Aging infrastructure has forced many Episcopal congregations across the country to sink money into the repair of decaying church buildings, when they would rather spend money on mission work.
But one New Mexico congregation has found a way to avoid the costly upkeep of a building: a rental contract.
"Our mantra has been outreach before in-reach," said the Rev. Rhonda Smith McIntire, vicar of San Gabriel the Archangel Episcopal Mission Church in Corrales, New Mexico, where the church is renting space. "Every extra dollar we have is going to mission."
San Gabriel is a parochial mission church founded in the fall of 2005 by parishioners of St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in Albuquerque. Twelve members wanted to extend an Episcopal presence into western Albuquerque, where few churches were located, without the responsibility of buying or building and maintaining a structure.
But the journey has been a bumpy one.
The founding members rented space in a golf course meeting room, a recreation center and a martial arts center, but each of those rental agreements ended, for various reasons.
In 2008, the congregation settled in Corrales, a small village of about 7,300 residents located between Albuquerque’s west side and Rio Rancho along the Rio Grande. But conflicts arose with the landlord over the church hosting an Alcoholics Anonymous group, prompting the church to find yet another space.
Finally, in September 2010, the San Gabriel congregation moved into a storefront space next to a bistro. The building provides ample space for worship and fellowship.
"We wanted to create an inclusive and welcoming church -- something quiet and comfortable," said Karen Pound, one of the founding members. "We have found that in this place."
And renting allows the church to focus on fellowship and outreach, Pound said.
The church works with area groups that provide food, shelter and clothing to those in need, including the Albuquerque Opportunity Center and the Women's Housing Coalition. Congregants are also working with a tutoring program at Corrales Elementary School and a public education campaign to raise the visibility of same-sex couples.
About 35 people attend the church each Sunday. And about five people come each Friday morning for a prayer service. Several groups, such as AA, also use the space for weekly meetings.
McIntire and Pound both said they want the mission church to become a full parish, but buying property or building a church structure is not part of the plan.
"Because owning and maintaining property is such a financial responsibility, we will choose to spend that money on outreach," Pound said. "I think more and more churches will look to renting space in the future."
In a letter published in the Diocese of the Rio Grande’s November 2010 newsletter, McIntire wrote: "On moving day, after all the furniture had been trucked down Corrales Road to our new home, we hung our wooden cross about our portable altar. We joined hands and gave thanks that God has called the people of San Gabriel’s to be exactly who and what they are: disciples whose commitment to making ministry happen is greater than any desire for material trappings."