Wednesday, April 16, 2008

For Shame!

St. Thomas Fifth Avenue, the doyen of fashionable Manhattan parishes and a center of Anglo-Catholic culture and the English choral tradition, is spending $20 million to repair and clean its stained glass windows. And it's financing this by selling some of its air rights. (Air rights are important in vertical cities like New York, because zoning laws limit how high you can build. You can sell or transfer airspace you will not need to someone nearby who would like to build higher. Here's a good overview of air rights for background.)

I was really rather upset when I read this. In the midst of a major recession, when thousands of people are losing their jobs and thousands more just in New York need all kinds of help, St. Thomas decides to spend $20 million on stained glass windows? And not even from it's own endowment, which is considerable? I can't believe it. It would have been much more of a Christian witness to spend $20 million on emergency housing, or to donate to Episcopal service agencies like the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen. or even decide to spend equal amounts on outreach and the fabric of the church. But windows and only windows?

Don't get me wrong. I believe that "worshipping the Lord in the beauty of holiness" is a sacred duty. But the Oxford Movement churches of London in the 18th Century combined exquisite worship with a deep commitment to the poor in their areas. I don't see much of that happening at St. Thomas.

Extremely disappointing!



Doorman-Priest said...

It doesn't seem right, I agree.

How do we balance heritage against social needs?

RFSJ said...


I suppose, int he best Anglican tradition, we try and have it both ways. A via media, if you will. it would have been great, for example, for St. Thomas to tithe on its capital camopaign to any number of worthy Episcopal causes in NYC. The Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, Episcopal Charities, the Cathedral's ACT program, all need funding in this recession.

Rather a far cry from Trinity Wall Street, which in the 1930s was a major New York tenement landlord and which since has repented of its own legacy of indifferent wealth and has really been vigorous in its outreach to the community and the world.

Exquisite anthems are good for the ear, but not so good for the stomach. What was it James wrote about "peace be with you"?