How lovely is thy dwelling place

The Telegraph, known for being wildly inaccurate on church matters, is now speculating that there’s a plan to sell many of the bishops’ palaces. Just for the sake of discussion, let’s say this story had come from a 13 year-old blogger, based on reading tea leaves, rather than The Telegraph. My imagined scenario will allow us to project some credibility for this story.

Should the church be in the real estate business? No. The church is in the the kingdom-building business, but God’s kindgom doesn’t require palaces. Quite often, the church forgets our real business and we focus on institutional business. The Senior Warden where I serve is fond of saying, “We’re not the First Bank of Christ Church.” He means that we need to be good stewards of our resources, and that might mean spending our money. He’s right.

The objections to selling off the palaces will hinge around claims of historical importance. These will be divisible into “we’ve always done it this way” and “these buildings are of timeless, historic value.” On the first front, I say, “Cry me a river.” The church is also not on earth to serve the status quo. In fact, pretty much every sentence on every page of the Bible is a challenge to the status quo.

The second claim has merit, but there’s an excruciatingly obvious answer. The church has a duty to ensure that these buildings are preserved for future generations. But the church doesn’t have to do that by owning them. In fact, the church may not be the best owners of these buildings.

So, if the Church Commissioners call me for my opinion (which is about as likely as Jack Iker marrying Bob Duncan), here’s what I’ll say. Sell the palaces, if you must. Ensure that the new owners will care for them until the end times. Ensure that the financial gain from any sales are used to build up the kingdom of God. That way, everybody wins: the church, the palaces, the people, and God.

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2 Responses

  1. lease the buildings. lease them. lease them. rent them out.

    don’t sell. you can never unsell the building.

    so many churches in the US once had substantial tracts of land, and then sold them off. the gains from a long-term lease would have been only a bit less. but having sold, it’s gone. the church must think not about the next five years, but about the next five hundred.

    lease, lease, lease.

  2. Scott Gunn says:

    Well, clearly this is a tough thing to get right. We can all think of cases where church buildings were sold mistakenly.

    It isn’t clear that the church will exist in 500 years if our lifeblood is sapped away to maintain buildings. The situation is much different in England, where there are so many buildings of all kinds.

    That all said, your point about leasing is not a bad idea. If someone would sign a 100 or 200 year lease and assume all maintenance and expenses, that would achieve my goals of freeing the church from a burden and getting some cash, and it would achieve your long-term goal of keeping the palaces on the books for some unknown purpose in 100 or 200 years.

    My point mostly is that we must, must, must move past the “never sell!” “must keep!” “must own!” line of thinking.

    Pax,
    Scott

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