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Episcopal leaders fight leasing Chelsea campus to group with conservative ties

The General Theological Seminary on 10th Ave. between 20th and 21st Sts. in Manhattan. (Jefferson Siegel for ϲʿֱ)
The General Theological Seminary on 10th Ave. between 20th and 21st Sts. in Manhattan. (Jefferson Siegel for ϲʿֱ)
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New York Episcopal leaders have come out against a pending deal to lease parts of the historic campus in Chelsea to a group with conservative ties, the Daily News has learned.

In November the seminary it had entered negotiations with an unnamed Christian nonprofit to “explore a long-term lease” of its campus amid “cashflow challenges.”

Multiple sources have confirmed to the News the deal is with the School of Sacred Music, which is involved in the “training of church musicians,” according to .

Those documents connect the group to Abdiel Capital, a New York-based investment fund founded by , who also serves as managing partner. Moran is also chairman of the board of directors of First Things, a conservative journal whose contributors have written pieces critical of , and .

Under the lease terms, the seminary would still own the land and retain use of parts of the campus, or Close, “in perpetuity.” The rest would be leased to the nonprofit, which would be responsible for restoring building exteriors, covering expenses and paying an unspecified annual rent.

The General Theological Seminary on 10th Ave. between 20th and 21st Sts. in Manhattan. (Mariela Lombard for ϲʿֱ)
The General Theological Seminary on 10th Ave. between 20th and 21st Sts. in Manhattan. (Mariela Lombard for ϲʿֱ)

But the deal has raised questions — with leaders of the Episcopal Diocese of New York coming out against it this week.

“Together we oppose the lease arrangement between Virginia Theological Seminary/The General Theological Seminary and the School of Sacred Music,” said a statement signed by seven senior clergy members, including Bishop of New York Matthew Heyd.

“We are concerned by the lack of full acceptance of the LGBTQ stance of its founders and the lack of transparency in its funding.”

They acknowledged that the Episcopal Church has “struggled towards full inclusion” of LGBTQ+ people over the years, adding “We have made progress. We’re not going back.”

“We recognize the difficult financial situation of VTS/GTS with the General Seminary campus,” they continued. “We are also making difficult decisions about the future use of sacred spaces. It’s important to make decisions that align with our mission and values. Human dignity is not negotiable.”

The leafy landmarked seminary campus and is considered something of a hidden gem by locals. It takes up a full city block between 20th and 21st Streets and Ninth and Tenth Avenues.

But the oldest Episcopal seminary in the nation has faced difficulties for years, leading it to and into an with the Virginia Theological Seminary, under which they share senior leadership but operate as separate entities.

The General Theological Seminary on 10th Ave. between 20th and 21st Sts. in Manhattan. (Mariela Lombard for ϲʿֱ)
The General Theological Seminary on 10th Ave. between 20th and 21st Sts. in Manhattan. (Mariela Lombard for ϲʿֱ)

“The General Theological Seminary lost nearly $3 million last year with tens of millions of dollars in deferred maintenance,” the Very Rev. Ian S. Markham, President of GTS, said in a statement. “The Seminary is exploring various options with the School of Sacred Music, which is a current tenant of The Close. Any agreement would be consistent with the Seminary’s mission, and its firm commitment to inclusivity.”

Representatives for the School of Sacred Music and Abdiel Capital did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A group of Manhattan elected officials — including local Councilmember Erik Bottcher, Borough President Mark Levine and Congressman Jerry Nadler — previously sent a letter to seminary leadership in late January expressing their “concern” about the negotiations and asking for transparency.

“The Seminary is an integral part of the cultural and historical fabric of our neighborhood,” read the letter, which was obtained by the News. “It is essential that we have a thorough understanding of any potential long-term lease to a new entity.”

It also alluded to concerns about what kind of organization would take over the space.

“It is essential that any new long-term lease or partnership aligns with the values of social justice, inclusivity, compassion, and diversity that the General Theological Seminary has long espoused — values that are deeply cherished by the residents of Chelsea,” they said. “It is essential that any leasing entity does not represent views that run contrary to these values.”

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