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.