Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Strange Way to Value Ministry

Let me say first off that I have never been to University Lutheran Chapel, Minneapolis, MN, nor do I know Pr David Kind nor do I know Minnesota South District President Lane Seitz.  I do know a previous Pastor of ULC, Prof. John Pless of Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne.  I am pretty much a complete outsider in this story.  But that has never stopped me from having an opinion before.... so....

It seems that facts are that this property was built by funds from the good Lutherans of Minnesota to be used for a church that would also have a presence on and a campus ministry to the students of  U of M.  And it seems to have done so rather successfully.  It does not receive subsidy from the District but does use these facilities and pays for that use (at least as I am told).

At some point, somebody on the District Board of Directors or the Treasurer or whomever realized that the property was more valuable than the church or ministry located there.  As with everything in life, a price tag often determines value.  After studying what the value of this property was (without, I am told, a study of the value of the ministry of ULC), a decision was made to sell the property -- for some $3.2 Million or so.  It sounds like a lot of money but the property of nearly any urban or suburban church is probably in the millions so it may not be significantly different than any other parish setting.  Individual situations may differ but I am making a generality here.

Anyway, the District has decided that the value of this property is worthy more in cash than the ministry of ULC.  Truth to be told, that could be said about any and all congregations, schools, and ministries of our Synod.  I am worth more dead than alive.  Perhaps you are to.  It is just that even though my wife and kids joke about my worth increasing in death than in life, I am not aware of any plans to put this into effect.  The District has, in effect, decided that the congregation and ministry at 1101 University Ave. SE in Minneapolis, MN, is worthy more dead than alive.  I am told that they are offering to buy off the congregation with a one time payment of $250,000 for their trouble in relocating.  Again, it sounds like a lot of money until you try to locate another building as close to campus as this chapel is and you will find out that a quarter of a million dollars does not go very far (even so, it is not yet a formal offer -- just under consideration).

My point is this.  When did we begin valuing congregations and ministries in terms of dollar value?  Is the work of the kingdom merely a financial asset?  I am sure that the Atlantic District could make a killing by selling off buildings and property in NYC and its boroughs -- it would not be such a stretch to see how much more valuable some of those properties are than the small, struggling congregations are who currently use (and own) them.  Recently there was a story about District President Robert Newton and the CNH District's efforts to close down a miniscule congregation with a nice address in a cushy neighborhood.  I have no facts from that story and am hesitant to draw attention to it but it does parallel the situation in Minnesota.  So is this what we have come to?  Check the balance sheet instead of the parish register to determine the worth or value to a congregation and its ministry?


I have no stake in ULC or the Minnesota South District but I do not like the smell of this and I fear that if we begin valuing congregations or ministries on the basis of their property value, we might find the mission of the church very different, indeed.  You check it out and you come to your own conclusions but I think it stinks.

8 comments:

Terry Maher said...

Well PP, here's a comment in which I am going to do nothing but agree. It stinks.

Paul said...

Actually, we all have a stake in what happens to the ULC whether we realize it or not. Such a violation of trust on so many levels: the entire Minnesota pastoral conference asked the Board to WAIT until District Convention to act on this; congregation ignored, etc. Thanks for posting and encouraging prayers and gifts:)

Rev. John Frahm said...

It isn't new. They've been working on this for at least as long as President Seitz has been in office and even before. They tried this back in 1991 when I was a lay delegate to the MN South convention, at least as far as giving the "mission administration committee" fiat authority to do as it pleases with the campus ministry properities.

It is a pot of money and they aren't particularly into the way that ULC has been doing things there since John Pless changed it and Kind continued. When you have a Fuller church growth mindset running things this is what happens. Districts are a subset of synod. I wonder if synod will step in now that it is at this point. Property in inner city Minneapolis is at a premium, especially around the campus. Sell this now and you'll never get back in. This is conceding to ELCA and the parachurch groups.

I was a member at ULC and 2 of my nephews were baptized there. It is where umpteen sem students came from under Pless and Kind. Many great pastor's studies were held there while Dr. Korby lectured there. Very sad and unchurchly.

Rev. J. Hayes said...

Why do you need money to do ministry anyway? All you really need for Ministry is bread, wine, water and a minister.

It seems to me that the NT collections were geared more towards mercy projects (ministry in the sense of service and support of neighbor).

I don't get the sense that the district means either of these two things when they say they need to sell this building "for ministry."

Colleen said...

I remember when there was talk of selling Concordia Bronxville because the land it's on is worth millions upon millions. But, it still stands, doing a different kind of ministry for a different kind of student. You can't place a value on hearing the good news.

Anonymous said...

As I recall there was a dust up when the District BoD? tried to get mission churches to use the hymnal and then the district elected a new board... it is almost like this is payback in a big way...

Papa Olson said...

So much for "LIFE TOGETHER"...

Anonymous said...

Additional benefits which seem to not be accounted for are all the church workers that have been developed by ULC. Some years more pre-seminarians come from ULC than the neighboring Concordia. Numerous lay members have also served on boards, commissions, and the like with ULC connections. So yes, it will hurt the church at large.