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Grant programs offer boost to church renovation projects, within constitutional limits

Thu, 01/03/2019 - 4:59pm

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church was built in 1894 in downtown Jamestown, New York, and features a bell tower with working carillon bells. Photo: St. Luke’s Episcopal Church

[Episcopal News Service] It’s a reliable truth, as familiar to Episcopalians as the words of the Gospels: Church buildings don’t get any younger.

Wear and tear on those buildings combined with the limited financial resources available to many Episcopal congregations often translates to deferred maintenance that can leave church leaders wrestling with how to be better stewards of their properties. And then lightning can strike – literally.

“Like a message from God,” is how the Rev. Luke Fodor describes the lightning strike in 2013 that damaged the bell tower at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Jamestown, New York. He joined St. Luke’s as rector the year after the tower was damaged, inheriting a list of repairs that went well beyond what could be blamed on the lightning.

“It was kind of a clarion call: Hey, take care of your buildings,” Fodor told Episcopal News Service.

One silver lining to this maintenance storm is that the very age of some older Episcopal churches can be an asset in planning for repairs, with grant money available to assist in certain projects that can be categorized as historic preservation. St. Luke’s was awarded $500,000 last month through a New York grant program, and another Episcopal congregation, St. Peter’s in Manhattan, was awarded $500,000 from the same grant program.

“It’s going to be an exciting year ahead for us,” Melissa Morgenweck, senior warden at St. Peter’s, said in an interview. The congregation, which also is searching for a new rector, has just begun taking steps toward launching its rectory restoration project with help from the grant money.

The grants were among $19.5 million awarded by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. To receive the money, the congregations must ensure the projects are thoroughly documented to meet the state’s criteria, including the ability to raise matching funds.

Grant money for historic preservation of churches is available from numerous sources, but for a grant program like New York’s that is backed by public resources, the projects must in some way benefit the public, not just the congregations. At St. Peter’s, though the rectory’s top floor is set aside as a rector’s apartment, the rest of the building is regularly used by the community for activities from substance abuse group meetings to photography classes.

“Our rectory is used very much as a community space,” Morgenweck said. “It’s become a real hub for the community, but the building needs significant work.” A leaky roof and walls are just the start, she said.

Preservation of a historic building also qualifies as a benefit to the public. A 125-year-old church like St. Luke’s can offer “history that’s visible, not just history that’s tucked away in museums,” Fodor said. His church is one of 103 buildings in downtown Jamestown that are identified as contributing to the Jamestown Downtown Historic District, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Fodor acknowledged that not everyone is comfortable with giving public money to faith-based organizations, even with the goal of saving important local structures. Fodor said he initially faced pushback within his own congregation from some parishioners who questioned why state money would be used to help the congregation stabilize its bell tower and front porch.

“It’s a concern both ways,” Fodor said. “How do you use public resources? What’s the best use?”

Such questions became a legal issue in New Jersey that was settled last year by the state’s highest court, which ruled against churches that were benefiting from a preservation grant program. Three Episcopal churches were among the 12 churches in Morrison County listed as defendants in the suit brought by the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation and a Morris County resident.

One of the churches, the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Morristown, had received a $294,000 grant in 2013 to restore its 1926 parish house and an additional $272,000 in 2015 to restore the church’s slate roof.

One of the underlying legal precedents was set relatively recently, in 2017, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that churches should be treated like any other community organization eligible for grant programs, as long as the money does not support the congregations’ spiritual missions.

The New Jersey court concluded Morrison County didn’t pass that test. The decision did not require the 12 churches to repay the $4.6 million they received over four years, but the county was barred from awarding money to churches in the future.

New York’s grant guidelines make such criteria clear, Fodor said. Grants cannot be used to pay for basic repairs or routine maintenance, the agency says in an online document. “Work intended for the primary benefit of the worshippers which is not restoring something historic (for example adding a new elevator or ramp for persons with disabilities) is not an eligible expense and cannot be reimbursed with State historic preservation grant monies.”

That’s why the $1.6 million project at St. Luke’s that was awarded a state grant only focuses on shoring up the structural integrity of the bell tower and porch. Separately, the church used about $700,000 that it raised through a capital campaign to pay for interior renovations that would not qualify for public money because they only benefit the congregation, such as replacing a boiler and adding a bathroom.

Fodor thinks it is easy for congregations like his to get overwhelmed by the task of keeping large, old buildings in good shape.

“They don’t teach you classes in seminary on how to do this work. You just have to feel in the dark,” he said.

The most important step, he said, is to face maintenance challenges head on and develop a plan to address them. “Just keep moving. Don’t give up,” he said.

Public grant programs aren’t the only resources available to help congregations maintain their historic buildings. Nonprofit organizations at the local and national level also award money for preservation projects, include church restoration.

In New York, for example, an organization called the New York Landmarks Conservancy offers a Sacred Sites grant program specifically for houses of worship. St. Luke’s received $45,000 in 2017 from that program to pay a consultant to conduct a full property inspection and recommend repairs. St. Peter’s received $25,000 for repairs to the church’s exterior walls.

Another funding source open to churches across the country is the National Fund for Sacred Places, a program of Partners for Sacred Places  in collaboration with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and supported financially by the Lilly Endowment. In addition, Partners for Sacred Places’ offers a “Repair & Maintenance Guide” for congregations on its website.

And within the Episcopal Church, congregations are encouraged to contact the Episcopal Church Building Fund, which offers loans and consulting services to help with building and renovation projects, “so that lives inside church buildings and out in our community are transformed through the ministry of our church, by God,” the agency says on its website.

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.

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La Iglesia Episcopal vende propiedad en Austin

Wed, 01/02/2019 - 8:51am
La Iglesia Episcopal ha anunciado la venta en su totalidad de la cuadra 87 en Austin, Texas a CPG Block 87, LP una Sociedad Comanditaria tejana el 14 de diciembre de 2018.

La cuadra delimitada por las calles Séptima, Octava, Trinidad y Neches, y que cuenta con un parqueadero comercial, había sido adquirida por la Iglesia Episcopal en 2009 con el objetivo final de construir un edificio que alojara los archivos nacionales. La buena gestión de este parqueadero generó un ingreso mayor cada año lo cual aumentó el valor de la cuadra 87.

En el 2017, la Iglesia seleccionó a Cielo Property Group como socio en este desarrollo inmobiliario para que incluyera espacio del terreno para los Archivos de la Iglesia Episcopal y un proyecto aledaño de uso mixto. A comienzos de 2018, la Iglesia y la constructora recibieron el visto bueno del municipio a la petición de que la ciudad renunciara a un callejón que entrecruzaba la cuadra realzando así el valor de la propiedad y allanando el camino para que el proyecto de uso mixto sea construido.

En su reunión de abril de 2018, el Consejo Ejecutivo de la Iglesia Episcopal recibió una actualización sobre el Proyecto Archivos. “En ese momento, el liderazgo de la Iglesia acordó que nuestra decisión de proseguir de manera estratégica con el desarrollo de este lote dio como resultado un significativo incremento de su valor” dijo el Rdo. canónigo Lang Lowrey III, consejero de la Iglesia. “Si bien la intención originalmente fue crear un nuevo hogar para los Archivos en este lugar, la valorización de la propiedad y el uso del ingreso del parqueadero para reducir las obligaciones financieras presentaban una inesperada oportunidad. Es decir, vender la propiedad y con el producto de la venta buscar otros lugares y así agilizar la construcción de los Archivos”.

“Esta transacción es un acontecimiento positivo” dijo el obispo presidente de la Iglesia Episcopal, Michael Curry. “Amplía las oportunidades de la Iglesia y crea nuevas posibilidades para abordar las necesidades archivísticas de la iglesia”.

“La venta de este lote a CPG Block 87, LP replantea nuestra estrategia de obtener un nuevo hogar para los Archivos” dijo Mark Duffy, director de los Archivos de la Iglesia Episcopal. “Construir un edificio en la cuadra 87 de Austin requería una donación considerable para financiar los gastos operativos. El tener acceso al aumento del valor de nuestra propiedad a través de esta venta nos ofrece flexibilidad para poder seguir adelante con opciones diferentes para los Archivos en el siglo XXI”.

Los Archivos de la Iglesia Episcopal son el repositorio oficial de la Iglesia Episcopal que incluyen la Convención General, La Sociedad Doméstica y Extranjera, las organizaciones de la Iglesia Episcopal, y los documentos personales de sus líderes.

Los Archivos de la Iglesia Episcopal pueden consultarse en: https://www.episcopalarchives.org/

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