CommentaryThe idea of buying one of the houses adjacent to St. Paul’s has several times been considered by the Vestry. Obviously, the Vestry has not hitherto approved such a proposal. Probably what the church needs most is office space and storage space, and a nearby house could provide that. I have personally advocated such a purchase when nearby real estate has come on the market. I suspect the Vestry has not acted in these circumstances either because there was not a clear plan for what the church would do with a house or because it wasn’t obvious how to fund such a purchase.
I am told that the church has been given five months to make an offer on the house in question. My suspicion is that the owners came to the church. Selling to St. Paul’s could be attractive in a bad real estate market, in which buyers might be hard to find. But is the purchase a good move for the church?
It is difficult to see how. To begin with, stone houses in Mt. Lebanon do not come cheap. Whatever state the property is in—there is reason to believe the house is not in a good state of repair—it would need to be renovated to serve whatever role we assigned to it, and we would likely have to spend a good deal to bring it into code compliance as a public building by adding things like sprinklers. Even with a good deal of renovation, it is difficult to see how the building could be made handicapped accessible. It is a multi-story house whose entrance is a good deal higher than street level. We could easily spend half a million dollars and still not have a convenient or handicapped-accessible building.
Even if we had half a million dollars in hand, this looks like a solution in search of a problem. Does Lou really not have a plan, or does he have a plan he is simply not telling us? (The latter seems more likely.) He told the staff meeting that half the parishes in The Episcopal Church have rectories. That may have once been true, but I doubt it is any more. The Church Pension Fund has long recommended against parish rectories, and many of those properties that have not been sold off are being occupied by renters unrelated to the parish landlords. I know a lot of local parishes that have sold their rectories but not many with existing rectories. Cynthia Bronson-Sweigert has moved out of Redeemer’s rectory, which she thought too small. St. Andrew’s has converted its rectory into meeting space, though the upper floor is not in use because the parish did not have the money to bring it up to code.
In any case, buying a nearby house may not be the only way for the parish to get more space. Some storage could be had off-site. We might even be able to build over the parking lot. Such alternatives should be considered along with the purchase of adjacent real estate. Are we, in fact, using the space we have effectively?
Rather more disturbing is that Lou’s capital campaign, as we knew it would, is again rearing its ugly head. Surely, the real message from the Episcopal Church Foundation was that not only did the parish not like certain aspects of Fulfilling the Vision, but that the parish had issues that had to be dealt with before embarking on such a campaign. Whatever you may think of the emotional health of the parish, however, we appear to be unable to fully finance even our payroll, much less make necessary repairs to our building. (With all the rain, water has been leaking into the chapel, by the way.) Surely the building we already own needs to take precedence over renovation of a building we might buy.
It is time for St. Paul’s to take a serious look at the state of the parish. The visioning we did a year and a half ago was a sham. Real engagement by the members of the parish is required. We need to start over, developing a realistic vision for the future—a vision owned by parishioners, not simply by the rector.