[Holy Trinity Church, Inwood] Members of the vestry of Holy Trinity Church Inwood welcomed representatives from the bishop’s office on Sunday, September 4 to address concerns about the future of the congregation and its status as a parish.
The vestry members were joined by fellow parishioners and Pied Piper Children’s Theatre families for a conversation with the Rev. Canon Blake Rider, Canon to the Ordinary for the Rt. Rev. Andrew Dietsche, Bishop of New York, and Barry Donaldson, an architect and real estate consultant retained by the Trustees of the Diocese of New York to advise congregations considering real estate development.
Rider opened the discussion by reviewing with the group the outcomes of the diocese’s 2017 budgetary and strategic planning, which concluded this past July and August.
Most relevant to Holy Trinity is the proposal to revise Canon 29 that will provide for the continued support of Holy Trinity and other financially dependent congregations. If passed by the diocesan convention in November, “Congregations in Strategic Settings” (CSS) will replace the word “mission” in the canons.
(Canons are the by-laws by which the Diocese of New York and its member congregations are governed.)
Eight congregations have been identified as potential CSS congregations so far, including Holy Trinity, according to Rider. Each CSS congregation will be overseen by its own vicar and its own board of advisors, drawn from their congregations, and appointed by the bishop. CSS congregations will have autonomy over their budgets and ministries.
The bishop will serve as the rector of all CSS congregations, but, according to Rider, is unlikely to attend any board meetings or “micromanage” congregations, leaving it to the vicar and advisory board to conduct the congregation’s day-to-day affairs.
Previously, Holy Trinity participated in the Congregational Support Plan, and has not had a rector in over 20 years. The salaries and benefits for the ministers who have served Holy Trinity have been paid for by the diocese. Rider estimates that the Diocese of New York has aided Holy Trinity in the amount of approximately $2,000,000 in the past 20 years. In return, Holy Trinity has paid a percentage of its operating budget to the diocese to participate in the support plan, currently set at about $3,400 a month according to Pat McLaughlin, Holy Trinity’s treasurer. The parish is not current on its payments under the plan, and the arrearages total $46,539 at this time.
If Holy Trinity applies and is accepted to become a CSS congregation, the monthly fee will be reduced to about $250 and Holy Trinity’s current debt to the diocese could be forgiven, according to Rider.
Like all mission congregations throughout the Episcopal Church, CSS congregations must transfer all real and personal assets to the diocese, including title to the property which the church presently occupies. Under canon law and New York State religious corporation law, congregations that hold title to their property may not sell, lease, or mortgage their property without approval from the trustees of the diocese, and, in some cases, from the state attorney general’s office.
Under the CSS plan, the diocese would continue to pay the salary and benefits of a full-time priest as well as partner with the congregation to explore the real estate development potential of the property. The diocese will front the money needed to pay for legal, zoning, and architect’s fees, which is “something we’ve never done before,” Rider said.
“This is an emotional time for many parishioners,” the Rev. Jake Dell, Interim Vicar of Holy Trinity, said. “I’m hearing hope and fear, sometimes coming from the same person,” he continued. “To some it seems that the parish is being asked to transfer its principal asset — its property — in exchange for the promise of solvency, but without any guarantee of a say in the disposition of that asset,” Dell said.
“On the other hand, the bishop’s office has promised that they are ‘100% committed to an Episcopal presence in Inwood’,” Dell said, adding that “the CSS advisory board for the new congregation will be comprised of members from the current congregation.”
The vestry plans to meet in executive session on Sunday, September 11 to discuss the diocese’s proposed partnership as well as draft a preamble and resolution applying for CSS status that will suggest some guidelines for the development of the property and to make it clear that if the congregation becomes a CSS congregation, it does so with the hope and expectation of becoming a self-supporting parish again in the future.
The vestry meets again on Sunday, September 18 for a regular meeting.