815 2nd Ave. The Episcopal Church Center’s home sweet home. It was built in 1962, is a stone’s throw from Grand Central, the United Nations, Pink Blossom Nail & Spa (Four stars on Yelp), and is set near a consular office for basically every country on earth. Some in the Episcopal Church think the rent is too high. A fair point—the church is servicing debt on the building, the maintenance costs are significant, and paying a staff a living wage costs more in New York City than it would in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Prior to the last General Convention, Executive Council asked the Church staff to take a hard look at whether we should keep the headquarters at 815. Then, in 2012, General Convention adopted resolution D016, saying, “it is the will of this Convention to move the Church Center headquarters.” The Executive Council appointed a subcommittee to take a really hard look at whether the church headquarters should stay at 815 2nd Ave.
That subcommittee “commenced…immediately” and the final report of their work is now here. There was talk among the subcommittee asking, “What should we do?” There was talk to consultants and real estate advisors asking, “What do the experts think we should do?” There was talk to other denominations asking, “What do you all do?” There was a survey of rank-and-file Episcopalians asking, “What does everybody think we should do?” Here is what they found:
No matter which question was responded to, clear and fairly consistent themes of affordability and accessibility pervaded. (Joint Subcommittee on the Location of the Episcopal Church Center Final Report, p. 5)
So they looked at other cities and weighed the options. There was “no clear winner.” The final verdict revealed that the subcommittee felt:
It was important to develop a strategic vision and continue this work through this year and into the next triennium. (Final Report, p. 9)
In other words, “we don’t know, so let’s take a really really hard look!”
Studies are important. Taking time is good. What about mission? It appears the main concern is affordability and accessibility. Basically saying, “It costs too much!” And, “Can I get to New York, or Tulsa, or wherever easily?”
In 1989 pastor and New York Times bestselling author Tim Keller started Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City precisely because he wanted to be in the cultural heartbeat of North America. People thought he was out of his mind. New York is expensive, secular, and potentially hostile to the Gospel of Jesus. That was Tim Keller’s point—the people who make the cultural decisions and drive the global economy are in New York. So he put a church there. Now, five thousand artists, scholars, financiers, and other New Yorkers go to Redeemer every Sunday.
There is a missional reason to be in New York. The Episcopal Church Center is positioned in an unbelievable location for mission of the Episcopal Church in the nation and the world. If the church were to lose that location, the church may never get it back. There may be legitimate reasons to leave “815”. Jesus ministered to the rural people in Galilee and urban people of Jerusalem. There is no one right answer about whether to stay in New York City or move to a less expensive modern-day American Galilee. Either way, the church is at her best when she keeps mission at the forefront of the conversation. If the church asks, “Should I stay or should I go?” and the talk is only about money, convenience and cost/benefit analysis, it will miss the point. The conversation begins not with affordability and ease of air travel, but with the mission of Christ to the world.