Ecosystems: Presbytery

Mar 2, 2021presbytery

Churches don’t live in a vacuum; we live in communities. Our buildings merely locate us in spaces and places. Wherever we go, though, and whatever we do, we are always part of a larger system.

These systems have a life of their own. They have identities and goals. They have experiences and histories. Sometimes these things help open us to the future; sometimes they close us down. Our histories and experiences can make us cautious; and, sometimes they can convince us to be reckless.

Systems are complicated. First, they’re made up of people with specific ideas and goals. Second, they have structures and politics that can be hard to navigate. These can merge to make things difficult. They also provide protection when needed.

At the time we were proposing our ideas, much had happened in National Capital Presbytery. There was some history with redevelopment; there was a bad land swap deal; and, there was some desire not to be left holding the bag if things fell through.

Large tree with exposed roots
This led to a lot of back forth conversations between our team, the Administrative Commission on Congregational Property, and presbytery leadership. The narrative at the presbytery was twofold. They didn’t want to be left with leased land in case APC wouldn’t be able to sustain themselves. They also wanted to know more about who we were becoming as this unfolded.

Wilson Gunn, our former presbytery executive, talked about three things he tried to keep in mind during the process: (1) are both parties (the presbytery and the church) protected if something goes wrong; (2) the primary business of presbytery is to support ministry not to own real estate, and (3) does the church have a vision and the energy for what their ministry will look like once the building is gone?

These interests sometimes felt at odds with our interest in building affordable housing. There were tense moments and difficult conversations. There were hurt feelings. It was hard.

The alignment of our goals and the presbytery’s interests were difficult and required a great deal of conversation, patience, and discernment. Much of that involved presbytery catching up with APC.

At the same time, APAH, our development partner in this process was having to negotiate the same tensions. For APC and Presbytery to align, the deal would have to shift from a ground lease to a simple fee for purchase deal. Thankfully, APAH was patient, creative, and a willing partner in the process.

It took another 18 months to renegotiate with the presbytery and the developers. We finally came to an agreement for a simple fee for purchase deal with an option to lease space in the new development. At the end of the process the presbytery voted unanimously to support the deal and we were on our way.

Navigating systems means paying attention to competing interests. We all had things that were important to us in this deal. We all had to give a little along the way to get things done. None of this would have happened without taking the time to build relationships. Though strained at times, we made it a point to come back and sit down at the table together knowing that if this was of God, it would happen.