June 4, 2014

The Episcopal Church Center as a Symbol of Episcopal Unity

Del Glover has published “Should We Sell the Church Center? Part 1” on Daily Episcopalian.

Personally, I am undecided as to whether the church should move its headquarters from 815 Second Avenue in New York City, but I am interested in what people have to say about the possibilities. The practical and financial implications of a move, of course, are complex. Glover does not express an opinion but suggests questions we should be asking ourselves.

I was particularly struck by this observation in the Daily Episcopalian post:
The Church Center for Episcopalians is not a symbol of our unity; regrettably, we have no such site that functions to symbolize what it means to be an Episcopalian. It is not a pilgrimage site and so to many Episcopalians its significance is minimal.
June Butler, in a comment on the Glover post, suggested that Washington National Cathedral is a symbol of our unity, and she suggested that the cathedral close might be an appropriate location for the Episcopal Church Center. I know that, when I have visited Washington National Cathedral, I have very much felt like an Episcopalian and have been grateful to be able to claim a connection to such a magnificent spiritual landmark.

That the Episcopal Church Center is not a symbol of our unity is illustrated by a story told by Daniel Ennis in another comment:
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

No.

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

Nothing.

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?
I find this story very sad. Clearly, the Episcopal Church Center is in no way a worthy pilgrimage site for Episcopalians. It could, however, be otherwise if we thought it should be.

Perhaps, however, relocating to Mount St. Alban would be a wise and spiritually productive move.

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