I had a long conversation with my friend Dave, who serves with me as a director of our diocesan corporation, the legal entity that is the keeper of our diocesan building fund. He pointed out that, over the last few years, there have been an increasing number of pleas for help from congregations with desperate and immediate building problems beyond their ability to fix without our financial help. As is true throughout the nation and in every denomination, many of our congregations are in old buildings where deferred maintenance has become a way of life. Deferred maintenance is nothing but big trouble just waiting to happen. It is not one of those problems that will go away if ignored long enough.
Why is it a surprise when old furnaces give up their last BTU in January, that the long forgotten water heater suddenly floods everything in a burst of pique, that the thirtieth year of a low-bid twenty year roof leaks like a sieve, or that wiring installed in the 1920s begins to snap, crackle and pop? Our diocesan building fund, intended to help plant new churches and expand ministry opportunities for established congregations, has become the first and last resort for parishes up against emergencies that need attention NOW! We do the best we can, but there has to be a better way. Care of property and plant is as much a part of godly stewardship as is anything else. Waiting until the disaster hits is not a good idea, but it is the common practice in too many congregations, especially those hard hit by other financial burdens and declining membership. It puts them in the position of always fixing something broken to keep the life of a congregation from deteriorating even more, rather than investing in projects to improve and expand areas of ministry.
Dave reminded me of a program in the Diocese of New Westminster (Vancouver, BC) that encourages parishes to undergo regular building inspections and analyses of building adequacy for ministry as essential parts of stewardship. Could we do that too – without making rectors and vestries moan about one more piece of paperwork jammed down their throats by the diocese? I doubt it. It will work only when clergy and parish leaders fully comprehend that godly stewardship includes respect and care for the property and buildings in which the church gathers and the community is served
I wonder how to do that?