"To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care."


Monday, November 26, 2018

Saving the Temples

How I hit on two Atlantic articles in a week, I have no idea. On Sunday afternoon, author Johnathan Merritt posted an article on The Atlantic website that directly relates to my ongoing obsession to save our most important Masonic temples. 

America’s Epidemic of Empty Churches is about large churches across the U.S. that have ginormous and significant buildings, often in downtown areas, and what happens when congregations can no longer afford to keep them. 

Just like our major Masonic temples, their congregations are substantially smaller today than when these buildings were first erected. Just like our Temples, they are infused with enormous sentimental value and neighborhood importance. Just like our Temples, they present peculiar challenges for adaptive reuse, taxes, zoning, infrastructure, parking, and more. Merritt's article talks specifically about what has been done with older church buildings in several cases, and not all of them result in selling off the building to outsiders and vacating the premisses.

Simply replace "church" with "lodge" as you read, and you'll find some useful information and inspiration. Here is a large excerpt:

Closure and adaptive reuse often seems like the simplest and most responsible path. Many houses of worship sit on prime real estate, often in the center of towns or cities where inventory is low. Selling the property to the highest bidder is a quick and effective way to cut losses and settle debts. But repurposing a sacred space for secular use has a number of drawbacks. There are zoning issues, price negotiations, and sometimes fierce pushback from the surrounding community and the parish’s former members.

A church building is more than just walls and windows; it is also a sacred vessel that stores generations of religious memories. Even for those who do not regularly practice a religion, sacred images and structures operate as powerful community symbols. When a hallowed building is resurrected as something else, those who feel a connection to that symbol may experience a sense of loss or even righteous anger.

Calling it quits isn’t the only option for dwindling congregations in possession of expansive, expensive buildings. Some are moving upstream of the crisis, opting to repurpose their buildings before they go under.

Larry Duggins left a successful career in investment banking a decade ago to attend seminary at Southern Methodist University. There he met a professor of evangelism named Elaine Heath with whom he brainstormed ways to help dying churches who maintain a will to live. The pair eventually found the Missional Wisdom Foundation, a 501c(3) that functions as a kind of think tank for “alternative forms of Christian community that makes sense for traditional churches that may be declining.”
“Years ago, the neighborhood church was the place many in America got together and, along with local schools, was where they got to know their neighbors,” Duggins told me. “But this model is no longer relevant for many people, so churches have to think creatively about how to help people encounter others and God in their everyday lives.”
In order to test their idea, Duggins and Heath approached the pastor of White Rock United Methodist in Dallas about collaborating. Half a century ago, it was a massive congregation with robust weekly programming, a strong reputation in the community, and a 60,000 square foot building. But the neighborhood’s demographics shifted in recent years and church membership waned. Its combination of sprawling space and shrinking attendance made White Rock the perfect guinea pig for Duggins and Heath’s experiments.

Missional Wisdom moved into the bottom 15,000 square feet of White Rock’s building and got to work. It converted the fellowship hall into a coworking space and transformed Sunday School rooms into a workshop for local artisans, including a florist and a stained glass window artists. It formed an economic empowerment center where the group teaches a local population of African refugees language and business skills. And it finished out the space with a yoga studio and a community dance studio. Today, the church building is bustling most days and the congregation is both covering expenses and generating revenue from its profit-sharing agreement with Missional Wisdom.
Next, the Missional Wisdom team partnered with Bethesda United Methodist Church in Asheville, North Carolina—a congregation with challenges similar to White Rock’s. Together, they created a community center called Haw Creek Commons. In addition to coworking space, they retrofitted the building with a textile and wood-working shop, meeting rooms that are used by local business and AA groups, a retreat space that can sleep up to nine, and a commercial kitchen in the basement for local bakers and chefs. Outside, Missional Wisdom constructed a community garden, food forest, beehives for the Haw Creek Bee Club, a greenhouse, and a playground for the children who attend the school next door.

Duggins says that the goal of these two experiments was simply to create opportunities and space for the community to gather and connect with each other. But as with White Rock, Haw Creek Commons has had residual positive effects on its host congregation.
“We wanted to transform the church into a place that would draw people who might not otherwise come, and in Asheville, we’ve seen it break down stereotypes of what the church is,” says Duggins. “At Bethesda, there were less than 10 people in the church on a given Sunday, but now there are more than 50.” Multi-purpose spaces lower the barriers to entry. When someone using a co-working space experiences a personal crisis, they have a comfortable place to turn...
See the whole article HERE.

There is zero reason why very similar uses cannot be found for Masonic temples, especially larger ones. And the ownership can remain in the hands of the fraternity on into the future.  All that's seriously missing in most cases is creative thinking, visionary leadership, and a common goal to keep what is ours in the most responsible manner possible.

See also: What's In A Building?

Meanwhile, this story appeared this morning. The beautiful Masonic Temple in Chester, Pennsylvania will soon be lost. Chester Lodge 235 is moving out and merging with another one in Concord. The building is to be sold.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments will not appear immediately, so be patient. I am forced to laboriously screen every post because I am constantly bombarded with spam. Anonymous postings on Masonic topics have the same status as cowans and eavesdroppers as far as I am concerned. If you post with an unknown or anonymous account, do not expect to see your comment appear.