The Episcopal Church's Executive Council got a formal opportunity June 12 to see the newly renovated Church Center in New York City and meet the staff members who help carry out the Church's mission and ministry.
On the second day of its four-day meeting, Council members boarded buses for an 85-minute trip across the Hudson River from their meeting location in Parsippany, New Jersey, to spend the day at the building at 815 Second Avenue.
The Church Center houses program and other staff offices, a bookstore and cafe, a chapel, a residence for the Presiding Bishop and related Episcopal agencies. The chapel, bookstore and residence were included in the renovations. The store recently reopened as the Catalyst CafÃ© and Books for Global Good with a changed inventory and featuring cafÃ© food and beverages as well as wireless internet connectivity.
The Council's day began with refreshments in the Catalyst CafÃ© on the building's ground level. From there the members crossed the lobby for a series of presentations in the also remodeled Chapel of Christ the Lord.
Following noon-time Eucharist in the chapel and lunch with 20 Episcopal Church missionaries-in-training, the Council split into five groups for tours of the building led by the General Convention Office staff. Later in the day, they were introduced to the Episcopal Communities software, an online collaboration space that was developed as a way for any Church-related group to meet online, exchange documents and otherwise communicate.
The Executive Council approved the renovation of the 42-year-old building in June 2004.
The decision came after an intensive study that recommended the removal of asbestos-laden fireproofing that had been applied to the ceilings and floors, installation of new heating and air conditioning equipment, and bringing the building into compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act and new city fire and safety codes instituted in the wake of the terrorist attacks on New York City on September 11, 2001.
The project involved reconfiguring office space to better suit the current needs of the program staff, replacing office furniture with more ergonomically suitable desks and chairs, improving lights and making computer networking more efficient. The building's entire electrical system was replaced, as was both its telephone and data networks. The first building-wide sprinkler system was also installed.
During the course of the renovation, workers discovered and repaired extensive leaking in the masonry veneer and parapet on the north face of the building near its northeast corner. The north side of the building receives little sunlight during the winter months and thus its exterior often remains damp.
Then-chief operating officer Patricia C. Mordecai oversaw the bulk of the renovation before she retired at the end of 2006.
"It was difficult for the staff to endure the construction going on around them and moving into less than desirable temporary quarters," Mordecai told Episcopal News Service last fall. "But I think we made a great effort to try and make it bearable. One of the things that meant the most to me was getting everyone settled in new spaces and having people happy with the end result."
Facilities manger Michael Carabine, another major participant in the renovation, announced last week that he would be leaving the Church Center shortly to take another job. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori asked the Council on June 11 to thank Carabine when they encountered him on their tour, calling him "one of the drivers and movers behind the renovation."
The council's original resolution set a spending ceiling of $31 million for the project, but that ceiling was later increased (AF103 passed in January 2006) by $3 million to cover work not anticipated in the original plan (including deterioration of certain sections of the exterior masonry), legal fees, and loan costs through 2006.
Part of the cost of the renovation will be offset by income the Church Center will begin earning early next year when the non-profit Ad Council begins renting 23,298 square feet encompassing all of the ninth and tenth floors, along with half of the eighth floor.
The initial base rent of $38 per square foot will generate annual gross revenues of approximately $875,000, according to chief operating officer Linda Watt and N. Kurt Barnes, the Church's treasurer and chief financial officer. The lease will run for 10 years with the option to renew for another five.
The 75th General Convention, which met in June 2006, approved a 2007-2009 triennium budget that anticipated receiving a net rental income of $2.2 million for the space. The 2007 portion of the budget had to be adjusted by the Executive Council in March in part because this year's anticipated net rental income of $734,301 would not in fact be received.
The Ad Council will build out the Church Center space to meet its needs and so its 90 New York City employees will not move from their current offices on Madison Avenue until late in the year.
Church Center offices which had been on the two and a half floors were consolidated on to the remaining six and a half floors of offices in the 11-story building.
Council members heard reports on mission funding, the Anglican Observer at the United Nations, and Church Center employment.
The Rev. Dr. James Lemler, director of mission for the Episcopal Church, and the Rev. Susan McCone, mission funding coordinator, explained the work they have done since the March Council meeting on strategies for major-gift giving to funds for communication, planting new congregations, funding future leaders, global ministry, and spiritual enrichment.
"This is not really a capital funds drive," Lemler told the Council. He said the effort is "rooted in the mission of this Church and in the hope of the mission of this Church."
McCone echoed that sentiment, saying "this is not a campaign that has a beginning and end" and explaining that the effort will be on-going and "will continue to nurture the mission for a long time."
She described a number of advisory boards she and Lemler hope to gather to help set up a "permanent infrastructure" for development efforts and to act as technical advisors and major partners and contributors for each of the funds.
Council member John Vanderstar, who was on a Council committee that suggested the mission-funding imitative, told the members that "the idea was not to compete with parishes and dioceses" for funding. McCone agreed, noting that many major contributors to such efforts usually maintain their level of giving to their congregation, and sometimes increase it.
In response to questions, Lemler invited Council members to discuss how they ought to participate in the ongoing work of the initiative, noting that the Standing Commission on Stewardship and Development also has a canonical responsibility to be involved in all church-wide fund-raising activities.
Helen Wangusa, the recently installed Anglican Observer at the United Nations, told Council members, with a smile, that her office covers "all the Anglican issues that are resolved." She explained that her office helps government and non-governmental organizations address issues that often cross national boundaries "and that is where the Anglican Communion comes in."
Those issues include the status of women and especially girls around the world; human rights; and environmental concerns including climate change, energy and water use. She said the Anglican Communion must represent voices that are not always heard in debates about resource extraction and distribution.
Wangusa also praised the Episcopal Church's commitment to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals () (MDGs) and called for the Church to "transcend" those MDGs benchmarks that call for less than 100 percent reduction of the conditions that keep people in poverty. She reminded the Council that the Body of Christ is only healthy when all the body has what it needs.
Church Center Human Resource Management director John Colon led the Council through an explanation of his office's effort to comply with government Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) rules. He showed the Council how employees of the Church Center compare with the general population of the great New York City Metro area, noting that the Center accounts for 175 of the area's 10 million employees and that it has few actual employees in some of the EEO's employment categories.
Colon said that most potential Church Center employees come from the Episcopal Church "which is not as diverse as the city of New York." Still, he said, the Center compares favorably in many categories.
Colon described the Church Center workforce as intergenerational; multi-lingual; ecumenical and interfaith; disabled and not disabled; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and not; U.S.-born and foreign-born; singled, married and partnered; and new parents, experienced parents and non-parents.
"Diversity is more than government-mandated statistics delivered in government-designed formats, he said, adding that "difference is not something we avoid; difference is something we embrace."
Council members returned to Parsippany the evening of June 12. Meetings of the Administration and Finance (A&F), Congregations in Ministry (CIM), INC and NAC committees of Executive Council will take up most of the day on June 13. Those committees, along with a number of task forces, will bring resolutions for the Council to consider during two plenary sessions on the meeting's last day, June 14.
The Executive Council carries out the programs and policies adopted by the General Convention, according to Canon I.4(1)(a). The council is composed of 38 members, 20 of whom (four bishops, four priests or deacons and 12 lay people) are elected by General Convention and 18 (one clergy and one lay) by provincial synods, plus the Presiding Bishop and the president of the House of Deputies.