Dean’s Letter: Grand Plans

Hello St. Paul’s,

I want to update you on the various capital projects and dreams that we are developing for the cathedral campus.

First, the remodeling of the chancel to make it bigger, more flexible, more accessible, and safer: we now have a firm timeline, and the general contractor has started ordering materials, some of which will take up to 20 weeks to arrive. Our plan is to begin construction on Easter Monday, April 18, and to finish the job in mid-August. We are hoping and praying that prices don’t take another steep climb in the next five months. We will continue to hold worship and other events in the nave during construction, with some kind of attractive barrier or screen to disguise the work site. Now that we have chairs in the nave, we can arrange them any way we like, so Easter season will be a time of some experimentation. Perhaps we will put the altar in the middle and encircle it with chairs. Perhaps we’ll angle the chairs in blocks or line them up monastery-style. There are lots of options!

Second, the new building, now known as 525 Olive. Work is speeding along and Greystar still expects to be granted an occupancy permit some time between mid-March and mid-April. We are awaiting delivery of furniture for both the gathering spaces and the offices. As soon as we can we want to start holding events in the new space and using the parking, even if we can’t yet spend all day in the offices. 525 Olive now has a community manager, who will be handling inquiries about affordable options and various events on the shared courtyard. We are planning to hold a Grand Opening week in mid-May, when we will offer tours, schedule meetings in the new space, and celebrate, along with welcoming our new neighbors as they move in.

The third capital project is the masterplan that I outlined in the Sunday forum a few weeks ago. The architects are close to having a plan that incorporates all our wishes. It’s a grand plan, born of dreams, and we have yet to learn the scale of cost that might be involved, but I can assure you that it will be several million dollars in all. We will be launching a feasibility study for a capital campaign soon, with the aim of learning how generously our cathedral community can contribute to this project. That in turn will dictate how much of the project is feasible.

You might be saying, “We received a large amount of money from the sale of our land for 525 Olive: why can’t we just plow that back into the capital improvements?” The fact is, before we started the construction we had an apartment building on site that brought in significant rental income. That income was part of our annual operating revenue. When construction began we lost that income, and now the investment income from the sale proceeds keeps our budget balanced. We depend on the 4 or 5% we receive from that invested money to maintain our regular operations. If we spend down the principal, we will lose income and no longer be sustainable. So the plan is to steward that fund, along with our other invested funds, so that their yield continues to support our operations for many years to come.

While our grants committee and revenue research task force are working hard to identify additional external sources of funds for the capital improvements, I want you to be prepared for the likelihood that we will not be able to realize the masterplan in full, or at least not in the near future. Grand plans are by their nature a stretch, and we should be prepared to fall short of the goal. The good news is that if we do stop short of the entire project, we will still have a dream to hold onto and look forward to for the future, and it will be part of a cohesive design. We will be creating a workplan that allows us to tackle the masterplan in segments for just that eventuality.

Episcopalians have a saying that we like everything to be done “decently and in good order”. In a cathedral setting, that preference extends itself to a desire for perfection. We are justifiably proud of our beautiful liturgy and music, our ability to maintain a functional campus, our technological offerings. We want everything to be just perfect, and we have little tolerance for falling short in any direction. Such high standards can lead to a mindset where we choose not to stretch for our dreams in case we might fail. To put it simply, we tend to be afraid of failure and would rather not take risks.

But if we don’t take risks, if we don’t stretch beyond what we think is possible, we will never discover just how much we can do together, with God’s help. This masterplan and capital campaign will be a stretch and we might not get everything we want. But if we do it right, we will learn and grow and develop new relationships along the way, and that will make the effort a success in the eyes of God. Because, while it’s wonderful to have excellent facilities and comfortable meeting spaces, what really matters in the end is the relationships we build and the opportunities we take to serve others for the sake of Jesus. I hope that we can achieve all of the above, but if all we do results simply in building strong relationships with each other and with our neighbors beyond our walls, we will have accomplished a good deal. So let’s dream big and shoot fearlessly for the stars!

I’m looking forward to this weekend when we will once again celebrate a Choral Evensong: another step towards returning to a full offering of ministries of St. Paul’s.

See you on Sunday!

Your sister in Christ,

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