Thursday, July 10, 2014

Ascension Church Plans for Demolition of 1707 Bryant Ave N

It came to my attention this week through the Old North Minneapolis Facebook page that Ascension church wants to demolish a property they own at 1707 Bryant Avenue North.  As one can see from the photos, this house is in wonderful shape.  Even if some work is needed, I have little doubt that the place could be successfully rehabbed.  So the unanswered question is why this house should be torn down at all?

There does not seem to be any real need for Ascension to expand to that site.  (and even if there is, has anyone explored moving the home to one of our many vacant lots nearby?)  There isn't anything particularly negative associated with the place, other than its pending destruction.  Instead, it would seem from the Old North Minneapolis speculation that Ascension is moving towards demolition simply because they don't want to deal with the property any longer.

Now, in any case where a perfectly viable house could potentially be wasted, I would rise up in anger.  But I am a pastor's kid (technically a son of a bishop by now) and a long-serving council member at my own church.  So when I see another Christian instiution making this mistake, I speak not only as a preservationist but also as one church leader to another.  And I cannot more forecfully admonish Ascension for this decision.

(Warning:  I'm about to preach here.  And I mean PREACH.)

There are any number of Biblical passages that spring to mind for why a Christian institution should not destroy a gem of a home such as this; the responsibility of man having dominion over God's creation in Genesis, or the communal transformation that happened when Nehemiah rebuilt a beseiged Jerusalem spring to mind as especially relevant.  But the passage I keep coming back to is Matthew 25: 14 - 30, Jesus' parable of the talents.

For readers unfamiliar with the story, a talent was a measure of currency.  Jesus tells a tale of a master who is leaving on a journey and entrusts three servants with his money.  The one who received five talents made five more, and likewise the servant who was given two talents doubled what the master had given him.  A servant who was given only one talent buried it in the sand out of fear that the master would punish him if it were lost.  And although he returned what was given him, he was cast out because he did nothing with the gift that the master had entrusted him with.

And so it is with Ascension and 1707 Bryant Avenue North.  God has given this church a gift, in the form of a beautiful, historic home.  What could be done with such a gift?

When I was in college, I was a founding member of a program called "Project Neighborhood," where ten students lived in a home (that was in terrible shape but restored, and was in the most challenging part of my alma mater town of Grand Rapids, Michigan) in Christian community. Our goal was to grow closer to Christ together while reaching out to serve the surrounding neighborhood--not through proselytising, but just to help where we were needed.  Fifteen years later, there are almost  half-dozen such homes throughout that city.  Closer to home in north Minneapolis, Redeemer Lutheran owns a property that they have used for just such a purpose.

Even closer to Ascension, the Old Highland neighborhood has multiple homes for nuns and there is another spiritual resting place known as Alafia.  Ascension need not look far at all to find examples of how to use similar properties to fulfill God's great commandment to "Go forth and make disciples of all nations."

The master in the parable of the talents would even have been satisfied with the meager gains of putting money in the bank and letting it gain interest.  Likewise, Ascension could take the money they would use towards demolition and partially subsidize the moving of the home to another vacant lot.  Or they could just sit on the place until housing values rebound even more and a sale in the future could bring a nice financial windfall.

The parable of the talents has always resonated a clear message to me:  When God gives you a gift, you damn well better try and do something with it.  Even if you fail, that attempt is far, FAR better than taking what God has given you and burying it in the sand.  Now I can completely understand that finding a solution to what to do with this house won't be easy and will carry some risk.  But there is not a single verse in the Bible where God excuses his servants from taking action because they were lazy or afraid.  On the contrary, children of God are specifically called to action in the face of such obstacles with the promise that our God will see us through.

The servant who invites God's displeasure buries his talent in the sand.  And ironically, burying a gift from God in the sand is quite literally what Ascension would do if they demolished this home.  Instead, there are any number of options available for them to pursue that would result in either a way for them to further their ministry, or at a minimum provide a home to a family and make use of the physical resources that an old home contains.  And so as one church leader to another body of fellow Christians, I call on Ascension to set aside plans for the destruction of this gift and to seek out ways to better serve our community and our God.

8 comments:

  1. Well said Jeff! Appalling all the way around. If the Church was given a new vehicle it did not want to maintain or insure, would they crush it or sell it? It seems the highest and best use of the property for the greater community is not being served here, and it's too bad church members are not speaking up against it as well.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Jeff, agree 100%. How did you get the pics of the inside?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The pics were posted on the Old North Minneapolis Facebook page.

      Delete
  3. You seemed to be alright with Fourth Baptist being torn down for a brand new playhouse for our underachieving educational system when other quite viable buildings were available. You "christians" have an odd way of rationalizing....but you WILL, depending upon whatever sect you are of your cult.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There were numerous buildings on the MPS site that got torn down and that I only found out about after it was too late to do anything about it. Chalk up my silence at that time more as a result of a lack of understanding about the demolition issue, and inexperience about how to be more proactive about it. But I would not consider my own lack of commentary at the time as being "okay" with it.

      Delete
  4. Once again Mr. Skrenes you have published YOUR viewpoint based on YOUR assumptions. Perhaps before you get your shorts in a tighter knot you might call the parish office and ask if the pastor is willing to speak or meet with you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The information I received was from Ascension members and I consider it valid enough to form the basis for this post. I do indeed hope I'm wrong in my assumptions. I would MUCH rather write a conciliatory blog post admitting my mistake than have to fight yet another fight to keep a valuable piece of my community from winding up in a landfill.

      Unfortunately, I cannot think of a time when I sounded the alarm over a pending demolition only to find myself playing the part of Chicken Little. In any case, the Old Highland list serve posted that there will be a community meeting on this topic on August 4th. We'll find out more there, if nothing else.

      Delete
    2. Regardless, this is Mr. Skrenes' blog, so if it were opinion he was posting (which it seems not to be), he is certainly entitled to do so. No one is making you read this blog, Anonymous!

      Delete