Bricks and Mortals

Church buildings: For almost 400 years, they have served as sanctuaries and public markers of place, anchoring town squares across America and fostering the nation's spiritual development. Perhaps because so many of our churches - especially in the Northeast - are historic, we admire them and hold them close. They not only help us feel connected to God, but also remind us of our spiritual ancestors.  We rightfully see our churches as beautiful, and significant, and important.

But they also may be old - and too big for a congregation's current needs. Because so many New England churches were constructed long ago, in a different era - when worshiping congregations were larger and infrastructure wasn't so expensive to maintain - we may find ourselves wondering whether/how they can serve contemporary spiritual needs. We may ask: How can we successfully maintain our buildings, when financial resources are dwindling?  How can we be good infrastructure stewards, when it's difficult to tell what roles our buildings may play in the shifting landscape of 21st-century ministry and religion?


Event Venue

Andover Newton Theological School

Peck Conference Room

Worcester Hall

230 Herrick Road

Newton Centre, Massachusetts

For a map of this location, CLICK HERE.

Lodging and Transportation

Andover Newton Theological School maintains a list of area accomodations. You can find this list, along with options for reaching ANTS by public transportation, by CLICKING HERE to access the school's "Visiting Andover Newton Theological School" webpage.

Event Schedule, Format, Guiding Questions, and Activities


Friday, May 5

9:30 AM: Registration Opens

10 AM - 5:30 PM 

Session One:  WHY - Describe our local situations and discuss why our buildings and infrastructure matter in relation to mission.

Lunch (Provided)

Session Two:  HOW - Explore best practices for positioning and transforming our buildings.

Saturday, May 6

9 AM - 12 PM

Session Three: Putting the WHY and HOW Together - Mini-consultations about developing action plans and moving forward.

As shown in the schedule, the workshop will consist of three sessions, each of which will last approximately 3 hours.

Participants will explore the following questions:

  • What are sacred sites for? To what extent are they real estate, and to what extent are they potter's clay?  If they are both, how do we steward them?
  • What should we be doing with our beautiful, expensive buildings?
  • What are best practices for re-positioning them as the needs of ministry change?
  • What constitutes "deferred maintenance" - spiritually, organizationally, and materially?
  • Are our buildings assets, deficits, or both?

The Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper (see Facilitator Bio, below) will lead a series of large-group conversations and peer-to-peer discussions. She also will provide participants with mini-consultations regarding their unique contexts and situations. Collectively, workshop activities will emphasize both the why and the how of securing the past and opening the future for our church buildings, which Donna considers "treasures in earthen vessels."

Workshop Goals

Through this workshop, participants will:

  • become part of a cohort of people who glimpse the future (for their buidings) and know how to use the resources of the past to chart a pathway forward.
  • learn how innovative ideas for building use can help faith communities flourish.
  • begin to consider action plans for their own locations.

About the Facilitator

The Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, an author, and a researcher who specializes in helping faith communities determine how to use their church buildings for maximize ministry effectiveness. Donna has taught "Bricks and Mortals" courses at Union Seminary in New York and Hartford Seminary in Connecticut. She also is writing a manual about the topic, with the sponsorship of the Louisville Institute's Pastoral Study Project. Her congregation, Judson Memorial in New York City, removed its pews in 1959. It currently houses five worshipping congregations, along with the New York City New Sanctuary Movement, Bail Out Theater, the Gym at Judson, Movement Research, the West Village Chorale, and more. The church hosts an average of 7 activities per day, and approximately 1800 people come through the building each week.

Audience and Registration Limit

Churches may find it useful to send multiple representatives - including the congregation's pastor(s) and lay leader(s) - to this workshop, which is especially useful for self-governing congregations who value the principles of democratic faith.

The workshop will be limited to 30 participants.

Registration Prices

  • Primary Registration - For the first person from a church who registers.
    • $75 Early Bird registration (available through April 23)
    • $100 Regular registration
  • Additional Tickets - For additional people from the primary registrant's church.
    • $50: Per each additional person registered during the Early Bird registration period (available through April 23)
    • $75: Per each additional person registered during the Regular registration period

Limited scholarship assistance is available for this event. For more information, contact Alyssa Lodewick (

Important Note: When you register, the system will ask how many tickets you would like to buy. Place the numeral "1" in the "Primary Registration" box. If you are registering additional people from your faith community, indicate how many additional tickets you would like to purchase under "Additional Tickets."

About The BTS Center

The BTS Center is a think tank that sponsors educational events, projects, and research inquiries in the fields of religion, spirituality, practical theology, and ministry. Through thought leadership and vocational development initiatives, The BTS Center equips and supports faith leaders for theologically grounded, effective leadership in 21st-century communities of faith and practice.

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