Midweek Message: “Further Thoughts on Renting Out Our Space”

Week of the Seventh Sunday after Epiphany

Dear Friends in Christ:

Last week’s Midweek Message introduced you to the possibility of our renting out a significant portion of our building’s educational wing to a Pre-K-8th grade private, non-profit school. In that message, I began to articulate some of the rationale for possibly engaging in such a relationship. This week’s message serves further to articulate some of the rationale as well as to provide more concrete information that is now available.

There’s a sense in which a new rental relationship is a building project, and building projects in churches tend to focus a congregation’s attention and energies, and at their best such projects can renew a church’s sense of mission. For example, I wrote last week about the importance of purging our building’s spaces of unused and un-needed stuff, which itself can be life-giving, even as a good spring cleaning can liven up our homes.

Then there’s the financial impact of this particular possibility to consider and take seriously. It is true that our congregation’s giving has not matched our budgeted expenses during the time of the pandemic. There continue to be shortfalls of giving in relation to expenses even as we have been worshiping in person again for several months. Budget shortfalls are quite common in congregational life these days, and congregations, especially in urban areas, increasingly turn to other sources of revenue, such as renting out space, to meet expenses. In the case of the particular possibility before us, our congregation could receive a rental fee of $10,000 per month, or $120,000 annually. While we would incur some expenses in renting out our property, those costs will not total $120,000 per year. Which is to say, the rental income would go a long way in addressing our budget shortfalls and would give us resources to use for additional initiatives and ministries.

One such possibility would be to use some of the rental income to employ a part-time building manager or engage a building management firm to help us take care of our whole property when our church building’s routine maintenance needs sometimes exceed our volunteer capacities to handle them.

Additionally, the rental income could also expand our congregations’ already generous practice of supporting local, national, and sometimes international organizations and churches in their efforts to assist those most in need. Think of how such additional revenues could serve any number of ministries and initiatives in the spirit of gifts that keep on giving and blessings that multiply blessings. It’s exciting to imagine the possibilities.

Moreover, the proposed agreement with the school would result in immediate improvements to our property at the school’s expense – painting rooms and other cosmetic improvements and a major renewal of the playground space.

In terms of how the property may be shared, this is still in the phase of negotiating conversations, so nothing is as yet set in stone. But the basic idea is that the former preschool space on the lower level would be used exclusively by the lower grades of the school, even as that space was pretty much exclusively used previously by our preschool. So, no big change there. Then on the second floor of the educational wing, the corridor on the north side of the building is proposed to be used exclusively by the school’s upper grades, with some provision for possible occasional use by the congregation. Other rooms on the second floor in the other corridor are currently conceived as shared use spaces. That is, they would be regularly available to the school on school days and during school hours and available for the congregation’s use in the evenings and on weekends. It’s important to note that in current conversations, the following rooms are off the table in terms of possible use by the school: the children’s library, the choir rehearsal room, and the room dedicated to the Finnish School.

Elsewhere in the building, the large room on the lower level where the twelve step programs have met would be available for occasional, as needed, and formally requested use by the school. The outdoor playground will be for the school’s almost exclusive use, but the congregation could request occasional use. Which is to say, the rest of the building is available for exclusive use by our congregation: the nave and chapel, obviously, the nursery room on the first level, the suite of offices and lounge on the first level, our storage and maintenance rooms on the lower level, the church kitchen, the parish hall, and the stage and rooms formerly occupied by the Clothes Closet, which potentially could be spruced up and conceived for use by various social ministry projects. Which is to say, in my estimation, there is plenty of room left for our congregation’s current activities and plenty of space even to grow our number of activities and participants.

The working group that has been meeting concerning this possible rental agreement has addressed various questions and concerns. Here are some conclusions of our investigations. There would be flexibility built into a lease agreement to revisit provisions of the agreement, including rental rates. Increased utility expenses will not be a burden on the congregation’s budget. The school would arrange for their own phone and IT needs at their own cost, along with their own cleaning needs. Our insurance costs would not likely increase in troubling ways and we would not incur tax liabilities. These are the conclusions drawn by the capable persons on our working group on the basis of their own studied considerations and our conversations with the school directors.

Finally, to keep this Midweek Message to the accustomed length, there are intangible but significant benefits to the possible rental relationship with the school. As I indicated in last week’s message, an active church building is a possible magnet for other activities. In contrast, a moribund, unused building also speaks volumes to the wider community. Having a growing private school on our grounds could enhance the visibility of our congregation in the greater Arlington area which is crucial if we want to grow as a congregation. It could be that some of the families associated with the school might be looking for a church home. We would be poised to welcome them, as we as a church would be known to them in ways not possible if the school were not housed in our facility. Even if those numbers are few, that nonetheless opens doors for our membership growth that would otherwise be unavailable to us.

Once again, there will be more to say in future editions of these messages and other announcements. But I urge your attendance this coming Sunday after worship at an open forum, question and answer session, during which time you can ask your questions, express your concerns, and offer your initial assessment of this possibility. Again, that’s this Sunday, February 27th in the Parish Hall following worship. Please join us, as this is a communal discernment process which calls for wide participation of and consideration by our whole congregation.

Cordially in Christ as we engage this journey together for the sake of our share in God’s mission entrusted to us,

Pastor Jonathan Linman