Seattle to the World: Ecumenical Campus Coalition

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A New Approach to Ownership and Community

The story:
Several church congregations in the University District, faced with the common challenges of declining memberships and the costly maintenance of oversized, aging facilities, have devised a common solution. Their vision for a collaborative future promises to contribute vibrant public space to the neighborhood, provide valuable space for affordable housing, and revitalize the churches' own worshiping communities both socially and financially.

The supporters of this plan, who together call themselves the University District Ecumenical Campus Coalition (UDECC), first came together formally in 2004 at a roundtable discussion. Their goals were to creatively address the problems with strategies that supported the common values of environmental stewardship and community service.

They are now pursuing their innovative plan: to house a range of congregations in one ecumenical facility, of which each church would own a part. The congregations could sell their individual facilities and re-invest the funds in a new building where they would share access to common resources such as office equipment and even administrative staff. Ecumenical services would be held regularly for a diverse community of worshippers, but each congregation would also have space in which to conduct private services of its own. The existing church properties (including a lot of space currently used for parking lots) could be re-purposed to provide affordable housing units.

The conversation, says Clint Pehrson, executive director of the UDECC, "began from the sense that they had some sort of deficiency with their facilities that needed to be addressed. But it led them into this effort to achieve something beyond what they were, into a whole different way of being a church and a community."

Image credit: Kenneth Philp Landscape Architect

And the plan also has implications for the surrounding University District community. The UDECC is focusing its plans for development on the space along 43rd Ave., between 15th and University, which is one block south of the proposed light rail station, and near a main entrance to the UW campus. The University Temple United Methodist Church is already in that location, providing a solemn and attractive façade and valuable worship and gathering space. The group is currently looking to invest in surrounding properties on that block and on adjacent blocks, where they plan to add more multi-use space that would benefit the surrounding neighborhood, including a rooftop park with public access, a café, street-level retail tenants (focused on community businesses), underground parking, and secular meeting rooms that could be utilized throughout the week by students, performers and other community groups.

"Right now, you've got seven or eight churches each in single facilities in the periphery of the neighborhood," says Pehrson. "Put those resources into a property at the heart of the neighborhood, and you'll have a community cultural center with all kinds of programming, which could be busy every night of the week. That in turn puts people on the streets, helps local businesses and makes the streets safer, all things that come with more vibrant neighborhood environment."

The UDECC is currently working with a consultant team to determine the availability of properties in the targeted area and a formal financial plan. In May 2009, each church will hold a full congregational vote to determine which congregations will become partners in the final project.

Why it's Worldchanging:
The Ecumenical Campus Coalition's progressive approach to resources and land-use planning is truly a next-generation solution that we hope will be modeled by many different kinds of social, business and community groups in years to come. And the best part is that the individual congregations don’t sacrifice their own good for the creation of a community center. On the contrary, it seems that by changing their thinking, each participating church will see tremendous gains in productivity, financial resources, and hopefully even a revitalized congregation once they combine their assets and engage with the broader community. The UDECC plan incorporates at least two big Worldchanging ideas – product-service systems and design for walkable communities into one city-changing reality, and we look forward to seeing it take shape here in Seattle.

Top image: courtesy of Ecumenical Campus Coalition.


This post is part of the series, "Seattle to the World: 100 Best Innovations from the Emerald City."

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