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  • Writer's pictureRev. Liz Goodman

A May Update on the Building--an Open Letter from Liz

Updated: May 4

It’s been five months now that the building has been on the market, and we’ve got at least two groups working on possible proposals. As might be remembered, the congregation authorized the Parish Council to work with our agents, Rachel Louchen and Claudia Crane, to find a buyer, upon which time, when we have an offer we’d like to take under contract, we’ll update church members with details. Until then, I hope it’s assuring to know there’s interest in the building, and a couple of streams of creative thought. 

As for now, I thought it might be helpful to write this open letter with updates and reminders of the process.

People have assumed that we’re selling the building because we can’t afford to keep it, a safe assumption as most churches deciding to sell their buildings are doing so out of financial duress. However, we’re in a different position. Our challenge has always been a lack of people, not funds. With our eleven members, which will be down to ten once Hannah formally joins the Stockbridge church, we simply don’t have the people-power to maintain a building, and it’s too important a building to our neighborhood and town to neglect.

But the fact that we don’t need money has contributed to another point of confusion, if not contention—the question, why we’re selling the building, and why at the price we’re asking, $295,000. The answer, which you might remember if you were part of the meeting we had with our lawyer last September, is that we have a legal obligation to pursue selling this at fair market value, “what the market will bear.” For what it’s worth, the assessed value is $679,700. 

Another question that’s come up is why the endowment won’t go with the building. The reason for this is threefold, missional, ethical, and legal, which our lawyer explained last September.

As might be known, the major gift that makes up the bulk of our wealth was a bequest from Mary Thorn upon her death in 2004. Her obituary makes this prominent point: “Mrs. Thorn … was a member of the United Church of Christ and arranged its flowers. She also was a member of Presbyterian Church of the Covenant in Sarasota and manager of its thrift shop.” It’s important to know, it’s these two organizations that were remembered so generously in her will, her church in Florida and her church in Monterey. This suggests she meant for her legacy to support the church in its local forms and not strictly the buildings in which they meet, though we have used much of that money to maintain the building so it’s in good condition, which it is.

Relatedly, non-profits have an ethical obligation to use donor funds as intended. Mary’s remembering two churches with unrestricted gifts has always indicated to us an intention on her part, not to mention a faithfulness, in regard to the church as a gathered body of confessing believers, and as distinct from other 501(c)3s and distinct from its buildings.

Lastly, from a legal standpoint, the Secretary of State has clear guidelines about how churches are to give of their endowments. A church can give these to another church, or to a para-church organization, with little fuss. We could also give to another non-profit whose mission can be argued to be in line with the church, a so-called charitable non-profit, which could require us to appear before the state supreme court at considerable expense. We cannot give the church’s funds to non-charitable nonprofits, 501(c)3s that are of a different order than this, worthy cause though these may be.

I’m writing all this because it’s important that we as a church undergo this transition as clearly and honestly as possible, and that we continue in the Christian mission of being peace-makers. None of this is secret information. It's freely to be spoken of it as it might come up and even be helpful. These matters can cause confusion, conflict, and distrust. As a pastor, and one who’s long loved being so in this place, I very much hope to move through this time with good will and to a good end. 

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