174-year-old rectory needs more than just another coat of paint

One World, One Faith, One God
A personal reflection shared at church Sunday, November 23
Good morning. I was delighted when Mother Shelley asked me to talk today about Ascension’s rectory project. A renovation of our 19th-century rectory is long overdue, and now that we are expecting our new rector, we are energized to address the needs of the rectory, built in the early 1840s. This historic building is in fact the last remaining townhouse in New York City to be continuously occupied by a single family. And it will continue to be a single family residence when our new rector, the Reverend Elizabeth Maxwell, or Mother Liz, moves in next March with her daughter.

Dorothy Dinsmoor is a member of the vestry and serves as co-chair of the Buildings and Grounds Committee. She is also a member of the Altar Guild and the Acolytes Guild.
Dorothy Dinsmoor is a member of the vestry and serves as co-chair of the Buildings and Grounds Committee. She is also a member of the Altar Guild and the Acolytes Guild.
Between now and then, we have a lot to do, and it will require a substantial financial commitment from all of us to do it. The electric wiring and the plumbing throughout the building date from the 1920s. The refrigerator bears a plaque noting it was made in the 1960s. Late in 2012, we installed a new roof over the rectory, to end the many leaks that had severely damaged the interior. That damage calls for extensive plaster repair and other construction.

Over the years, as the building served as home to Ascension rectors, relatively little was done to improve the interior beyond an occasional coat of paint. Floors are damaged, walls have cracks, and there are even remaining gas pipes from the time when gas lighting was in use, before electricity was invented and made available.

The building is deceptively neat and compact from the exterior on Tenth Street. Inside, four floors of sizable rooms occupy more than 5,000 square feet of space. To address the construction requirements for a building of this size, it is estimated that $700,000 will be needed. In addition, we will incur another $100,000 in architects’ and consultants’ fees, for a total budget of $800,000.

When the renovation is complete, we foresee the second, third and fourth floors providing a residence for the rector and her daughter. The first floor — or “parlor floor,” as we’ve talked about it — consists of two large and gracious rooms, and a third smaller room which our previous rector used as a family and TV room. The wardens and vestry have decided to reserve this floor for church use. The large rooms can be used for Bible study, other gatherings of parishioners, and reception rooms for community activities that we might offer. The smaller room can be a meeting room for committees and small groups, replacing our ground floor meeting room.

The big news about the ground floor of the rectory is that it will soon welcome children from a French pre-school, La Petite Ecole. Children from 18 months to four years old will study and play for five days during the week. On Sundays we will use the area for our Sunday school, as we have been doing since the ground floor was renovated in 2006. La Petite Ecole will begin its activities next summer. The school will be renting the ground floor area, and Ascension expects to generate more than $350,000 in income over the next five years from this relationship.

As co-chair of the Buildings and Grounds Committee, I have seen the details of this project develop steadily over the past couple of years. Now it is time to act. I thought long and hard about my gift to the Capital Campaign to help with the rectory project. And I realized how much Ascension means to me. It is my spiritual home, fertile ground for growth in my understanding and love of God. I believe in the rectory project, the work that has to be done, the goals of providing a home for our next rector and subsequent rectors, and a location for church activities.

In undertaking the rectory renovation, we are fulfilling our responsibility to ensure that Ascension ministries of the future will take place. In just this way, past generations made decisions that ensured we could conduct our ministries and worship as we do at Ascension today.

I hope you will pray on this, and join me in giving as much as you can to Ascension’s Capital Campaign. To me, it is part of my responsibility to God. Thank you.

Dorothy Dinsmoor is on the Board of The Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation, Inc., an organization whose mission is to advance the science of chemistry, chemical engineering and related sciences as a means of improving human relations and circumstances throughout the world. Dorothy currently serves as vice president of the foundation. Through a range of programs, the foundation supports the nation’s foremost chemical scientists, develops leadership in environmental research, and supports chemistry that has substantial impact on the well-being of society. Prior to joining the Dreyfus Foundation, Dorothy held executive positions in corporate communications in the textiles and utilities industries. She received a B.A. in art history from Vassar College and a master of science degree in historic preservation from Columbia University.