WESTERN MICHIGAN: Diocese may sell cathedral
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Mon Oct 11 23:56:24 EDT 2004
WESTERN MICHIGAN: Diocese may sell cathedral
Episcopalians to consider leaving landmark church in Portage
By Chris Meehan
A for-sale sign may be sitting in front of the Episcopal Cathedral of
Christ the King by this time next year.
Episcopal officials say the landmark structure along I-94 near Oakland
Drive has become a drain on the financial resources of the Episcopal
Diocese of Western Michigan.
As a result, a proposal to study the benefits and specifics of a sale is
on the agenda of this week's annual diocesan convention in Big Rapids.
"This is a big deal. There is a lot involved in this," said the Rev.
Mark Rutenbar, president of the standing committee of the diocese. "The
cathedral is a symbol of the diocese. Unfortunately, there is weak
support for it as a building."
Diocesan offices, as well as a small Episcopal congregation, are
currently located in the cathedral. Members of the congregation -- the
Parish Church of Christ the King at the Cathedral of Christ the King --
say they oppose selling the building.
"We've taken a preliminary sounding on this issue from the congregation
and it's pretty clear that they feel a deep spiritual connection to this
place," said the Rev. Cynthia Black, rector of the parish church at 2600
Vincent Drive Ave.
"There are a lot of angry people in the congregation right now," said
Black. "But there also are a lot of very hopeful people" who are
optimistic the diocese will find a way to hold onto the building.
The proposal asking that the cathedral be deconsecrated "as Cathedral
for the Diocese of Western Michigan and a suitable buyer be sought" was
drawn up by churches in the Petoskey and Holland areas.
"The diocese is in a critical financial state and unable to fulfill its
Vision Statement (of reaching out to people through various ministries)
and cannot pay in rent what is needed," according to the proposal.
Among other things, it would cost about $1 million to upgrade the church
and make it handicapped-accessible. In addition, an endowment used to
help fund the cathedral is dwindling and will likely run out soon, said
supporters of the proposal to consider a sale.
"The Cathedral of Christ the King in Portage is not currently meeting
the needs of an ever-more mission-oriented Episcopal Church," said the
Rev. LaRae Rutenbar, interim pastor of a church in Petoskey. LaRae
Rutenbar is married to Mark Rutenbar.
Along with being inaccessible to the handicapped, said LaRae Rutenbar,
the cathedral's meeting rooms are inadequate for large groups and the
office space is insufficient. In addition, she said, the building is not
centrally located, making it difficult for northern parishes to attend
certain functions and services. The diocese runs on the west side of the
Lower Peninsula from the Indiana state line north to the Petoskey area.
"There is a real financial problem that has been developing in the
diocese," said the Rev. John Hills, a retired priest and former diocesan
administrator who lives in West Olive.
Money woes have hit the 14,000-member diocese in recent years for a
number of reasons, including a bad economy, skyrocketing insurance
premiums, and a downturn in giving among a few churches that are not
happy with the Episcopal denomination's support of gays and lesbians.
"Money has not been very plentiful and even reduced. It's been difficult
getting a balanced budget," said Hills, one of those who helped write
the proposal to be considered.
The annual budget for the diocese is about $600,000.
Black, rector of the parish church at the cathedral, said cathedral
income -- rent from the diocese for office space and from the church
that uses the building -- has failed to keep up with expenses in recent
The diocese, she said, has decided it must reduce its rent from $80,000
per year to $30,000 for the next fiscal year. She said her congregation
is vital, but small, averaging about 100 people for Sunday worship, and
unable to pay what it would cost to keep the cathedral in operation. Her
parish pays about $15,000 a year for cathedral upkeep, said Hills.
"We welcome the opportunity (at the convention or at other times) to
have a conversation about the cathedral that hasn't taken place yet,"
Chances are Black's congregation would stay together and find another
place in which to worship should the cathedral be sold.
Looking more like a castle than a church, the cathedral was built along
I-94 in 1969 for about $2 million.
"The original design was for it to be the centerpiece of a large
complex, including an academy and senior citizens' residence," said the
Rev. Joseph Neiman, rector of St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Paw Paw.
Neiman once sat on the board of the corporation that oversees operation
of the cathedral and the 28 acres on which it sits. Also part of the
site is a cemetery holding the ashes of former church members.
"The cathedral is an underdeveloped resource of the Episcopal diocese,"
If he finds enough support among other church members, Neiman said, he
may craft his own proposal and place it before this week's convention
"We haven't sold the vision of what the cathedral can be," he said. "The
cathedral should be the interface between church and society. It should
host controversial speakers on issues facing people from a moral
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