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Developers to Buy Part of 167-Year-Old Church and Occupy Sandy Hub

By Meredith Hoffman | February 11, 2013 3:01pm

GREENPOINT — This holy man will do anything to save his church — even sell part of it.

The Church of Ascension, an Episcopal congregation on Kent Street that has been open since 1846, is closing on a real estate deal that will turn part of its parish hall into new apartments, said the pastor, the Rev. John Merz.

"We're in the contract stage...we're entering into a partnership with a developer that will buy the top two floors of our parish hall and turn them into apartments," Merz said, promising that the church and used community space would be preserved in the deal. "This move ensures financial stability for the church." 

Merz said the real estate contract — which would result in renovations on the whole building as part of the apartments' construction, he noted — was one "creative way" his congregation had found to cope with a shrinking membership and a financially strained Episcopal Diocese. Ascension is just steps from St. Elias, another church whose whole building has been on the market the last several years. 

"We receive financial aid from the diocese and the diocese is getting stretched thin," he said of the central power. "These churches were built at a time when there were larger congregations and a different ethos of giving to the church, so churches around the city are finding creative ways to make ends meet."

The Church of Ascension, which has also become a center for citywide Occupy Sandy volunteers since January, will be able to continue its relief work and services, Merz said.

But despite Ascension's pivotal role in the current community, Merz noted that the congregation is half the size it was a few decades ago.

"We have to think ahead," he said of the real estate decision. "It's not doable for small churches to survive on the contributions of their congregants anymore."