A “gift from God” meets local opposition

The Boston Globe reports on the kind of challenges that face more and more urban congregations. How to stay in the city and find creative ways to fund new ministries while still maintaining the connection to the neighborhood?

Historic St. Jame’s Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is falling apart. The congregation raised $600,000 to repair the bell tower and still had to find additional grants to finish the job. And still the roof leaked and property was crumbling. The endowment meant to preserve the ministry into the future was drained just keeping the building in shape. So when the parish and a neighboring developer joined forces to both save the building and provide funds for future ministry, it looked like a win-win solution. Except that the neighbors, who love the church, came out against the plan.

The Boston Globe reports:

At the church’s urging, the two formed a partnership and proposed to build a four-story, 78,000-square-foot development on St. James’s historic property at Massachusetts Avenue and Beech Street. If finalized, the church would lease the bulk of its property to the developer for 99 years, and the developer would get plenty of room to erect its proposed L-shaped building around the sanctuary that would include 46 condo units, retail space, an underground parking garage, and a new parish hall on the first floor.

If the project gets the green light next year, Antolini said, the deal would allow St. James’s to focus on its urban ministries instead of on raising millions to fix up its property….

…But the partnership has caused a rift in the church’s otherwise harmonious relationship with its North Cambridge neighbors.

Residents, weary of big development’s squeeze into their tight-knit community, now find themselves squaring off against an unlikely foe, a church, over the future of a landmark.

“It’s not that we are against the church,’’ said Lydia Gralla, a Beech Street resident. “But we are against the developer. But it gets weird because the church is the developer.’’

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