NYC’s Trinity Church Split on How to Manage the $2 Billion Legacy of a Queen

Posted by Kendall Harmon

There has never been any doubt that Trinity Church is wealthy. But the extent of its wealth has long been a mystery; guessed at by many, known by few.

Now, however, after a lawsuit filed by a disenchanted parishioner, the church has offered an estimate of the value of its assets: more than $2 billion.

The Episcopal parish, known as Trinity Wall Street, traces its holdings to a gift of 215 acres of prime Manhattan farmland donated in 1705 by Queen Anne of England. Since then, the church has parlayed that gift into a rich portfolio of office buildings, stock investments and, soon, mixed-use residential development.

Read it all from today's New York Times.

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalEpiscopal Church (TEC)TEC Parishes* Christian Life / Church LifeParish MinistryStewardship* Culture-WatchReligion & CultureUrban/City Life and Issues* Economics, PoliticsEconomyCredit MarketsCurrency MarketsHousing/Real Estate MarketStock Market* International News & CommentaryAmerica/U.S.A.* TheologyEthics / Moral TheologyPastoral Theology

Posted April 25, 2013 at 7:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. Mario Gonzalez wrote:

Checking the attendance and giving trends at Trinity reveals that this is a legacy that has a church, rather than the reverse:  ASA is just short of 600, and plate and pledge just over $600K.

It’s clear that despite being populated by the wealthy and elite, the actual congregation’s giving is poor.  Solution:  cut off funds from the legacy/foundation/endowment to the operating budget (salaries included) and let the congregation behave like a church by supporting the operating budget.  Separate out the pile of $$ to a foundation manageed by a board separate from the vestry (which at 22 members is simply unwieldy).

They’re confusing their role as a philanthropic foundation and as part of the “blessed company of all faithful people.”

April 25, 11:57 am | [comment link]
2. Frances S Scott wrote:

Four years ago my daughter’s Evangelical Free Church in Flagstaff, AZ reorganized.  Among other changes, they eleminated passing the offering plate and opted for a box at the back of the church where members can drop their offerings (tithes).  They had outgrown their space and were considering building a new church.  Instead, over the last three years they have built 3 churches in India, paid the pastors’ salary for one year and purchased a vehicle for each pastor so that he can get around his parish.  At home, the church now has a service on Sat. night, 2 on Sun. morning, and a Sunday evening service once a month.  Average attendance for a given weekend is 700.  The church is in the “Sunny Side” area of Flagstaff and serves a relatively “poor” neighborhood.

Think what Trinity could accomplish for the kingdom of God!

April 25, 1:33 pm | [comment link]
3. Ad Orientem wrote:

I am not opposed to a church having some money in the bank or even investments. Such is prudent stewardship. But $2 billion? That is very hard from my perspective to justify. If your “parish” has more money than most Wall Street hedge funds than you may have a problem.

April 25, 2:40 pm | [comment link]
4. Ad Orientem wrote:

Typo: than = then

April 25, 2:41 pm | [comment link]
5. Emerson Champion wrote:

$475,000.00 annual salary for the rector, with a total compensation of $1,300,000.00? That’s more than the budget of many dioceses. I’m not one to starve a rector, but this seems rather excessive.

April 25, 6:18 pm | [comment link]
6. Ad Orientem wrote:


$475,000.00 annual salary for the rector, with a total compensation of $1,300,000.00? That’s more than the budget of many dioceses. I’m not one to starve a rector, but this seems rather excessive.

You are absolutely correct. That is scandalous.

April 25, 10:39 pm | [comment link]
7. HoraceinKenya wrote:

From one who engages in full time ministry in Africa…I find this positively obscene.

April 26, 12:28 am | [comment link]
8. Cennydd13 wrote:

I believe in paying clergy a decent salary, but to enable this guy to live like KJS?  Uh uh… way!  He’s a clergyman, (she isn’t, although she thinks she is) for God’s sake, not a CEO!

April 26, 1:31 am | [comment link]
9. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

There’s so much that cries out for comment in this story. 

1.  Let me start by agreeing with my friend, Mario Gonzalez (#1).  A massive endowment like the staggrering $2 billion in assets controlled by Trinity, Wall Street, can be a curse for a congregation, as well as a blessing, a millstone around their necks as a parish.  A case where the tail starts wagging the dog, etc.

2.  There is an old joke that seems applicable here.  It’s been said about the CoE that they would rather give up 38 of their 39 Articles than one 39th of their income.  If there’s some truth in that old jibe, how much more likely is it to apply to this incredibly rich parish?

3.  As for the exorbitant compensation of the rector, there are a few contextual considerations to keep in mind.  The first is that a lot of the vestry is apparently made up of extremely wealthy folks who are used to CEO’s getting ridiculously high levels of pay and hence fail to realize how scandalous it seems to many of the rest of us.  Second, the cost of living in Manhattan is absurdly high.  Last, and not least, this astronomical compensation is not as unprecedented as it might seem.  Even at $475 million a year, the rector doesn’t make as much as what used to be the highest-paid position in TEC, i.e., being Rector of St. Paul’s School in Concord, NH, an elite private prep school with another massive endowment.  +Craig Anderson, the former bishop of my home state of SD, gave up his bishopric to become President of the National Council of Churches back in the 1990s, but he then gladly gave up that post to become Rector of St. Paul’s School, back when the salary was a staggering $500 million a year.  Far more than the President of the USA gets, just for running a small (if prestigious) prep school??

These are the kinds of stories that have created the stereotype that the Episcopal Church is run by and for the super wealthy.  Twas ever since the time of J. P. Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and John Jacob Astor, or for that matter, George Washington, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson.  Let the Baptists, Methodists, and Penbtecostals have the riff raff.  Who cares?  As long as we retain the loyalty of “the people who count,” who in many cases (like that of the Deist Thomas Jefferson), represent what the founder of Protestant Liberalism, Friedrich Schliermacher, called “religion’s cultured despisers.”

Still, in the end, the problem isn’t wealth per se.  It’s not having a lot of money that is the root of all evil.  It’s THE LOVE OF MONEY that’s the problem.  And the poor can be just as obsessed with the money and things they don’t have as the super rich can be obsessed with protecting what they’ve got.

David Handy+

April 26, 10:10 am | [comment link]
10. Cennydd13 wrote:

David+, are you sure you’re not talking about salaries in the thousands of dollars, rather than in the millions?

April 26, 11:49 am | [comment link]
11. pastorchuckie wrote:

“...he then gladly gave up that post to become Rector of St. Paul’s School, back when the salary was a staggering $500 million a year.”  (Referring to Bishop Anderson at St. Paul’s School, Concord, NH)

It was actually $500 thousand, which is already staggering enough.

Pax Christi!

Chuck Bradshaw
Hulls Cove, ME

April 26, 12:44 pm | [comment link]
12. jhp wrote:

For me, the details of the financial resources of Trinity, Wall Street weren’t as shocking as news of the dysfunctional vestry there (see the links on page 2 of the article).

Anyone who’s ever battled an imperious Rector in a local church — someone intent on evasiveness, self-enrichment, manipulation and lack of accountability—can recognize the hallmarks of an all-too-familiar situation in TEC.  Is there an Alban Institute workshop where these types go to learn this stuff?  Why do they think no one notices or no one will care?  Why don’t they realize that their behavior corrodes the trust that is essential to the pastoral relationship between priest and people?

What’s shocking to me is that the city-mice at Trinity were as successfully stonewalled as the hapless vestry in, say, St-James-the-Least-of-All, Bendover, IA.  I would’ve thought that packing Trinity’s vestry (by packing the nomination committee/process) or massaging the vestry minutes, or forcing out critically-minded people, was something that its Rector would have been greatly too high to attempt.

April 27, 1:30 am | [comment link]
13. AnglicanFirst wrote:

“Mr. Cooper seemed tired as he sat surrounded by portraits of former rectors in a church office. “I’m a strong believer that leadership has seasons, and my season is in the eighth or ninth inning of the game,” he said. “

And what is the rector’s ‘belief?’

Is he aware of Jesus’ admonitions regarding a focus on personal wealth?

April 27, 5:10 pm | [comment link]
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