By Jeff Walton (@JeffreyHWalton)
An Episcopal Church executive oversight group has unanimously recommended against re-locating the denomination’s headquarters from New York City, citing “justice concerns” among the chief reasons to remain at the church’s pricey Manhattan mid-rise.
Specific among the concerns were states with “regressive immigration laws, laws banning marriage equality, and laws that encourage gun violence.”
Among the 15 cities examined for a potential future headquarters were New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Washington, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Houston, Minneapolis, Detroit, Miami, Philadelphia, Boston, Charlotte, Ft. Lauderdale and Cincinnati. Eighty percent of Episcopal Church attendees live in the Eastern and Central time zones, with the report noting that the church’s population center is gradually shifting southward.
While noting that Atlanta is the birthplace of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the location of the King Center, the city was downgraded due to Georgia’s “Arizona-style immigration law.” The report also complained of so-called “stand your ground laws,” permitting the use of force in self-defense without the obligation to retreat, which it claimed encourage violence and “raise issues of racism.”
“As leaders in the Church, we have a particular concern about the effect on our witness on the issue of marriage equality when some married persons employed by us would be forced to make a choice between keeping their jobs and having their marriages recognized,” the report stated. The report also bemoaned substituting lower-paid replacements for a large part of the staff.
“New York, Washington, and Boston pose no public policy concerns,” The report summarized. “All other potential locations examined pose public policy issues that would have to be taken into account.”
A substantial push to move the church headquarters was one of the unexpected developments from the 2012 General Convention in Indianapolis. A House of Deputies resolution (D016) called for the denomination to sell the Episcopal Church Center in Manhattan.
The original resolution stated “it is the will of this Convention to move the Church Center headquarters away from the Church Center building at 815 2nd Avenue, New York City, as soon as it is economically feasible.”
Spurred on by high costs associated with maintaining the Episcopal Church Center (estimated at $11 million over the coming three years), the group of Episcopal clergy and laypersons was informed by the experience of other churches, such as the Presbyterian Church (USA), United Church of Christ and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which have all decamped from New York in favor of Midwestern cities. Most recently, the New York-based National Council of Churches announced that it is consolidating into a single Washington, D.C. office.
Senior church officials immediately circled their wagons following the House of Deputies resolution, convincing the House of Bishops to water down the legislation into merely investigating relocating from the mid-rise building on Second Avenue, saying that “it is the will of this Convention to move the Church Center headquarters away from the Church Center building at 815 2nd Avenue, New York City.”
At a meeting of the church’s Executive Council on February 26, Episcopal Church Chief Operating Officer Bishop Stacy Sauls presented the report “Locating the Episcopal Church Center For Missional Strategy” which “received the unanimous support of the Executive Oversight Committee.”
The 10-member executive oversight group includes Sauls, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, Chief Financial Officer Kurt Barnes, General Convention Executive Officer Michael Barlowe and other high-level directors.