The Future of the Church of the Mediator Uncertain | The Riverdale Press

By Abigail Nehring

It’s a $10 million ultimatum – and a parishioner is hoping for a reunion prayer.

That’s what it will cost to restore the 1914 Gothic Revival stone structure that houses the Mediator’s Episcopal Church on West 231st Street between Corlear and Kingsbridge Avenues. Otherwise, church leaders could be forced to turn the property over to developers.

Their projects? Demolition.

The steep price includes repairs needed to bring the building up to code, make it watertight, update plumbing and mechanical systems and protect it from structural problems in the future, the Episcopal Diocese of New York said. The Riverdale Press.

The “Little Bronx Cathedral”, as Bishop William T. Manning called it, was designed by Henry Vaughan – the architect of the Washington National Cathedral – and was built over two decades beginning in 1908.

The sanctuary was “full to bursting” on the day of its consecration on January 23, 1927, writes a journalist in The New York Times.

But declining membership and a growing debt to the Episcopal Diocese have brought many of the city’s historic parishes to the brink. There are 80 members on the Mediator mailing list, and Sunday attendance hovers around 55.

Gradually, the faithful have learned in recent years how much their church was in danger. A September 15 report by Marie Ennis and Melanie McCloy of Old Structures Engineering found no immediate structural problems with the church building, but noted that major repairs were needed to address deterioration and water damage. , including partial roof replacement.

A report released a month earlier recommended replacing the church’s heating and plumbing systems to deal with potential hazards.

But it wasn’t until a parishioner came across a series of renderings showcasing possible mixed-use developments drawn up by architectural firm Perkins Eastman that many began to realize how important Mediator’s continued existence was. perilous.

“I was on my way to make copies of something, and then I saw these blueprints, the renders,” said the parishioner, who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of what is happening. “And I’m like, ‘When did that happen?’ So those are the plans now. Nothing else can happen. And I knew I couldn’t touch them.

“It was painful.”

A spokesperson for the diocese declined to say who paid for the architectural renderings, but the director of diocesan property services, Egbert Stolk, noted that “with the increasing debt to the diocese, we hope the studies will provide useful information to make an informed decision about the future. of the site, while ensuring the survival of the parish.

In the outer boroughs, the churches
any battle for survival

The disparities are strong within the diocese of New York. While some parishes have merged — like St. Stephen’s and St. Martin’s in Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy neighborhood — or had their crumbling historic buildings put on the real estate market, like St. Luke’s in Harlem, a few have become property developers in their own right, if only by accident of history.

Trinity Church on Wall Street became steward of 215 acres in lower Manhattan through a land grant from Queen Anne in 1705. Today, Trinity Real Estate, the church’s property management arm , oversees a $6 billion portfolio that straddles Hudson Square and offers real estate development seminars to less fortunate parishes dealing with existential questions of their own.

“As a church, we’re going to be less and less relevant if we’re not really engaged in our local communities,” Reverend Canon Britt Olson of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church said at a 2021 seminar. organized by Trinity.

“It’s a struggle for most congregations in the United States.

“What resources do we have when we have no money in the bank? Well, we have buildings and we have property.

After refusing the sacristy’s request for financial assistance to pay off a mounting debt for running costs, the diocese designated Mediator as a “vulnerable congregation” in 2019, triggering a process defined in church canons to intervene on congregations experiencing financial or disciplinary problems. St. Luke’s in Harlem received the same designation in 2018.

The church sacristy was replaced by an administrative authority, which governed the church until the end of 2020, when a new sacristy was elected via online video conference at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

That same pandemic, meanwhile, took its toll, even claiming a member of the Mediator with COVID-19 complications at the time.

The chances of the mediator are narrow

The kitchen, the communion hall and the courtyard of the church have always been lively on weekdays. But some of the local groups and religious programs that use the space may now be phased out — or, in some cases, abruptly suspended.

Until this week, the Ministry of Food Justice continued to distribute bags of fresh produce and dry goods to around 300 people who line up outside the church basement on Friday afternoons. But last Sunday, a member of the church informed The press that Father Luis Enrique Gomez announced to the congregation that the pantry would be suspended indefinitely, and a notice of suspension was posted outside the church shortly thereafter.

It is closed this Friday, according to an online listing of pantries, but the church could not be reached for comment.

A support group for parents of children with special needs that meets monthly at the church will also need to find a new space, said Crusita Ramos, who coordinates these “We Are Family” meetings. They were given a deadline to move, but they were told The press she was not allowed to talk about it any further.

Diocesan communications director Nicholas Richardson said the huge stone church far exceeds the capacity needs of the congregation.

“Churches in this position in non-affluent areas of the city have this deferred maintenance problem,” Richardson said. “We have property support grants and property support loans. But to be a candidate, you have to be able to repay it.

The church’s 10 elected lay leaders voted Sept. 29 on the issue of church building demolition and property development, with four votes in favor of demolition, three against, two abstentions and one absent. . The diocese confirmed the results of the meeting minutes written by Deputy Warden Mathew Ford.

Members tried to launch capital fund drives for repairs, but a fundraising committee failed and disbanded last year, a parishioner said, because church leaders told them prohibited from continuing. They said the church and diocese have also made a strong claim that marking the church – which could potentially protect it from demolition or redevelopment – is not in the cards.

“Every time it came up, they talked about this ideal of a developer coming in and renting this site for 99 years,” the member said.

Peter Ostrander, a historian at the Kingsbridge Historical Society, said Mediator’s reluctant march to destruction is all too familiar in the Bronx.

“They’ll keep you in the dark and give you leftovers,” Ostrander said. “It’s the mushroom theory of management.”

The mediator granted an easement to a developer for a new apartment building on the land facing Corlear Avenue in 2009, a deal that barely made a dent in the church’s debt, although neither l neither the church nor the diocese said how much they owed.

“They lost their parking lot and their playground on the west side,” Ostrander said. “They have sold parts in the past. I understand the predicament of the church, but is there another way? We have lost too much over the years.

Abigail Nehring is a corps member of Report for America, a national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms.

Martha J. Finley