Saturday, July 17, 2010

Pulling the Church into dry dock

My dad was a sailor, an old salt if there ever was one. He sailed San Francisco Bay as a teenager, and then skippered small ships in World War II.

When I was growing up my dad always had a sailboat, and he always seemed to spend as much time working on the boat as he did sailing the boat.

He impressed upon me the importance of maintaining the ship no matter its size.

St. Paul's Memorial Church, at the corner of Chancellor Street and University Avenue, built in 1927, is a sturdy ship that has weathered many storms, including four blizzards this past winter.

What many people don’t know is that our building is heavily used during the week; we host recovery groups, student and community organizations, our own small groups, community night classes, choir rehearsals and many other church groups. Every weekday, and most evenings, something is happening at St. Paul’s.

This ship is not just the gathering place for our faith community but is also our tool for ministry, and is a gift to us from earlier generations. It is now our turn to maintain the ship so that our children and their children will have it for their ministry.

This summer we’ve pulled the ship into dry dock for an overhaul.

You will notice on Sunday we’ve refurbished the restrooms on the ground floor. Meanwhile, the kitchen is being completely gutted; all of the equipment, counters, stove – everything – has been hauled out.

The paint on the kitchen ceiling was crumbling has been chipped off. The floor has been stripped down to the sub-floor and will be replaced. A new double-size refrigerator will be installed; new dish washers, easier to use, will also be installed.

Soon we will have new and safer hardware on the exterior doors.

Outside, the front yard is a construction zone. Crews have worked all month in the heat laying down concrete forms and foundations for a mediation garden.

These are big jobs, and the many moving parts have been overseen by John Reid, Pat Punch, Joan Albiston, Michael Wheelwright, Peter Dennison and several others. It takes a village to fix a building.

We have more to do. In coming years, we need to make major repairs to the 1920s church building, and renovations to our 1950s education wing and office spaces.

Our elegant church sanctuary has blistering plaster in many places. The walls have not been painted in years. Our rare and valuable Skinner organ needs substantial repair and restoration. The sacristy is worn out. The lighting and electrical systems throughout the building need updating.

Yet, as crucial as all of that is to our parish, maintenance of the Church is more than about bricks-and-mortar. Foundational to our parish life is the infrastructure of The Episcopal Church, especially the health of the Diocese of Virginia and the Episcopal seminaries. St. Paul’s is one parish among 181 in a diocese that counts 80,000 members; our two bishops log roughly 40,000 miles a year visiting parishes; our parishes rely on well-educated clergy and lay professionals.

Voluntary parish giving accounts for more than 90 percent of diocesan funding for programs including youth camps, seminarians, and congregational development. At St. Paul’s, we give $67,000 a year from our operating funds to the diocese; we also give through the time and talent of our people. Several members of St. Paul’s have given thousands of volunteer hours to the diocese.

The seminaries of the Episcopal Church also rely on parish and individual giving, and many are in dire financial condition; one seminary, Seabury-Western in Chicago, closed last year because it was broke.

My own seminary, the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, is operating at a substantial annual loss. The flagship of the Episcopal Church, General Seminary in New York, reportedly is selling Manhattan real estate to stay afloat. Seminarians, paying substantial tuition, now graduate with tens-of-thousands of dollars in student loan debt and that drastically limits their ability to accept calls to small and poor congregations.

The fiscal crisis of the Episcopal seminaries is as real as it is unnecessary. It used to be that parishes were expected to contribute 1 percent of operating income to the seminaries so that future leaders could be educated. That level of giving has faltered in recent years, largely because the seminaries are out-of-sight and out-of-mind. I am proud to say that St. Paul’s is giving to the seminaries but we could give substantially more. If all Episcopal congregations even gave one-half percent of operating incomes, the seminaries would be financial healthy.

At St. Paul's, this is our centennial year, a time for us to look not just back, but to look forward. Others gave us the infrastructure – the buildings, the diocese, the seminaries. Earlier generations built all of it through their selfless giving, and then gave it all to us. We are the beneficiaries.

Now it comes to us to maintain, enhance and give this treasure to the next generation. To us comes a big task, and to us comes many blessings.

It is our turn to step up and get it right.

Photos by Dudley Rochester


Peter Carey+ said...

Blessings on all this good work!


Peter Carey+

Betsy said...

Jim, I walked the oval of the meditation garden yesterday morning after church. At first glance, I expected it to be a circle. Then I became aware of the oval and THEN I became aware of the incredible placement of that oval. The intentional nature of its offset position speaks of the intentional nature of our spirituality. God speaks to us in offset ways, unexpected ways. If we do not expect the unexpected, if we don't appreciate the intention of our faith, often we do not see the blessing. I have said it before, but the personal faith you have shown in embracing the wonderful ministry of David and Betsy shows that you understand that St. Paul's love knows no bounds. It takes a special person and priest not to compete with such a beloved friend and former rector as David, but to know deeply that by your presence you are completing the friendships we have now. It is a blessing beyond measure. I simply love what is being done.