February 8, 2024

Reframing Our Assets Blog – Part 2

In this new blog series on “Reframing Assets”, we hear how four churches adjusted their thinking about their finances after Covid – reimagining assets, uncovering riches beyond the balance sheet, and charting a new course for ministry. In 2019 these churches shared plans to repurpose assets for ministry. Now, they update us on the critical four years since then, sharing lessons learned, insightful examples, and practical strategies for financial adaptation, asset realignment, and visionary stewardship. Learn how they seek to breathe new life into their community and thrive amidst change.

The four years since 2019 brought a new rector to The Trinitys Collaborative in suburban Boston, as well as some fresh thinking about how the two collaborating congregations might best live into God’s calling for them. They are recognizing the importance of an intentional process of discernment.

This post is the second in a four-part series on four different congregations that are re-imagining their assets. You can find the other parts of the series here.

Discovering unrecognized assets and welcoming new life

The Trinitys Collaborative – a partnership of Trinity Stoughton MA and Trinity Camden, MA, an adjacent congregation – had begun modeling fearless, forthright conversations during the tenure of their previous pastor, Harry Walton. In a 2019 “Vestry Papers” article, he reported on income generated by the sale of the Trinity, Stoughton rectory and the renewal of a cell tower lease at Trinity, Canton. Walton’s successor, Rachel Wildman, emphasizes the role of the many intentional conversations – and careful decision-making process in both communities’ continued vitality.

For Trinity Canton, which had been a “faithful remnant” congregation, the cell tower monthly income plus a sizeable lease renewal bonus “has been a complete game-changer,” Wildman said. The bonus allowed them to create an endowment. The cell tower funds eased anxiety about closing and opened the congregation’s imaginations to possible new revenue streams. Though few in number, they persevered during the pandemic, and decided as a congregation what steps they might take to be more engaged with the local community.

They now provide facilities for an independent preschool. In recent years, they’ve received site rental income for hosting a once-a-year carnival, which requires only that the congregation manage the parking area. Their engagement has earned them a new identity in the community. And now, “they are able to welcome new people because they have good news to share,” Wildman added. “They have become vibrant, engaged lay folk that Jesus called us to be.”

Wildman mentioned that, notably, in the 15 weeks between January 2023 and the second Sunday of Easter, every Sunday brought at least one new individual or family to the church, and 15 are continuing to be part of the congregation.

For the other Collaborative partner, Trinity Stoughton’s well-supported decision in 2019 to sell the rectory provided an endowment that provides an important part of their operating budget, and the congregation is managing that endowment carefully. Their work together to re-assess the value of their rectory increased the congregation’s ability to collaborate creatively with one another. Then the pandemic hit them hard, with the preschool that was operating out of the church forced to close and the community’s economy hobbled. Recently, the church has negotiated a rental agreement with another preschool which was searching for a new location. Wildman is looking forward to the increased use of the church building, plus the liveliness of preschoolers and their families on the church grounds during the week.

Trinity Canton’s cell tower lease also raised curiosity among leaders at Trinity Stoughton as to how the use of their land might be reimagined. Just this year, Stoughton’s leadership has been exploring a bid from a green energy company to make use of a portion of their property for possibly as long as 25 years, generating a low six-figure income each year. Though Stoughton was, at first, alone in the diocese in exploring this new possibility, a number of other congregations – with coordination and support from the diocese – are now considering similar contracts. Stoughton’s visibility in the community is rising, along with the goodwill they’re earning for contributing to the “green-ness” of the electrical grid.

Wildman, who is in her first year as a solo priest, says her experience with The Trinitys Collaborative has taught her, “If we do our discernment with care and prayer, dropping our preconceptions, then there is no right or wrong decision. Whatever the decision, God will find a way for us.” She says the collaborative’s three biggest lessons are:

  • Anxiety is not the way of God – that energy is better used in discernment.
  • Questions about our property raise questions of responsibility, and those questions are important.
  • Transparent communication – clear, prompt, and truthful – is essential.

Adaptive insights

Both of the Collaborative congregations worked with ECF’s Endowment Management staff as they created their endowments, enabling them to structure, invest, and grow the funds and address their distinctive needs. In addition, ECF offered advice and guidance, preparing them to take on the responsibilities of overseeing an endowment for the long term. Both have also discovered avenues of connection to their neighborhoods and their local context.

Their experiences yielded important insights:

  • The congregations leveraged anxiety about their future and the challenges of the pandemic to discover opportunities to try new things.
  • Innovations don’t always work and developing a collaborative culture fuels creativity.
  • Having an endowment doesn’t solve every problem; it can offer breathing room.
  • Cultivating partnerships in your community can multiply your options.

This post is the second in a four-part series on four different congregations that are re-imagining their assets. You can find the other parts of the series here.

From navigating budget shifts to reimagining assets, ECF's Endowment Management team offers expert guidance and best practices to help your church adapt and thrive. Contact us at endowment@ecf.org or call 800-697-2858 to explore the endowment management expertise we can offer to your church or organization.