The cultural landscape around churches in America has changed dramatically in the past half century. St Dunstan’s is one of countless churches founded in the 1950s, at the peak of postwar churchgoing. Today, attending church is no longer culturally normative. People don’t come ‘just because.’ The good news is that those who do attend really want to be there, and have active commitments to their church and faith community. But the packed churches of the mid-20th century are unlikely to return.
Another challenge is that churches that stand for an inclusive and welcoming faith, creation care, and human dignity, have to contend with the cultural visibility of a Christianity with very different values. Many people who might be drawn to churches like St. Dunstan’s feel pushed away by the Christianity they see on the news.
The economic landscape is challenging too. Churches have long been sustained financially by their more settled members, those in middle age and above. But today’s younger generations may not be able to give at levels comparable to their elders, as they move into middle age themselves. People who are 40 today own half the wealth that older generations did at the same age. Members of the Baby Boom generation are collectively 10 times wealthier than Millennials. Meanwhile, basic expenses like health care, home ownership, and education cost many times more than in past decades. No matter how committed, Generation X, Millennial and GenZ church members may simply not have the capacity to contribute financially to their churches at the same level as prior generations.
These cultural and economic headwinds don’t mean a church like St Dunstan’s is doomed. There will continue to be vital and loving communities of faith that know their purpose and strive to carry it out with integrity, hope and love. But there are big questions about how to sustain this beloved place and institution into an uncertain future.
Place-keeping is a new word, coming from the worlds of urban planning and community development. Place-keeping refers to the process of engaging the people who live, work, socialize or worship in a particular place, to use their time and resources to sustain and preserve that place and what is special about it.
The U.S Department of Arts and Culture defines place-keeping as “the active care and maintenance of a place and its social fabric by the people who live and work there; …not just preserving buildings but keeping the cultural memories associated with a locale alive.”
Place refers not just to a physical location; it includes the social and emotional aspects – such as belonging, connection, safety or joy. Keeping is “the action of owning, maintaining, or protecting something;” the keepers of a place are “those who have an emotional and personal investment in a place” (Bricks of Inheritance).
In the context of St. Dunstan’s, place-keeping is an invitation to keep – tend, support, preserve – this special place, in the fulness of its built, natural, and human dimensions.
Being largely away from our church building for 18 months during the early stages of the Covid pandemic made many people realize how important it is to them. And even for our digital members, who participate in our common life online, the building and grounds are important as the base and hub for our hybrid church, as we move forward together.
Some churches have large endowments or other funds that help them care for their buildings and property. St. Dunstan’s has never had such a fund, partly due to a long-standing conviction among parish leaders that it’s important for today’s members to fund today’s ministry and mission. Your Vestry and Finance Committee still hold that conviction – but at the same time, we have been wondering, together, what that looks like in our changed and changing cultural and economic landscape.
In 2022, nearly 20% of our parish’s annual budget – $54,000 – is committed to the costs of simply owning and tending our buildings and grounds. That includes maintenance, utilities, property insurance, snow plowing, mowing the grass, and more. In addition, we have medium-term upkeep needs, like replacing aging HVAC equipment or maintenance on the 150-year-old farmhouse that stands on our grounds, that regularly exceed what’s available in our small Facilities fund.
What if members who want to see St. Dunstan’s survive and flourish could help cover the costs of owning and maintaining this place, for the long term, while lightening the burden of the annual budget and still allowing tomorrow’s members to fund tomorrow’s ministry and mission?
The Place-keeping Fund
The Place-keeping Fund is a fund held by the church to be used in a specific way – similar to our longstanding Outreach Grant Fund. Members could make gifts or bequests, large or small, to the Fund. Over time, the Place-keeping Fund will build up to the point where we can draw on it annually, as a resource to augment our income from pledges.
We estimate that $1 million would be enough to substantially support the maintenance of our buildings and property into the future. While that’s a big number for our parish, we raised almost $1.2 million for the Open Door Project renovation in 2018 through 2021. The Place-keeping Fund will be an investment in maintaining our beautifully-renovated facilities.
The Fund is in its early days, and we are still developing policies and procedures to govern how it is held and used. If you are interested in being part of that work, or if you have thoughts you’d like to share, please contact our parish Treasurer, Val McAuliffe, at .
And if you would like to make a gift, or make arrangements for a stock transfer or bequest, please reach out to Val as well! We would be so glad and grateful to work with you.