Midweek Message: “Thoughts on the Stewardship of our Building as a Servant of Mission”

Week of the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

Dear Friends in Christ:

One of the few silver linings of the pandemic’s upending of our lives and routines in church is that it gives occasion to assess who we are as a congregation and what we may be called to do to serve God’s mission. One thing is emerging in clarity and that is that Resurrection Church is not and will not be the same church it was even a handful of years ago. We will not go back exactly to the same routines. Church meetings via Zoom, for example, may be here to stay.

Two additional developments also give occasion to assess where we are, especially in terms of the utilization of our church building. One, of course, is the current closing of the Clothes Closet. The other, also quite significantly, has been the closing of the preschool.

All of this beckons us to discern how best to be good stewards of our church’s building. Our physical homes are extensions of our embodiment as human beings, and thus contribute greatly to how we live our lives. That’s true also for church buildings. While the Sunday School song concludes that the church is not a building, nor a steeple, but a people, it is also true that our church building makes possible our doing the things that constitute us as Christ’s body, the church. Namely, the church building makes possible our comfortably and faithfully assembling around word and sacrament, the event that is church, our worship on the Lord’s Day. While we certainly did church outdoors in the earlier months of the pandemic, nearly all of us would agree that it’s far preferable to worship as we do indoors in our lovely, liturgically accommodating nave!

But the church building also serves other expressions of our mission as well, for example, historically and again, the Clothes Closet and the Preschool. Now that those ministries have concluded their missions, what’s next? Bodies that don’t get much use or exercise tend to atrophy. That’s true for buildings as well. Currently, our church building is grossly underutilized. Our large facility is a gift to us and perhaps the wider community to be used to benefit our communities. But right now, in terms of use, it’s languishing, used only in communal ways on Sunday’s and a few other occasions currently, like occasional congregation events, and cub scout gatherings, and the 12 step groups and Finnish Language Schools once they return in person. Again, we are called to consider well how the fullness of our facilities might best be used in the near and more distant futures to serve the mission to which God calls us.

In the interests of transparency and disclosure, our congregation has been approached by a local private, non-profit, Pre-K-8 school, enquiring of us whether or not we would be willing to rent space to them to house their school. I have been in conversation with the directors of this school, and our Council has created a working group of our members which has also met with the school officials, having generated a host of questions about this possible renting relationship. All of this is in initial conversational phases, but it is also true that these conversations will move as quickly as possible given the school’s needs to communicate with their constituency where they will be located next school year, for enrollment processes for the next school year begin soon.

It is our leaders’ understanding that a decision to rent our space to an outside organization is appropriately made by our Congregation Council. At the same time, we want to be in conversation also with the wider membership of our congregation about this possibility. Thus, my motivation in this message is to let you all know now that these conversations are underway, and that you can expect further information soon once there is more concrete information actually to share. If you have questions and concerns about this possibility, I am happy to respond to you as best as I am currently able.

But I will say for now that the prospect of the better part of our educational wing to be teeming with the vibrancy of some fifty school children is an exciting vision, in keeping, I believe with our congregation’s historic concern for education and in keeping with the character of that part of our building which itself is built on the model of schools. Fully utilized buildings are magnets for other possible activities. Busy buildings attract attention. And we need such attention if we want to grow in numbers of people and programs.

Moreover, the possibility of sharing our space with another entity will require that we determine how best our building serves our own mission and activities. An initial review of our space and how it may be shared between the church and school reveals that there will be plenty of dedicated church space for us to undertake our own current activities and even to expand those activities. We have plenty of room to grow, even if we would be allowing a school primary and sometimes exclusive use of many of our rooms in the education wing.

Here's another important opportunity for us to ponder as we imagine shared space in our facility. Buildings, like our homes where there’s sufficient room, tend to attract a lot of stuff that gets stored in closets and other spaces. As is the case with our homes, it’s also true for churches. Church buildings accumulate a lot of stuff! And much of this stuff doesn’t get used and yet stays put sometimes for decades. Sharing our church spaces with a school will force us to do some good ol’ fashioned spring and summer cleaning, purging our spaces of things that have not been used and likely will never be used to serve our ministry and mission. Such clean-up, clear-out efforts can have a satisfying, salutary effect on our life together, even as it’s satisfying to engage in such spring cleaning at home.

There is a lot more that I will say about the rationales to commend our possible renting out a good bit of our educational wing, but I’ll save that for future editions of my Midweek Message, again, when I and we know more concretely the specifics of this proposal. For now, I simply want to call your attention to this, to let you know that you’ll be hearing more, and to invite your conversation with me and with the Council – and yes, there will be scheduled occasions for such conversation. For now, I invite your prayers that God in Christ will guide our conversations among ourselves and with the school interested in renting our space, that the Holy Spirit would faithfully shepherd us in this process to outcomes that accord with the divine will.

Prayerfully in Christ, that our building may always faithfully serve God’s mission,

Pastor Jonathan Linman