July 9, 2020
Hello St. Paul’s,
The governing board of the Cathedral, the Chapter met this week, as we do every month, and when everyone checked in at the beginning of the meeting, it was evident that life during COVID hasn’t stopped: there is still plenty going on for many of us. I am very grateful for our Chapter members who find time in their busy lives to help our Cathedral community move forward in mission and ministry. This week’s Chapter meeting included several important topics.
As you know, the construction of the new building is well under way, and when it is done we will have some 16,000 square feet of new space. That’s a lot of space to fill! While our cathedral finances are currently in good shape, thanks to all of you, we don’t know what the future holds. So it behooves us to plan for maximum flexibility and security as we look ahead. After a great deal of thought and prayer, the LLC that will own the new building proposed to Chapter that we adjust our plans to permit leasing a portion of the first floor to a commercial tenant. This would be on the side facing Fifth Avenue.
A leasing arrangement will save us a lot of money, as we will not have to finish and furnish that portion – about a quarter of the square footage – and we will gain rental revenue going forward. That will free up more funds for the LLC to provide to the Cathedral in support of our operating budget. We will be working with an experienced commercial realtor to find the best possible tenant. This is a change of direction, after we went through those conversations a couple of years ago to discern good uses for that part of the building, but that was then and this is now: the world has changed in the last four months, and Chapter and the LLC agree that this is a prudent move.
In a similar vein, Chapter discussed the possibility of replacing our old, fixed pews with more flexible seating options. I mentioned this in my letter a couple of weeks ago, and Chapter came up with many good questions, which we addressed one by one. A document with my case for the change and all those questions and answers, along with some pictures, is in the cathedral blog for your reference. Given the restrictions that we will live with post-Pandemic, and the uncertainty of the economic outlook, it seems good to Chapter to consider making this change now, to maximize the possibilities for putting our beautiful space to work on behalf of the community. So this letter is a step towards a wider conversation with you all. There are many questions still to be addressed before we make any decisions: how will we select the right seating? Will it be padded, or have kneelers? Will we keep some of the pews for families to enjoy? We know that we want movable, stackable furniture that is comfortable, sturdy, easy to keep clean, and in keeping with our architecture. And the biggest question of all – how will we pay for it – has fortuitously been resolved by a generous parishioner who wishes to remain anonymous and who approached me earlier this year, unsolicited, saying that they want to buy chairs for the nave. (See attachment here, Q&A for Flexible Seating in the Nave).
As I just mentioned, the economic outlook is uncertain. It’s nothing short of miraculous that our finances have continued thus far to be healthy. I am very thankful that we completed our project to right-size the budget last year, and even more thankful for all you generous people who have continued to pay your pledges and even give above and beyond during the pandemic. As you might imagine, our fall pledge campaign this year will be quite different from recent years when we focused on in-person gatherings. The Stewardship Committee is developing a great plan though.
As we try to plan strategically for an opaque future, Chapter and staff are working hard to recognize and create opportunities for innovative mission. Our forum focus on racial reconciliation, our strategic reaching out to community leaders in Bankers Hill, the leasing option for part of the new building and even the seating question are all part of this effort. But we are a collaborative community, and everyone’s voice matters. So please plan to attend our Zoom Community Life Council on July 23 at 4:30 pm, when we will address all of these topics and we will be listening for what you have to say.
I’m excited about all these signs of life at St. Paul’s. As the song goes, we are marching in the light of God.
See you on Sunday.