Sell the Buildings, Call the Tentmakers

Updated:  After Tobias’s Comments, I’ve changed this post so that it doesn’t refer to ACNA.  I think he is right in his analysis.

I believe that ACNA, the new convocation of traditionalist, anti-gay sex churches might be offering the Episcopal Church a gift.

I do believe that TEC’s immediate response toward the new province is justifiable.  In an atmosphere of mutual hostility and recriminations, the suspicion that TEC is on its way to irrelevance and ACNA wants to take all the property, our conflict is placed in the hands of secular law.  It is ugly.  And it seems necessary.  But it need not be.

If we want to grow as a church, we should sell our buildings.  Not all of them, but ten percent.  Let that ten percent endow tentmaking ministry in the church.

Money that could be spent on mission is now used to maintain buildings with decades of deferred maintenance.  Congregations often place a higher priority upon a building’s beauty than reaching out to the spiritually bereft, without taking care of them effectively.  Their pledges, instead of being used to bring people into the light of Christ, are used for building projects.  Although not all building maintenance is useless, it misplaces resources that could especially used for church growth.

I don’t mean this to be a universally applicable sentiment.  Maintaining buildings is effective after a church can afford the staff that helps the laity do the work of ministry.  A building may be a church’s ministry.  But too often, it sucks the energy and resources of struggling congregations who should be spending money on sending people out into the world.

A good example are congregations in Manhattan.  New York City has several million inhabitants.  There are dozens of churches on the island.  However, few of the churches are growing.  The well endowed don’t have to.  But the rest, what will come of them?

It can’t be because there aren’t people.  Redeemer Church, for example, a PCA church, has more than six thousand members and plants communities.  Times Square church has thousands.   People are surely eager for the Word.

Some argue that the reason is because of the type of Christianity being peddled.  Conservative Christianity has stronger appeal.   It demands commitment that pusillanimous churches won’t have.   They are better organized and are more entrepreneurial.  Theologically modern churches, in this view, are simply destined to pass away.

If this is true, then we should sell our buildings.  Sell them to ACNA at a little less than market value.  We’ve been poor stewards of many of our churches.  Time to let them go.  Sell them to churches who will care for them.    We’ve implicitly given up the belief that a progressive church can thrive, justifying our mismanagement by worshiping the ideal of the small church and country parson.

There are good objections.  We’ve sold properties before, without any sense of how we should use the income.  Instead, we continued our poor practices.  We should not sell our buildings merely to create an income for spending irresponsibly on the 1950’s niche model of doing church.     But we should recognize that we’ve mistaken mission for maintenance.  We’ve poured our money into buildings rather than building relationships.  We must stop.

Sell ten percent of all our buildings to endow varieties of tentmaking ministers and clergy.

I’m not sure which buildings we would sell.  I might start with the ones in the worst shape.  I would analyze the demographics of all the churches in the local diocese and see which ones can support paid staff effectively and have congregations who want to grow.    Yes, there will be some places we’d sell that might seem like bad choices.    However, if a congregation lacks resources to care for a building, is uninterested in church growth, and lacks leadership to do either, sell that piece of property, or offer it to a developer for 20 years.    Put the money into triple rated bonds and take out just a few percent a year.

The endowment would subsidize the tentmaker’s vocation.  It may include insurance, pension, continuing education, transportation, housing allowance and $10,000 in hospitality (this would be a necessity).   Some may work other vocations for their stipend, but are liberated from requiring a day job that has benefits.  Perhaps tentmakers would conduct morning or afternoon services in a partnering Episcopal church, providing support or collaborating with overworked full time rectors who never have enough time to write a decent sermon.

Some may be people seeking ordination.  Others might be lay people who have other professional jobs.  Others might be interns in big companies or chaplains at universities.  And a few might be paid, full-time tentmakers whose only job is to bring the gospel to the people.

Tentmakers will have to be special sorts.  In Malcolm Gladwell’s terms, they will be “connectors”  and “mavens” of spirituality.  They will be eager to make friends, build community, and organize.   They will meet groups in bars, movie theaters, providing opportunities for people to serve.  They may invite people they meet to church, or they may also encourage rectors, and continue networking.  They will be ready when people have questions about spirituality, Jesus and God.   I suspect that they will be extroverts of a sort, good at music, with a sense of jouissance.

Such a position would have to have clear expectations and a way for people to be evaluated, encouraged and trained.  But an endowment would give such people freedom to experiment and be creative in their ministry.

Selling 10 churches in NYC could an endowment of about $50 million dollars.  That would allow us to fund anywhere from 30 to 70 people willing to be the church in the world.   Selling an additional 100 (or even 1000!) churches throughout the country for the purpose of funding people, rather than buildings, would show some audacity and foresight.  We would be the first denomination to fund the leadership of the next wave of churches, the emerging church.

ACNA might just be offering TEC that opportunity.  Sell them the buildings.   God bless them if they can do better.


I’m counting.


I’ve got these big thick books – the parish registry.  They include all those batpized, confirmed, married and died.  I have no idea how people actually used them.  Because all I want to do is get an actual count.   Have people moved?  Did they just disappear?

I’m ready to put an attendance sheet in the back of the church.

I just want to know:  Who is in it?  Who wants to be in it? Who is being counted?

Does it matter?

It’s clerical work.

Anglican Communion Fantasy

The other night I was at a bar, thinking about my ex-girlfriend when I saw this really hot blond with legs that just wouldn’t stop.

She was dressed in a red cashmere sweater, had modest earrings that looked vaguely South Asian. A light patterned scarf from Hermes draped around her pearls, and wore a classy, tight, knee length skirt.  Her legs indicated a discipline of tennis and running.  She was drinking a Fuller’s London Pride:  not a great brew in my book, given that there were so many great American Beers, but I knew her type.


I walked over to her.  I’d been planning for this.  I knew that even if we did decide to provide each other some mutual comfort only for the evening, we would have enough in common for a combative friendship.  We could discuss pressing world issues like incense, the New Zealand Affirmation of Faith, and zuchettas.  But if she were of the provincial variety, I’d have to start from the medieval perspective.

“So….  What do you think of this new Anglican Province?”  I winked.  She might get flustered, I figured, if she didn’t wasn’t one of those who took a dim view of same sex affection.  Not just the sort that includes hand holding.  Not merely a joint checking account.  Not just sharing laundry or doing dishes.  But affection with orifices and orgasms.  In the orthodox view, orgasms are strictly for those within the property covenant.

She might respond with a casual, “I don’t know what they are thinking,” demonstrating sadness in the direction of the Episcopal Church, or “well, TEC will survive,” expressing hope in their magnanimity.  Perhaps she would say, “It’s about time.  I’m now going to attend church.   I’ve been waiting for one that was led by Bishop Duncan, who can now properly be called a pope.”  Relief that after years of being a wanderer, finally a conservative church which understood her liturgical tastes.   There were gazillions of them, I know, waiting finally for the true church to unshackle itself from the rude heretics that made up The Organization that calls itself Episcopalian.

I was prepared to engage.

I continued,  “Anglicans in North America.  Can you dig it?  Bishops.  Lots of them.  Getting it on with protecting Christian civilization from the gay people.  Maintaining the FOD.  That’s Faith Once Delivered.  Foddites.   The one true historical Christianity, the one that is the biggest and best of the many.  Because if we won’t, who will?  God?  Who’s going to protect Him and the faith?” If she was sympathetic to my conservative Christian line, I was in.  But I could play it off like a joke if I needed and she turned out to be a liturgical Unitarian.

She looked at me for minute as if I had been dropped off from another planet.  A planet with only Lutherans who still insisted in doing the mass in Swedish.   As if I’d argued that Anglo Catholicism was invented by closeted Gay Brits who shared a secret affinity for Oscar Wilde.  She began to open her mouth when I said, “Don’t worry.  We can still be friends, even if we don’t agree.”

She blinked a couple and said, “Excuse me, but what the fuck are you talking about?”  I forgot that Anglicans sometimes use blue language.

I wondered, however, if I had her mistaken.  Maybe she was a high class Methodist.  One of those social justice types that occasionally did Zen, but whose parents had made enough money to send her to Kent School or St. Paul’s.

“You know, the new Province.  Can you dig it?  Purple shirts, getting together and not having gay sex.  They look gay, but they aren’t.  Very counter cultural.  It’s the new reformation.  With Africans.  The press will pick it up.  And then the millions of people, young and old, black and white, men and a few women, straights and closeted gays who’ve left the Episcopal church because of the out gay people who kill babies and deny Jesus, will finally have a home after living in the spiritual wasteland of the Terrorist Episcopal Church.

“The New province.  You know what I’m talking about.”

She wasn’t buying my enthusiasm.  Did I read her wrong?.  She just stared at me, pretending she didn’t understand.

“What else could bring us together, babe?  Finally, a real world issue.  Gay sex.  And brave, manly men like Bob Duncan, keeping the faith.  The man was meant to be the pope the way Obama was meant to be president.  He even has an American English-like accent.”

After a minute she raised her eyes, ready to tell me what I wanted to hear.  She was  truly a poster child for the new Anglicanism.  Which means, she was smokin’. She raised her eyes to me said,  “Is this a Real Life episode or something?  Are there cameras nearby?”

“Come on, sweetie.  You know why the church is dying.  LiberalismHumanismBishop Pike.  I know you shudder when you think of him.  Let’s just say later I’ll turn you on by calling him ‘heretic Pike.’”

“This is a little weird,” she giggled a bit.  I guessed that “weird” was a secret code for Anglicans.

“Granted, the real problems happened with Women’s ordination, but we can gloss over the … problem of gender until the next time we meet with the Romans.”  I hoped she wouldn’t tell me that the Roman Catholic Priesthood was the safest place for gay men.

“Look, I do find you kind of cute, but I have no fucking idea what you are talking about.  Are you a religious freak?”  At least she was smiling.  She knew what I was talking about.

“Aren’t we all religious freaks?  I know you have a thurible in your room and read the collected works of Richard Hooker every night.  I know you have Robert Gagnon on your mind.”

“Robert Gagnon?  Isn’t he a porn star?”

“Well, he knows a lot about gay sex.  And where to find it in the bible.”

“I’ve never heard anyone use the bible and porn as a pick up line before.  What’s a thurible?”

“You’re playing.”  Or perhaps she was a low church evangelical.  They’re passionate about what they believe, and get right to the point.  None of this ritual gesture business.  They say it when they mean it.

“Wait, weren’t you on American Idol?”

I knew she understood the connections.  Pike.  Women.  The 1979 BCP.  Spong.   The Episcopal Church was dying because of them.  “No.  You watch?”

“Of course!  Doesn’t everyone?  Weekly.”

“It’s like church.”  That might be the cue.  I’d find out exactly where she stood.  Would it be St Mary the Virgin, the Anglo Catholic church in Manhattan?  She didn’t know the rector had gone Episcopal.  Or All Angels, where Bishop Minns once preached the word?  Or Church of the Resurrection?  Or maybe it was that new little Anglican joint down in Midtown.  I had to know.

“Church?  You mean, like, uh, churchy church?  Like God?  Is that what you mean by the bible?”

“Yeah, baby.  Churchy church.  Without … heretics.  Just as the bible says.”  I let heretics slide out of my mouth slowly.

“Heretics, going to … hell.”  I smiled, making eye contact.  Eye contact is crucial for seducing Anglicans.  “Or Apostates.  Whatever turns you on.”

“Well,” her eyes kind of darted to the side,  “I… believe in God, but, um, I just haven’t gotten around to it.  Sometimes I watch Joel Osteen, late.  But… this is very weird to talk about this at a bar.  Why don’t you just ask me for my number.”

“Uh,” I was a bit flustered, taken aback by her directness.  “OK.”

“But generally, don’t use the Anglican thing as a pickup line.  Nobody cares.”

“I just thought…”

“Well, there’s so much harm done in the name of religion.  It seems quaint and sometimes old-fashioned.  Most services are boring.  Old music and desperate people.  Sad.  It could be different, maybe.  But now I just want to par-tay!”  She shook her fist in the air just a little, as one of her friends looked over, checking to see if she needed protection.

“Look I’ll buy you a drink if you just tell me your denomination.”

She smiled.  “Silly.  I’m an Episcopalian.  You don’t recognize me?  I’m your senior warden’s daughter.  Let’s do shots.”