Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Stewardship of the Church: The Management of Ministry and a Visit with the Chancellor, by The Rev. Peter J. Van Hook

In the Prayers of the People this summer we have been praying that we would be good stewards of the earth: “that we may use its resources rightly in service to others, and to your honor and glory;…” It is a line I like very much, because it gives context and direction to our use of God’s creation.

I believe that the same sentiment can be applied to the care we give our own church buildings: the worship space, the parish hall, the offices, the grounds. St. Mary's Church has a long and respectable history when it comes to the stewardship of this property. They remain in remarkably good shape thanks to generations of parish leadership who have seen that there is no deferred maintenance, and that little problems do not turn into bigger ones.

This outlook on care for what we have received is very much on the minds of the members of the Bishop's Committee as they continually see to the funding of our maintenance needs, and look forward to make sure that our plans include appropriate care. Those plans have included not only our own use of the property, but also the many support groups like A.A. that use the building week in and week out—sometimes over 400 people a week attend those meetings! One of the concerns for the members of the Bishop's Committee as we contemplated the Community Music Outreach Program (CMOP) was how to assure adequate care as the church building itself would be used.

A little-known aspect of managing the church property is the laws and regulations we must observe, including everything from food and health laws to liability concerns. Because St. Mary's Church is incorporated as a nonprofit entity we must follow the Internal Revenue Service regulations concerning who can be allowed to use our building. For example, no for-profit entity may use the property for any purpose at any time. (The logic is that we might be competing with another for-profit entity that would like to provide, say, meeting space, but cannot do it as cheaply as we can because we do no pay property or other taxes.) Also, we cannot allow just any school or educational program use the facilities: the University of Phoenix is a for-profit company, whereas BYU is private and nonprofit, and UVU is a public institution.

As we have developed the CMOP there have been a number of questions about specific uses. Not just policy concerns—is it OK to do operas and dramas? (Yes) How about a political group? (Maybe) How about private music teachers? (Maybe not.) The reason is that even the nice lady down the street who gives piano lessons to the neighborhood kids is considered by the IRS as a for-profit entity (unless she has incorporated as a nonprofit! educational program). Even though a recital is done for the benefit of the kids (in this case) it is not clear that the church facilities can be put to such a use.

There has been enough confusion and anxiety about these questions, and many others, that we have invited the Chancellor of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah (the diocesan attorney) to visit with us this coming Wednesday evening. Stephen Hutchinson is not only an attorney, he has extensive experience in nonprofit legal issues. He also grew up at St. Mary's Church! This one-hour meeting is open to any interested person. (The class usually scheduled for Wednesday evenings will not meet in order to accommodate the Chancellor.)

St. Mary's Church has become known in many parts of our communities as an accessible, welcoming place, not only on Sunday mornings but also all during the week. We want to make sure that this identity is maintained and developed, and we want to make sure we do not even inadvertently misuse our nonprofit status. We want to continue to use this gift, this facility, rightly in service to others, and to God’s glory and honor.

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