Together in Mission: New York Pilgrimage

A couple of years ago my husband, Bruce, and I walked a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella in Spain.   Walking the 113 miles of the journey together revealed things about us, our identities and dreams both personally and as a couple.

While it is unusual to consider a trip to New York City  a holy endeavor,  that was my experience traveling with some of the Steering Committee from St. Stephen’s this week.  Journeying with David Kelley, David Coe, Gail Creech, Ann Rosenwinkel, Paige Pecore, and John Cornwell was akin to walking a pilgrimage.  We told stories, laughed, ate, and engaged in acts of perseverance—in the midst of it all we encountered glimpses of the Holy in the midst of the mundane.  It revealed the identity of our church and school communities.

Ours was a fact finding mission.  We wanted to see how churches and schools combined housing development in the midst of a dense, urban environment.  We visited three schools, six churches, and five housing developments.  We met with architects, developers, heads of school, rectors, owner’s representatives, and diocesan leaders.  What we discovered was churches and schools which were able to realize their visions by leveraging the value of their land.  Congregations were able to access millions of dollars by developing market rate housing.  Some saw this activity as a means of survival, others were expanding their missions of education and care.  


Here are some of the places we visited:

The Cathedral of St. John the Divine:

St. Luke’s in the Fields: 

Professional Children’s School:

Avenues:  World School:

Bethel Gospel Assembly and their development, 5th on the Park:

Clearly, the real estate market in New York is different from that of Houston.  Regulation and historic preservation are rigorous.  Public policy surrounding housing is at the heart of political discussion in the city as issues of zoning, gentrification, tax abatement, affordability pit citizens against the Mayor and each other.  Income inequality is stark in New York and these public policy discussions are meant to close the gap with ideas like 80/20 development serving as a starting point--80% of new units in a building would be market rate, with 20% going to affordable units (affordability is often defined as 60-80% of average median income).  Other developments utilize other measures.  Some neighborhood groups insist that this does not address the needs of the poor, given that the average median income exceeds close to $70,000.

Our Steering Committee group returns with heads full of facts, ideas, and impressions.  What is clear to us is that St. Stephen’s vision needs to be clear, realistic, and our leaders need to maintain control of our assets with any decision we take.  Our land is a true resource and a trust we hold for the future.  The sense of mission we maintain now will affect the kind of future of children and great grandchildren will enjoy.