Church Beyond the Building Task Force Report – October 19, 2020

Church Beyond the Building Task Force Report
October 19, 2020

As you know by now, the church relies on its endowment for a significant portion of our operating
budget. In addition, we are still paying off a loan for the interior renovations and are facing the need
for exterior repairs and organ renovations which might cost as much as $2 million. Such an operating
model is not sustainable in the long run, and even before the COVID-19 pandemic Session was
considering how to address the problem. Three task forces were formed to consider how we use our
property (to either reduce our operating costs or to raise income); how much we might be able to raise
in a capital campaign (to raise funds to pay off our loan and repair the exterior of the church); and how
we might do church differently (to better respond to the community’s needs and/or reduce our
operating costs).

The third task force, made up of Muddassar Iqbal, David Wallace, and Jim Schroll, operated under the
title of “Church Beyond the Building”. Its two aims were to brainstorm about what other models we
might consider and, more importantly, what concerns would we meed to address IF we were to
consider another operating model. What follows are the results of those two efforts.

It is important to remember that no decision has been made about changing where and how we
worship or conduct other church activities. It is important, however, that we consider what options
might be available to us as we consider the future of the church.

What would it take for us to remain where we are (without a merger/collaboration)? Issues to be
considered include:

• The value the endowment (the funds managed my Brown) as of the third week of October2020
was approximately $1,900,000. If we continue to draw $400,000 per year from the endowment,
it will disappear in less than five years. We currently have a debt of over $630,000 remaining on
the interior renovations. The preliminary estimate for the spire and brownstone renovation is
about $1,500,000, and the organ will eventually require some $750,000 if it is to remain a
reasonably good instrument. How will we pay for these items?
• How will we pay for ongoing maintenance costs?
• How will we pay for ongoing operational costs?

Building upon our COVID-19 experience, conduct worship and committee meetings virtually in the
future. Issues to be considered might include:

• Do we need a dedicated studio space?
• Do we need a choir rehearsal/recording space? What instruments/equipment is needed for
• How do we handle Christian Education for children and adults? If more than one class/activity is
occurring at one time (on Sunday morning, for instance), how do we provide for concurrent
• What about social engagement? Do we need to provide opportunities for face-to-face
interactions? If so, how do we do that?
• What office space is required (pastor, parish coordinator, choir director) and where would we
locate that? Are conference rooms required?
• What costs would there be?

Some churches do not own property, choosing instead to rent or share space in other buildings. One
example is Grace City Church Baltimore, an outpost of Grace Methodist Church in North Baltimore
(see In our neighborhood, we might consider the Baltimore School for the
Arts, the Peabody Institute, MICA, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Elementary School, or a commercial
building. Issues to be considered include:

• Is a choir rehearsal space available? What instruments/equipment is available or needed for
• Is there room for Christian Education?
• What about social engagement and/or meetings other than on Sunday mornings?
• What office space is required (pastor, parish coordinator, choir director) and where would we
locate that? Are conference rooms required?
• What costs would there be? What length lease is available?

First and Franklin (Street) Presbyterian Church is the result of a merger in the 1970s. That merger was
not viewed as a failure by either congregation but, rather, as an opportunity to realize a larger
congregation, maintain a presence in the Mount Vernon neighborhood, save costs, and combine
strengths. Might we merge with another congregation or develop a collaborative way to share a space
between two congregations? Issues to be considered include:

• With whom would we want to merge/collaborate? Who might wish to merge/collaborate with
us? Are the values of the two churches compatible? Local choices might include Madison
Avenue, Knox, Trinity, Light Street, or Brown Memorial Presbyterian Churches; Mount Vernon
Place United Methodist Church; or Grace and St. Peters, Memorial, or Emmanuel Episcopal
• Where would the merged/collaborative church meet; what buildings would be kept?
• If a collaboration is pursued, is there office space available for staff from each church?
• If a collaboration is pursued, how will calendars be managed to avoid conflicting schedules?
• If a merger is pursued, how will staffing be handled?
• If a merger is pursued, how will governance be handled?
• If a merger with a church from another denomination is pursued, what approval is needed from
the two denominations?

• Three sessions were held – September 13th, 20th, and 27th

• 13 Participants (not including the three Task Force members.

The first two sessions had six members/friends each. Only one member joined the last
session, so David, Muddassar, and Jim offered their responses as well. Their responses
are included in the following summaries.

• The total of 16 participants (including the Task Force members) represents about 9% of the total of
Active Members and Friends of the Church. Listings of the responses received from each discussion
group are attached.

• Responses – Although detailed notes were taken by each of the three task force members, we have
attempted to aggregate the responses into primary themes or categories. For each questions, the
responses are listed in descending according to the frequency of response. [Note that the number of
responses reported is approximate – note taking by multiple recorders and the amalgamation of
different responses make a precise count difficult, but these numbers can be used to gauge the
relative number of times an answer was given.

Question 1 – What makes F&F who/what we are? What is our identity?

– Social justice activities and the music program were the two answers most often given. (7
each) Social justice included programs and advocacy for particular issues.
– Inclusivity was the next most often given answer. (5) Although inclusivity could be included
in social justice, it was mentioned separately often enough to include it as a separate
– The worship experience, preaching, and sense of community were the next most often given
answers. (4 each) Worship and preaching were mentioned separately from one another;
worship presumably includes liturgy and music in addition to preaching.
– The church’s history and buildings were next (3 each).
– Ministers were also mentioned (2). This likely refers to the pastoral care and personality of
specific ministers in addition to preaching skills as noted earlier.

Question 2 – What draws you to attend/participate at F&F?
– The responses given most often (8) involved a sense of community, of comfort, of “home”,
and of calling.
– The music program received the next highest number of responses (5).
– Social justice was mentioned twice (2). It is possible that some of the responses involving
community and calling also referred to social justice.
– Ministers, teaching, and worship were each mentioned once (1).

Question 3 – What options are there for “doing church” differently?
Our intention was not to prime the discussion by mentioning possible options. As a result, and
particularly for participants who hadn’t thought about the question beforehand, much of the
discussion centered on adjustments that we might make as opposed to large changes.
– Increased engagement (with the community, other churches, and other organization) was
mentioned most often (8). Examples included services in the street, increased involvement
with the Baltimore School for the Arts or other arts organizations, and events such as
picnics, parades, and courtyard fairs.
– Virtual options were all mentioned softened (5). In particular, there was a strong desire to
continue the virtual worship option even after residential services resume. The possibility of
online classes was also mentioned.
– Reconsidering how we user buildings was also mentioned (3). Options raised included
selling one or more buildings, using Backus House more often, and sharing one or more of
our buildings.
– Several other items were also mentioned for consideration (1 each). These included
conducting some meetings/events in member’s homes in order to avoid access problems
(the steps required to get into Backus House); instituting a “no passing the peace” zone for
those who are uncomfortable with physical touching (even after the pandemic); and an
admonition that a focus of money can diminish the faith community.

Question 4 – What concerns would need to be addressed when considering options?
Because we felt that some options had not been raised in the Question 3 discussion, a
decision was made during the first discussion to spell out four general types of options (as
outlined above): make no significant changes; virtual church; rental or mixed use space (either
on our campus or at another site); and merger or collaboration with one or more churches.
This was repeated at the following two discussions.
– Both attachment to our current worship space and merger concerns were mentioned often
(4 each). Concerns about keeping our buildings included: the freedom to run our program
without having to accommodate others’ schedules; the quality of the space for music
programs; and a reminder to not let liberal bias or guilt drive us to abandon the space.
Merger concerns included concerns about which other churches might be candidates for a
merger and the need for shared values/compatibility/flexibility in a merger or shared worship
– Concerns about how to use the building, especially how our decisions will be perceived by
the surrounding community, were mentioned (3).
– The need to preserve the F&F community, if we go virtual or merge, was mentioned twice (2).
– Other concerns mentioned (1 each) were: what can we afford; preserving child care and
education, and the children’s community; preserving our social justice advocacy; and
maintaining good communications as decisions are pondered and made.

• Summary
Based on the responses which we received:

– The participants perceive the church’s identity as a community, housed in an important building
and having a strong ownership of advocacy efforts and a quality music program.
– We are drawn to participate primarily by a sense of community and inclusivity, by the music
program, and by the worship experience.
– While willing to consider other options, there is a strong attachment to the buildings, the sense
of community, and shared values (especially concerning advocacy). Any discussion of options
will need to address those core concerns and include clear communications with the