Center in New York City, one of the most expensive cities in the country if not the world. What has been the role of stewardship in this project? More affordable locations can just as easily be locations for the mission of the church. Mission and Reconciliation can be carried out beyond the Hudson River. I suggest looking seriously at Kansas City, Kansas. It affords a central location, good airport, housing much more affordable than New York City or other large urban areas such as Chicago or Boston.

    1. Karen Birr says:

      We all noticed the committee chose to compare with other major cities that are very expensive. Kansas City IS a not city and is centrally located, not just for the East Coast.

    2. John Schaffer says:

      I agree Richard Murphy.

  6. Lisa Fox says:

    I wish this report had included the fact of the OVERWHELMING support from the House of Deputies in July 2012 that we sell this albatross as soon as possible. Yes, the Bishops watered-down resolution D016 and the Deputies acquiesced. But the Deputies spoke very clearly, then grudgingly acquiesced to the Bishops.

    I hope the Restructure Committee will take a fresh look at this whole issue. I hope this is one of the “sacred cows” they will consider.

  7. Donald Whipple Fox says:

    So, basically, if the Episcopal Church Center would move, it means that things would have to change: new relationships would have to be established, old relationships might have to change, new challenges for ministry might crop up and older ways of living out ministry might die. Oh, dear. How insulting this proposal is to those of us who live outside of the enlightenment of what it is to be a New Yorker. No one has said that there will no longer be any Episcopal presence in New York to serve the political and international needs of the Church, but to simply close your eyes to the possibilities of living into the Gospel in other ways in a different place smacks of arrogance to say the least.

  8. Hugh Magee says:

    New York is the obvious place. Moving to another city might have a short-term appeal, but in the long term it would most likely erode our credibility as a Church that is ‘on the map’.

    1. Karen Birr says:

      “Credibiltiy as a Church that is ‘on the map’.” Really? If they moved to another location that would be more centrally located and the cost would be less, that would not be ‘credible’ for you? Why would ‘…most likely erode’? That doesnt’ make sense.

    2. John Schaffer says:

      This committee should be fired for even suggesting such an outrageous idea.

  9. ROBERT C. ROYCE says:

    Is the report from a group of D&FMS executives a “Report” or a “Parody” on the state of the Church? If this were to be read in the congregations of this Church, the guffaws would be ovewhelming.

  10. Mary Roehrich says:

    Essentially I hear something along the lines of: we’re very comfortable where we are thank you and don’t want to move. Change is hard and we don’t want to do that either. Wow! What a convincing argument. No where do they address the problem that it drains money away from mission. The money changers are in the Temple and they like it there.

  11. Linda L. Gaither says:

    I am confused. The President of the House of Deputies was quoted in ENS as suggesting that the requests in the recent Voices of Conscience letter to Exec. Council (signed by Desmond Tutu and other Episcopal leaders) were intended as an end run around General Convention … Council is not an “appellate.” This, even though the Voices of Conscience letter wrote in support of A015, passed in both Houses at GC 2012. Now we learn that Stacy Sauls’ group of four is given ample floor time at Council to argue for keeping the Church Center in N.Y, after GC voted to sell it AND the real estate firm hired as consultants advises Council to sell. An “end run”? Am I missing something?

  12. Scott Elliott says:

    OF COURSE a group of executives from DFMS want it to remain in New York! OF COURSE they come up with a list of “good reasons” why it ought to!

  13. I seem to remember a basic principle of church growth — plant churches where the majority of the people are, not where the current worshipers are. That’s why new churches are commonly built in the suburbs where the people are, not downtown where the old churches are.

    Granted, our corporate headquarters is not a church, but it’s a symbol of where we’re placing our attention. The church center move resolved by General Convention 2012 must have been at least as much symbolic as practical.

    Plus, I’m sitting in Indianapolis as I type this (I’m here on business for a couple of days). Indy’s a pretty cool little city.

  14. David Decker-Drane says:

    Using the same logic, perhaps Lambeth should consider relocating to Lagos.

  15. Ian Chamberlin says:

    I think General Convention had the right idea.

    Having the headquarters in NYC, to me only reaffirms that the Episcopal Church, truly, at its heart does not really consider itself the people’s church, and is still really anchored to the 1920s vision of the Episcopal Church as an elite church of privilege and a church of establishment. It would be a great blow to DFMS executives and other TEC officials who would lose their privilege of residing near the center of financial and political power and have to relocate to the wilderness where power and privilege are not easily available.

    I am left to wonder … what if John the Baptist said that he really should be in Jerusalem, because that is where his mission would be most effective because he would have access to all the powerful and privileged people?

    Let’s consider that our fellow mainliners have headquarters in wilderness places (or at least places that the DFMC and Exec. Council consider the wilderness) like the ELCA (in Chicago, IL), Presbyterian Church – USA (Louisville, KY), United Church of Christ (Cleveland, OH).

    If the Episcopal Church is going to survive and thrive, money needs to shift away from expensive headquarters and salaries and instead be invested in mission. Although we are a hierarchical church, we are not the Roman Catholics. Hierarchy need not function like a medieval monarchy, nor does it need to be wasteful. An efficient, cost-effective, hierarchy is possible, but we have to bite the bullet and do it.

  16. Rev. Doris Westfall says:

    I was a deputy to convention and this is absolutely what we DID NOT vote for. I resent the restating that “the actual underlying issue is not about the location but about how it functions.” This is NOT the will of the House of Deputies at convention, which by the way, voted UNANIMOUSLY for the selling of the property and the moving of the offices. So I guess what this is really saying is that this committee knows the mind and intentions of convention better than the deputies that were there.

    1. Bob Boyd says:

      I was not a deputy to General Convention. I’ve been an Episcopalian in the pews for 57 years, having lived in dioceses in the East and West. I think the headquarters should stay right where they are. Modern transportation makes getting to New York very easy from most places. The same cannot be said for some of the places listed, especially some place like Kansas City. The report correctly points to the financial downsides of a move, which as any one who has moved a company knows are always more than anticipated. With all that seems to go on at General Convention, I suspect the deputies/bishops didn’t focus a lot on all the details involved in a move. They may have voted their anti-NYC feelings instead.

  17. The Rev. Lavonne Seifert says:

    It was emphasized to me in seminary that General Convention is the highest authority in the Episcopal Church. Really? Why would any thoughtful Episcopalian continue to expend the time and funds to attend GC — with the intention of furthering the work of God — when a few execs in NYC refuse to accede to the will of the church assembled in convention? As someone else wrote, of course the execs want to keep their comfy digs (offices and homes) in NY and the ‘burbs. All the explanations read like a smokescreen of excuses. I am disappointed as I am about to begin my priestly ministry. I feel that God is frowning.

  18. Karen Birr says:

    As I see it, the House of Deputies at the last General Convention wanted the move, but this committee (of 4) is telling us they were wrong? This committee also chose to compare with some other very expensive places to work and live. Why did the report point out that most of the membership of the Church lives either in the Central or Eastern time zones? Is this really important to state? And you wonder why membership is dropping? This statement is not fair to those who live in the other time zones. This Church, to my understanding, is open to ALL, not just those who live in New York. This report is very arrogant and does not listen to the majority. Wake up before we loose even more members.

  19. Rev. Torey Lightcap says:

    It appears the Executive Oversight Group has retrofitted its own intentions into D016, which reads to me as nothing more than a simple cost-benefit analysis of keeping the Church Center in its current location. Perhaps it is too simple of an evaluation, but it doesn’t seem to care about any of the things EOG maintains that it cares about. It becomes difficult to view this proposal, then, as a good-faith response to the mind of the church.

  20. Meredith Gould, PhD says:

    If y’all defy your House of Deputies and stay in the building, I suggest having a famous artist paint the ceiling of the chapel there.

  21. Michael Mornard says:

    Um.. being a GTS graduate… I can get lunch a lot cheaper in NYC than I can in St. Paul, Minnesota at any place except McDonalds, and Mickey Dee’s is just as cheap in NYC.

    Just sayin’…

    1. Ian Chamberlin says:

      I think the issue here is beyond “getting lunch” … I think the issue is the overall high cost of doing business inside New York City and the high cost for folks who need travel into NYC to do business with DFMS / TEC at the Church Center.

  22. John Schaffer says:

    Here’s an idea. Change the building into a hotel and restaurant for the homeless. Isn’t that what we’re all about?

    1. David Yarbrough says:

      The building is too valuable as office space to convert to that use.

      Sell the building and deploy the assets to allow meeting the poor where they are – far more bang for the buck.

      1. John Schaffer says:

        That was sarcasm, David.

  23. Jeff Woods says:

    Stay in Jerusalem or Going to Galilee: a difficult decision . . . will pray.

  24. Doug Desper says:

    Once again it appears as though the Executive Council is on the verge of reversing the expressed will of the Church and becoming its own authority. There IS life outside of that one small island called Manhattan. We’re now a country of 300 million, and the few million of greater New York (and even fewer in Manhattan) do not adequately represent the concerns, values, and influence of our national landscape; only display its outward appearances. Perhaps if the Church Center moved to a more mainstream portion of the U.S. there would be a different mindset for our priorities, and The Episcopal Church could begin to relate to the United States more broadly and effectively. As it is, many plans and concerns seem to reflect the parochial nature of this one cosmopolitan population. The mode of operation that we have frequently been lead by has been the cosmopolitain influenced narrative of Grievance – Entitlement – and Reimagining. Most Americans don’t operate in that orientation, and because our Church does it is little wonder that most of America finds us irrelevant. A change will do us some good.

  25. Tamsen Whistler says:

    WE MEANT WHAT WE SAID AND WE SAID WHAT WE MEANT: SELL THE BUILDING; GET OUT OF NEW YORK! Eight hundred-forty people in the House of Deputies agreed in a unanimous voice vote. Our opinion was not a “mask” for anything–nor was it a “masque,” for that matter. We voted to take the risk to step out of the halls of power into the wilderness–or at least beyond the boundaries of civilization as the four-person committee reporting to the Executive Council seems to know it. Give up access to the United Nations so TEC can focus on God’s work in the world. Stop eliminating effective people and programs for mission because we say we can’t afford them.

    1. Ian Chamberlin says:


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