Friday, March 23, 2012

A real estate lesson...

Anyone who lives in the heart of the city knows the high price of urban real estate.  Having been raised in the wide open spaces of Nebraska, I was shocked to find out rental costs for a small apartment in NYC when I first arrived for my vicarage some 34 years ago.  It is even worse today.  Yet as we visited the city on my day off, my wife and I noticed that much of the pricey real estate was given over to non-profit enterprises, you know, churches.  All across Manhattan very choice addresses were held by churches -- and not small little chapels either.  From St. Pats to St. Barts to St. Thomas to St. Mary the Virgin, to the hundreds of other churches, I was impressed that some of the choicest addresses in the city were occupied by churches.

The greatest value in the tight spaces of the city is not given to the high rises that seem to touch the sky, but the lower buildings.  Churches are lavish extravagances in a city which values space so highly.  They stand tall not because of physical height but because we afford them some of the best of our addresses and the most expensive real estate known to us and we indulge them this largesse even though the "air" space above their buildings is itself a valuable resource.

Where real estate is at a premium and limited space pushes up the skyline, there’s nothing more luxurious than a low-lying building.  While seeing a steeple in the shadow of a skyscraper suggest the domination of church by commerce, it actually indicates our society’s collective willingness to sacrifice massive economic gains to preserve a space for worship. That land is very valuable and, in a strictly economic sense, would be put to much better use by the construction of yet another stack of offices of condominiums. It is a typically modern inversion that the steeple overawed by the skyscraper represents a real and costly decision in favor of faith.... says Matthew Schmitz at First Thoughts.


He is correct.  A good sign of the place of religion and faith in the city is when pressure is put to bear to tear down these churches and replace them with tall buildings that take advantage of the upward value of upward space.  But it is equally true that when churches sell or abandon those properties, it is a sign of the Church writing off the urban space more than the secular world laying claim to what was the domain of the religious.  The sad truth is that in cities everywhere churches are abandoning the city, cashing in on the valuable real estate, and heading for the suburbs -- or simply closing down altogether.  This is a bad thing in many ways.  When the city and its commerce and culture are left without a tangible presence of the Christian faith, the result is the victory of the secular -- no matter if the churches are pushed out or give up.  We cannot afford to let this happen.  The renewal of the city will happen only by the renewal of the churches in the city.

Recently there were complaints that Cardinal Dolan is at the same time closing down parishes no longer viable and yet pouring tens of millions into the refurbishment of St. Pat's.  I fully understand the lament of those whose parishes have been or are being targeted for closure.  Yet at the same time I fully understand the need to keep the visible icon of faith in good shape for the next hundred years.  The network that occupies the real estate directly across from St. Pat's needs to have this marker of Christian faith and life to balance off the media bias against it -- if only in the symbolism of the extravagance of giving over such valuable real estate to a church.

10 comments:

Clair Vaux said...

The network that occupies the real estate directly across from St. Pat's needs to have this marker of Christian faith and life to balance off the media bias against it -- if only in the symbolism of the extravagance of giving over such valuable real estate to a church.

Of course, when St. Pat's and the Church of St. Mary the Virgin were constructed that network didn't even exist. May these two magnificent examples of church architecture and houses of worship continue for years to come.

Christine

+ Robert Wurst said...

Sounds like a lesson the MNS District has yet to learn.

Apartments for sacred space . . . what a huge loss (and shame).

Anonymous said...

 The sad truth is that in cities everywhere churches are abandoning the city, cashing in on the valuable real estate, and heading for the suburbs -- or simply closing down altogether

If the people leave for the suburbs, then their congregation should go with them. What other choice do you have? Those church members, if unable to find an LCMS congregation near their new homes in the distant suburbs, may be tempted to leave the LCMS for a non-denominational seeker church. The churches need to follow the people. As for the churches that choose to remain in the city and later close, this indicates that the LCMS is failing to establish black and hispanic congregations

Lutheran Pastor said...

Have they all left for the suburbs?

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