Boulder Vision Project Updates

The Annex, diagonally adjacent to the main campus, was originally a tire center and was gifted to the church decades ago.  

It has served various purposes through the years:

  • a youth ministry space;
  • a space to store and distribute clothing to victims of the Marshall Fire and to those experiencing homelessness;
  • a space for other nonprofits and community groups.

The Annex was not designed with these needs in mind and current operations are putting a strain on the building capacity. It is clear that we could use this space and property much more productively.

Since we own the property outright, we have a unique opportunity—perhaps even a responsibility—to transform the property into a more dynamic space that is responsive to the current needs of the Boulder community.

Read this one page summary of the Boulder Vision Project.

View a few of the most up to date renderings of 1603 Walnut.

June 6, 2023 Congregational Forum

Warner Andrews presented us with the most complete communication regarding our financial situation and path forward on the Boulder Vision Project.

March 19, 2023 Congregational Forum

Transitional Pastor, Randy Bare, Reserve Elder, Doug Smith, and Trustee, Gene Koch, update us on the status of the Boulder Vision Project.

A Conversation with Warner Andrews

In this video, Trustee, Warner Andrews, shares his heart for the Boulder Vision Project and some insights into the background of the 1603 Walnut project.

A Conversation with Jim Remnant

One significant concern we have heard is regarding the future of mercy ministry at Grace Commons. Transitional Pastor, Randy Bare, recently sat down with long-time covenant partner and reserve elder, Jim Remnant. Jim is the chair of the Lamb’s Ministry Board. Watch their conversation about the deeper and greatly expanded vision of Lamb’s Ministry and how the 1603 Walnut project has given us new insight and direction for our ministry with the poor in Boulder County.

Frequently Asked Questions

To begin, a pastoral word from Randy Bare, our Transitional Pastor:

Thank you for reading through this webpage and learning more about our future plans! Because of the disruption caused by the pandemic and the Grace Commons leadership transition, it is time to bring clarity and renewed vision to our future infrastructure plans. During the past 18 months our church leadership has thoroughly and prayerfully reviewed and continues to believe we should proceed with the Boulder Vision Project as part of our overall strategy to achieve our mission. In the providence of God, we as a congregation recently studied the Book of Nehemiah. As we applied Nehemiah to our common life, on Sun, Mar 26, we entered into a time of corporate confession, first the elders and then all of us.
As I have listened to covenant partners and learned about the history of Grace Commons, it has become clear to me that building projects in our church have often created conflict and pain. I have earnestly prayed for a healing of memories. I believe God wants not only to heal and reconcile us but also to help us embrace the future with hope and unity. Our Co-director of Young Adult Ministry, Kelsey Walega, reminded us from Nehemiah 6-7 that “It matters what we’re focused on. The people of God are powerful and unstoppable when we are focused and heading in the same direction together. Our focus should be on Christ. Our focus should be on knowing Christ and becoming like Christ. Our focus is Christ. It always has been, and it always will be.”
The Apostle Paul reminds us in Ephesians 4:3: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” I am praying that God will unite our hearts as together we walk in faith and carry out our common mission.
This FAQ and the other information we are providing at our Congregational Forum is designed to more fully inform our congregation about one element of our plan to carry out our mission together. Being wise stewards of all of our resources, including our property and buildings, is important and necessary. My prayer is that all of us will take a fresh look today and over the next few months and come to realize that the informal “grapevine” of communication does not contain accurate information. Please take the time to prayerfully read these Frequently Asked Questions which include the most current and up to date information about the Boulder Vision Project: 

I’m new here: what is the Boulder Vision Project?

The Boulder Vision Project (BVP) was unanimously approved by the Session in 2017 as part of our long range strategic plan to make a deeper impact for the Kingdom of God here in Boulder County and helps us fulfill our mission “to build a flourishing church that makes disciples of Jesus Christ.” Since 2017, Session and Trustees have worked together to continue to refine this project and respond to the many changes in our church and world.

The project has three Phases: 

  • Phase 1 is Pathways Learning Academy Preschool
  • Phase 2 is a new four-story building located at 1603 Walnut Street kitty-corner from the Chapel. 
  • Phase 3 is a major renovation and remodeling of our main campus which preserves while maintaining and enhancing our historic Chapel, existing Sanctuary and Children’s Wing.

The entire project has been approved by the City of Boulder and a development agreement has been in place between Grace Commons and the City of Boulder since January 2022.

Through the process of working with city staff, we have built trust with the city and found other ways that we can work together—such as our ministry with the un-housed. Session and Trustees have continued to provide oversight of the BVP, and our Transitional Pastor, Randy Bare, and Interim Director of Finance and Operations, Larry Drees, have provided critical leadership. Reserve elders, Doug Smith and Braden Mark, and current elder, Debbie Carosella, serve on the Boulder Vision Project Executive Team. Doug Smith has overseen our development team which consists of Element Properties, Coburn Architecture and Pinkard Construction. Retired architect, Paul Schultz, has volunteered to serve as the project manager for Phase 2.  

What has happened since the last Congregational Forum in June 2022 on the overall Boulder Vision Project?

The preschool has begun year two of operations. Year one was a year of working through a variety of challenges, multiple transitions in the director position being the most challenging. On December 1, 2022, a new director, Megan Muller began. Megan has done a great job of bringing stability, increasing enrollment and providing necessary leadership. Our Pastor of Family Ministry, Emily Crider, has formed a wonderful working partnership with Megan, and we are now seeing our vision of a church-preschool partnership begin to come into view.

Based on today’s enrollment of full-time equivalent (FTE) and enrolled students plus continuing growth in enrollment, cash flow turned positive in quarter 1 of 2023 and is beginning to pay back the money advanced by the church to fund remodeling and start-up expenses for Phase 1. As enrollment increases through the rest of 2023, we are cautiously optimistic that we will meet our pro-forma numbers of 100 students sometime in 2024. Net cash flow from the preschool is an essential part of funding for the main campus renovation.

What is the revised overall timeline for construction?

Projects of this size and complexity go through many stages and so timelines are normally fluid. In addition, the pandemic, our leadership transition and changes in the national economy have all impacted the original timeline and budget. In March, 2023 we submitted our application for a building permit for Phase 2, 1603 Walnut, and anticipate breaking ground in late summer or early fall of 2023, provided that remaining approvals and financing are in place. Once construction on Phase 2 is complete, and the preschool and 1603 Walnut are fully operational, we will turn our focus to Phase 3, the Main Campus. What we mean by fully operational is financially stable. Trustees will review our annual audited financial statements as they do each year. When they are satisfied, they will recommend to Session whether or not we should proceed to Phase 3. Session will make the ultimate decision, and the congregation will also have another vote before Phase 3 can commence. 

Who assesses and approves the use of debt? 

The Trustees have been assessing the impact of debt as part of their role as elected representative of the congregation. If remaining milestones are successfully met, our established church procedures, informed by our church bylaws and ECO polity outline the required process. The process in brief is: 1) Trustees recommend to Session that they call a congregational meeting for a vote to encumber the church owned property at 1603 Walnut St. 2) A congregational meeting is held and a vote is taken. If the majority of the congregation votes in favor, then Session will take the necessary steps to proceed with the project.As of today, the plan is that the Trustees will ask Session to call a congregational meeting for a vote to encumber the 1603 Walnut St property on June 11, 2023 after worship.

The original timeline and cost of the project have been impacted by the pandemic and the economic headwinds, so why do the Trustees and Session still believe it is wise stewardship to go forward?

The BVP Executive team has been working with Element Properties, Coburn Architecture and Pinkard Construction to make changes to the project to balance sources and uses over the past 12 months. Trustees have been regularly informed throughout and have concluded that the project remains financially viable and will produce significant net cash flow to support the mission of Grace Commons. This has been a longstanding goal of Trustees, to create non-donation revenue to cover overhead, dedicating pledged income to support ministry and ministry staff. Session has concurred with this goal and has also refined our missional strategy for 1603 Walnut in light of an expanded partnership with other churches and the city of Boulder. 

In late May, 2023 we heard from CHFA that our application for tax credit was denied. Trustees and BVP leadership are seeing this as a setback, but remain committed to finding a different financing structure for the project.

What is an equity investment? Who will provide this?

An equity investment is being sought from charitably motivated investors who will transfer existing funds from their investment portfolios to a fund that will provide the final part of the overall budget. These investors will receive a reasonable but below market return on their investment at an interest rate to be determined before the closing of the overall project financing. They will be repaid by the net cash flow from the project over a period of 6-8 years. Grace Commons Church is likely to participate in this investment both to catalyze others to invest and release positive cash flow towards funding the mission of Grace Commons. 

Will the Main Campus be encumbered by the project financing plan for 1603 Walnut?

No, the Main Campus will not be encumbered. 

How are we managing risks in general terms?

The Trustees are the primary leadership body tasked with this question, and they take risk management very seriously. This isn’t a section to scare you. This is about trying to identify the things that might go wrong and taking sensible steps to reduce the chances of their happening. It is not about eliminating risk: who, after all, really wants to wear both a belt and suspenders?Part of the robust discussion over the past year between Trustees and the BVP Executive Team has included the Trustees taking the role of “devil’s advocate” (constructively!) to try and identify weaknesses and find ways to overcome them. Below is a list of some of the risks that can arise in any building project. Over the past 18 months we have been addressing these risks in both general terms through improved governance and in specific terms by adding, for example, a qualified person who will manage the project on a daily basis during construction, Paul Schultz, a retired architect and covenant partner of Grace Commons. 

  • Governance: Much of what we will be doing during the period leading up to and including a building project, and afterwards, will be unfamiliar to most of us. If we try to muddle along without accepting that, we have to make some special roles and responsibilities clear. We need to be careful in choosing the right people for our team as we run the risk of suffering some potential negative impacts on our church. Over the past 18 months we have taken a variety of steps to manage potential governance risks.
  • Key person risk: We have put in place improved governance measures so that our Trustees and our Finance and Operations staff are fully informed of each step in the development process, and that we have a plan in place to carry the project forward. Additionally, we have added members to the development team as mentioned above, and we have added legal counsel to the team to create appropriate limited liability structures to own and operate the new building at 1603 Walnut St. 
  • Fundraising and income generation: There are some obvious and less obvious risks in this section—matching fundraising to the scope of the building project—and understanding its effect on operating income.
  • Legal and contractual: Careful scoping, shortlisting, supplier selection and clarity of contract are all components in mitigating risk.
  • Risk management: Commercial risks include items such as the impact of inflation and procurement of equipment, materials and personnel. An example of questions that we ask are: Will costs vary against the estimate and what you fund-raised? Are your suppliers in good financial health?
  • Financial issues (e.g. interest rate inflation, contingency): In their oversight role Trustees believe we must have a careful plan to avoid surprises but also plan for some!

What are some of the specific risks we are managing?

Construction cost estimates will vary until we close our financing and enter into a Guaranteed Maximum Price construction contract (GMP). It is a complicated picture where some elements are going up with inflation, and some materials costs are dropping with reduced demand. The BVP team and Trustees are watching the costs and continuously looking for ways to control them.

The overall plan includes assumptions about the performance of the fourth floor Event Center. By partnering with an established operator, we believe we have the best chance of meeting or exceeding the performance metrics in the plan. Our partner has indicated that they will begin booking events on or about the time we break ground to maximize the odds of meeting the plan.

Our overall plan includes filling each of the 30 affordable housing units and having those units managed by a professional property manager. The risk assessment here is low due to the huge unmet demand for affordable housing one block from Pearl Street. Our best estimate is that the units will be filled at pro forma rental rates within one month of those units entering the rental market. Our pro forma uses an industry standard vacancy rate of 5% which is prudent, but we will most likely achieve a vacancy rate of 3% or even lower because the housing is substantially below market.  

The current plan delays the start of the Main Campus; are there any risks associated with that?  

The principal risk of delaying the Main Campus project is that a pressing and costly problem with the existing facility will arise in the next three to five years. This could include something like an HVAC or heating failure, a major roof leak or a similar issue. These would require substantial expenditure that would be redundant once the Main Campus is redeveloped. It should be noted that we have ongoing issues keeping the roof sealed and the heating and cooling working properly. At present, facilities staff with the help of the “Work Krew,” undertake preventative maintenance projects where possible. Mitigation of this risk is a compelling reason we launched the Boulder Vision Project in the first place. 

Who will manage the affordable housing units and the event space at 1603 Walnut?

This project will have a property manager for the affordable housing units; a Request for Proposal (RFP) will go out after construction has commenced to find the right partner. We have already engaged an event space manager, Moss Denver, for the fourth floor event space and a non-profit partner A Precious Child, for the first floor workforce training space and cafe.  

I understand that the basement of 1603 Walnut has been eliminated from the project. Why? And what will happen to Deacons’ Closet, Scouts and the other users of the current building?

The basement has been eliminated from the final plan. This will save approximately $3,000,000 in construction costs which is part of how we have managed the economic changes from the original pro forma. In anticipation of demolition and construction of Phase 2, the church already relocated youth ministry from the Annex to the Geneva Wing. This required moving the Library to Westminster Hall and minor remodeling of the second floor. This occurred in 2019. With impending demolition and new construction at 1603 Walnut, all users of the building were given notice in July 2022 that this would be the last ministry year for their current use of the Annex. Staff have been working over the past year with each group that uses the space to find appropriate new space. For example, Casa De Dios Shalom will transition to a new building they have secured in April; Scouts will transfer to the High School Space and the Geneva basement Fallout. 

Our Transitional Pastor has worked with the leadership of Deacons’ Closet and Lamb’s Ministry on two elements of our overall plan going forward. Part 1 involves a partnership with another downtown church, Trinity Lutheran, for a location to operate Deacons’ Closet on an interim basis during construction. Lamb’s ministry will operate the Thursday Lamb’s Cafe either from our main campus as they do currently, or from a different downtown church on an interim basis. Our main campus will continue to provide the prep kitchen for meals served by the Lamb’s Ministry volunteers. A portion of the basement space in the Geneva Wing (Fallout) will serve as the donation and sorting site for the Deacons’ Closet. 

Part 2 planning is well underway. We plan to work with the city and other church and non-profit partners to deepen and expand the mission of these ministries. One of the benefits of our increased communication and partnership with the city of Boulder has been a better understanding of their overall strategy to assist the unhoused allowing us to align our strategy and tactics to better serve our unhoused clients. Based on this better understanding and partnership, the leadership of Lamb’s Ministry and Deacons’ Closet are planning to permanently move these ministries to a site adjacent to a city-planned Day Center for the unhoused that the City of Boulder is scheduled to open by the end of 2023. 

At our March Session meeting, Session affirmed a four-fold commitment which includes an ongoing and expanded ministry of mercy and justice. That commitment is:

  • Connecting people to God (through evangelism and worship)
  • Connecting people to one another (through community and discipleship)
  • Connecting people to the city (through mercy and justice)
  • Connecting people to the culture (through the integration of faith and work)

At our May Congregational Forum, we will provide a complete update on any new developments in our plan, and we ask the congregation to pray for the staff and volunteers who are working tirelessly to increase our involvement in these mercy and justice ministries. 

What about the Main Campus? 

Parts of our Main Campus are now approaching their 100th birthday.  While we have addressed deferred maintenance in the Children’s Wing, Sanctuary and Chapel, Trustees have identified approximately $7,000,000 in deferred maintenance in the remainder of the Main Campus. The Boulder Vision Project was first conceived in part to address these maintenance challenges through renovation and provide us with a physical plant that will serve our mission for a new generation. The City of Boulder approved our redevelopment plan for the Main Campus in January 2022. Our development agreement with the city requires us to begin construction in January 2025 or request an extension. Trustees and the BVP executive team will turn their attention to Phase 3, the Main Campus, once Phase 2 is underway and after our new pastor is installed. 

What about parking?

We realize that parking will be dramatically affected by our planned redevelopment. The length of this answer is designed to more fully address this most frequently asked question. 

An example for us is Pasadena Presbyterian Church in Pasadena CA. They hired a consultant to assess the prospects for selling a surface parking lot it owned to a private developer for a mixed-use development. The sale included the condition that a small number of spaces in the new development are permanently allocated to the church, but the rest of the parishioner parking would be accommodated in the on-street and off-street parking in the Playhouse District. An analysis showed that there was plenty of parking capacity within walking distance of the church. This arrangement converted an inefficiently used asset, a surface parking lot, into monetary resources that the church could use to augment its operations and advance its mission. 

Grace Commons has performed a similar analysis and determined that there is ample parking, both on street and in city garages within half a block of the church. This parking is reasonably priced during the week and free on Saturdays and Sundays. There is also a bank with a large surface parking lot that is available for our use on Sundays directly across the street to the east of the Sanctuary. We are blessed to have a location with more than enough convenient parking for our current and projected needs. Longer term, the Main Campus will have 12 spaces and a well-designed drop-off zone at the 15th Street entrance. All of those spaces will be reserved for handicapped and mobility impaired permits. 

The main bus station is also a half block from our 15th Street entrance. Over time, more of our covenant partners and staff will determine that it is more cost effective and efficient to use public transportation, car pools and ride share services. More housing, including our own affordable housing, is being constructed adjacent to the church, making a private vehicle unnecessary for residents of these buildings and other downtown housing. Many of our Covenant Partners who live in senior housing complexes currently have access to private shuttle services. If necessary Grace Commons is committed to providing shuttles from remote parking locations like Boulder High School for Sunday worship. We have already budgeted for and increased the number of weekday permits at the City garage north of the main campus and west of 1603 Walnut. A number of our staff including two of our pastors currently use the garage instead of one of the church parking lots when they bring their vehicle to the church. 

During Ministry Year 24, we will work to develop a parking plan which will include a user-friendly brochure and webpage to guide visitors and covenant partners alike to all the available parking adjacent to the church. 

As we look at parking we must also address this from a biblical and theological perspective. Most of us have a deeply ingrained habit. We have a private vehicle, a garage for the vehicle and we use it on a daily basis. We expect that the businesses we frequent will have free ample surface parking. We expect that our church will do the same. Public policy has enabled this habitual behavior. That public policy has changed dramatically over the last decade. 

At some point in the future our parking habits will have to change for everyone for a variety of reasons. The cost of owning and operating a private vehicle will make using alternatives like a ride share less expensive. Cities like Boulder have made zoning decisions to reinforce this change towards alternative transportation, and this trend will only continue and expand.

We realize that changing deeply ingrained habits around our use of private vehicles is challenging, but we aspire to live into this together as fellow disciples. We believe that shifting our understanding and practice is good stewardship and demonstrates our commitment to be good citizens and stewards of God’s creation.  For more on this biblical and theological perspective we encourage you to read Sidewalks in the Kingdom: The Christian Practice of Everyday Life by Eric Jacobson, an ECO Pastor in Tacoma. 

Who will rent the fourth floor Event Center?

Our partner Moss Events will manage this space and rent to the general public. Their primary business model is weddings. They will follow all applicable local, state and federal laws. The Pastors and Department Heads are currently working with our denominational leadership to ensure that we fully understand all of the biblical, theological and polity issues that will apply to our stewardship of this space. Session will receive a recommendation from our Transitional Pastor after we finish that process, and we will report much more fully in an updated FAQ as soon as possible. 

Can covenant partners who are absent on the day of a congregational meeting still vote? 

In the judgment of the Trustees, if the remaining milestones for financing of the 1603 Walnut project are met, the Trustees will request that the Session call a congregational meeting to vote to encumber 1603 Walnut St. If Session concurs they will call a meeting. As of today we estimate the meeting will be held on June 4 after worship (the meeting will be held June 11 following worship). Stay tuned though, many factors will need to be considered by Session before a meeting of the congregation for this vote will be scheduled.

The following is a description of how Presbyterians make decisions. We will apply what is written below to the question of voting for those unable to attend in person. 

Presbyterians are not do-it-yourselfers. We make decisions as a community. This is a way of living out the Biblical notion that God has created a covenant community. We base our decisions on our traditional sources of authority and guidance—the Bible and the church’s constitution which includes our essential tenets, our polity and our bylaws. We pray and seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit in interpreting these sources of authority. We listen to each other, believing that God speaks in the community of the church. We do this prayerfully and in the open, we do not impugn one another’s character or motives or lobby for our perspective, but we seek to live in the way of Jesus.  

Philippians 2:1-11 is instructive.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father

Colossians 3:12-14 speaks to how we approach our brothers and sisters as we seek to discern God’s will together. 

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

Our representative form of government puts significant responsibility on all the covenant partners of the church. It is not easy to be a Presbyterian. We are continually called upon to decide whom we should elect and what side of multiple issues we should support and to do so applying Paul’s clear teaching above. 

For example, some denominations believe that Christians should always support the civil government, especially in matters such as war. Other denominations have an inherent suspicion of civil government and tend to withdraw their support from it. For Presbyterians it is always a judgment call. Like John Knox and five friends who produced the Scots Confession in 1560 we should obey the orders of “rulers, and superior powers … if they are not contrary to the commands of God.”

That big “if” is why we study things so much. We always need to discern what the will of God is and how it should be applied in complex situations.

Human limitations

Our Presbyterian predecessors in earlier centuries were keenly aware of our human limitations. For example, in the Westminster Confession of Faith, finished in 1647, we are reminded that “all things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all.” Those things “necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation” are clear. However, “in all controversies of religion” the church needs to use scholarly study to help us sort out our differences. That requires us all to be patient with each other and do our homework until we reach some consensus.

The authors of the Westminster Confession of Faith did not exempt themselves from examination. They honestly asserted that “all synods or councils since the apostles’ times, whether general or particular, may err, and many have erred; therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith or practice, but to be used as a help in both.” We must prayerfully seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit and listen to one another in the church in order wisely to use the insights of our sources of authority and guidance. Neither Scripture nor confessions are rightly used when we pull sentences out of their context and make them into universal laws.

The Presbyterian way of making decisions looks a lot like the way the New Testament church made decisions as recorded in Acts 15:1-21. When there is a disagreement, we turn it over to a chosen group of representatives. In Acts those representatives were the apostles and the elders. They listened to expert testimony from those who knew the issue best—Peter and Paul and Barnabas. There was a lot of dissension and debate. People understood the Old Testament Scriptures differently.

In the end the apostles and elders discerned that a new thing was happening, the conversion of the Gentiles. They discovered that it was in accord with God’s plan as revealed in Scripture. Then they made some practical compromises so that the values of differing groups were honored. Their decision opened the door of the church to us.

Making decisions as Presbyterians is often a slow process that takes a great deal of work. Making decisions this way, however, usually yields wise judgments rooted in God’s revelation and our best human reflection. If we listen attentively to the Spirit of God, as we hear the greatest diversity of voices and earnestly seek to be faithful to the Bible and our constitution, we are as likely as humans can be to make good decisions.

Presbyterian believe our form of government is deeply rooted in Scripture. Presbyterian polity is a representative government, very similar to the United States government. Authority flows both up and down. We elect representatives to make decisions on our behalf: elders, trustees and deacons. 

  • We are not episcopal, with government from the top down. In the Roman Catholic, Episcopal and United Methodist churches individual bishops exercise significant authority. 
  • We are not congregational, with government from the bottom up. In congregational polity the local church’s decisions are final, with everyone getting to vote on everything. This is characteristic of Baptists and the United Church of Christ, among other denominations.

One difference in emphasis between our national and church governments is that the persons Presbyterians elect to represent them are expected to vote according to their consciences as they are informed by the Holy Spirit. They cannot be instructed by a constituency on how to vote, nor are they bound to vote in the same way as the majority of those who elected them.  They are elected to be the body that discerns the will of God.  

In our polity covenant partners have six areas where they are called to discern along with their leaders. Section 1.0503 of our polity states: 

Business that shall be conducted at a Congregational Meeting

The following business items shall be conducted at a congregational meeting, but not necessarily at every congregational meeting; nor are congregational meetings limited to just the following:

  1. Electing elders and trustees (as well as deacons, if the congregation chooses [see 2.03]).
  2. Calling a pastor/head of staff, associate pastor, or to request the dissolution of such calls.
  3. Buying, mortgaging, transferring, or selling real property.
  4. Requesting that presbytery dismiss the congregation to another presbytery of ECO, or requesting that the presbytery dismiss the congregation to another Reformed body. (Either requires a super-majority of two-thirds of the covenant partners present).
  5. Approving any amendments to the congregation’s articles of incorporation, bylaws or other corporate governing documents and dissolution, merger and any other corporate action requiring voting member approval.
  6. Authorizing assistant pastors to serve on session with voice and vote by the congregation’s own rule.

Whenever permitted by law, both ecclesiastical and corporate business may be conducted at the same congregational meeting.

Presbyterians believe that voting is not a political act but an act of discerning God’s will. Part of how we discern God’s will is by praying for God to guide us and listening to one another. That requires all who vote to be fully present for the entire meeting. During the pandemic we lifted this requirement and used zoom for meetings which was not the same but a necessary evil.  That necessary evil is no longer needed. Therefore we plan to return to historical practice and require attendance for voting for this and future meetings.

I am still struggling to get behind this project because in my view the leadership and process were both flawed and untrustworthy. 

During the past two years, Session and Trustees have addressed governance issues in a comprehensive manner. Appropriate oversight and checks and balances have been instituted. This was necessary to ensure that our stewardship of the new and improved assets of our congregation were sound. That is all we can do, and it is not reasonable to expect that we can have perfect leadership and a perfect process. We are flawed human beings and so were those who came before us and who will come after us. Jesus expects us to take risks to expand the Kingdom of God in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Parable of the Minas (Luke 19:11-27; Matthew 25:14-30) directly speaks to this. Session does not believe we are called to put our minas under a mattress, but we are called to be faithful stewards. 

In addition to the work in place now, Session’s review and evaluation of this project dates back to 2017. Their consideration of all aspects of the Boulder Vision Project are under review at almost all Session meetings. 

Why did you stop hosting the monthly updates after last June? 

We made the decision to pause the monthly forums updates for two primary reasons. First, we had spent 15 months listening carefully to the concerns raised in multiple congregational forums, receiving email and other communication from the congregation. Trustee, volunteer and staff energy needed to go into a complete review of the project to ensure that it was still feasible and that it fit our missional goals in a post-pandemic environment. We determined that the monthly briefing in Randy Bare’s Leadership Update email was sufficient while we awaited funding decisions from the City of Boulder and the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority. You can read these email updates again here

Meanwhile we realized that the leaders you elected needed to work on building trust and reconciling with one another. Over the last ten months, Trustees and BVP leadership have had numerous robust discussions to work our way through the challenges posed by rising interest rates and inflation in construction pricing.  

Second, the forums were becoming repetitive and negative, producing more heat than light. We made the decision to turn our focus to the healing of relationships in our elected leadership.

Throughout the Bible leaders are called by God and given the authority and responsibility to lead. Our system of government, our polity, is a faithful and time tested application of Holy Scripture. We elect  Elders and Trustees to discern the will of God. It is neither biblical, Presbyterian nor practical to have a committee of the whole do the work of discernment. 

The polity of Presbyterianism—with its strong insistence on the rule of the majority and the rights of the minority—is the way in which Presbyterians affirm their unity amid their diversity. This polity not only organizes dissent and diversity, it is itself a product of dissent, diversity, compromise, and the creative resolution of conflict. 

We are very inclined to the fallacy that trouble or conflict in the church is unique to a particular time and to a particular situation. This can lead to the erroneous conviction that if we only were faithful enough or smart enough or tried hard enough, we could solve the church's problems. The experiences of the apostle Paul in his own ministry are clear testimony that the questions addressed in the recent history of our congregation are not uniquely Presbyterian nor are they twenty first century. Paul lists "party spirit" as among the “desires of the flesh" (Gal. 5:20) contrasting the existence of "party spirit" in the church with the presence of "the Spirit" in an interesting play on words. To the Corinthians and others he emphasized the necessity of unity in the church with an affirmation of the inevitability and desirability of diversity; yet to all he said, "You are the body of Christ." (I Cor. 12:27.)

Last fall we studied the Book of Acts and our preaching team led us through this book of Scripture.  One of the earliest controversies in the apostolic church was the occasion for the convocation of the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15). Peter recounts a vision of the diversity of God's people (Acts 11) and a divine admonition to the young church to allow diversity in its fellowship, and Peter and Paul had already agreed on this very sensitive matter (Gal. 2: 1-10). At the council Peter rose to Paul's defense, and the council made the decision to permit Paul to carry out his ministry among the gentiles. There is the impression, based on Paul's letter to the Galatians, that he would have done so in any case, causing a destructive and perhaps fatal division in the young church.

The subsequent history of the church—in all its branches—is a story of conflict and compromise. Sometimes the conflict has been destructive. Christians must continually live in the tension that occasionally exists between the truth, unity and purity of the church. We pray for guidance, recognizing that "synods and councils may err"; but recognizing the assumption of our polity that governing bodies which conduct their business in accordance with the procedures of our form of government—guaranteeing the rights of every member—are more likely to reflect God's will for the church than individuals acting in their private capacity or as members of ad hoc, self-appointed groups. Presbyterians in the United States have followed a historic procedure for dealing with conflict which Grace Commons has used for 150 years. It was first codified in 1740 and it says:

“When any Matter is determined by a Majority Vote, every Member Shall either actively concur with, or passively Submit to Such Determination; or, if his Conscience permit him to do neither, he Shall, after Sufficient Liberty modestly to reason and remonstrate, peaceably withdraw from our Communion, without attempting to make any Schism.”

To apply this historic principle to our current situation:, it is perfectly acceptable for covenant partners to reason and remonstrate during this final season of discernment.  But they are called and admonished to do so modestly.  At some point the time for discussion will end with a  called meeting and we will take a vote.  The minority in any body, Session, Trustees or Congregation after a vote is taken, are duty bound to either actively concur with the majority, or passively submit, or if his or her conscience permits him or her to do neither, to peaceably withdraw without attempting to make any schism.  

We will be making a final go no-go decision on the 1603 Walnut project after Trustees are satisfied that the required funding is in place. If the decision is a go, Trustees will first make a recommendation to the Session and if the Session votes in the affirmative. They will call a meeting of the congregation. The congregation will be asked to vote to encumber 1603 Walnut Street. If the decision is no go, then Trustees will report that recommendation to Session and Session will call for a congregational meeting to inform the congregation of their decision.  

Please pray for the leaders you elected to represent you. They are carrying a heavy burden. We will do our best to answer your questions and continue to update this document. At the end of the day we will make a decision, and we desire 100% support.  

Who will manage the managers of each section of the property? Will Grace Commons need to hire someone to oversee the property management company, the event manager and the other two entities?

Professional property management is a non-negotiable. Churches that have developed projects like affordable housing over the past few decades have learned it is crucial to have third party management. Asset management is different from property management. Its function is to ensure the asset is performing and that means holding the property managers to their contractual responsibilities. Trustees and the business office are already taking steps to strengthen our administration and finance capabilities in anticipation of the increased level of work that comes from this project and the partnership with Learning Care Group for the Preschool. We will assign asset management to our existing and future business office staff who will consult with a third party asset manager with the skill and expertise to oversee all of the entities involved in 1603 Walnut.. This is a normal expense of a project like 1603 Walnut.

With a coffee shop on every Boulder corner, I don't see us attracting people to ours. I hope we'll consider something unique such as a laundromat with a coffee shop attached, same concerns about the bakery 

The first floor bakery and cafe is a minor part of the pro forma income for the project. We have not secured a partnership to operate this space. We believe it should be a missional nonprofit organization, and the concept they create should take into consideration creative ideas like yours. 

I'm wondering about the effects on the building next door. Looking up at those fourth floor balconies—what will happen to those when our building blocks them? I'm sure those owners paid a ton for their views. And how will noise from our event space possibly impact those neighbors?

These neighbors and others across the street were deeply involved in the prescribed city process. Their concerns were incorporated in the approval process through dialogue and discussion with our development team. Public hearings were also held. At the final public meeting of the City Planning Commission 17 people spoke. Only 1 spoke in opposition and her statement was a general one reflecting her opposition to all new development in Boulder. She added the comment that this project was exemplary but she opposes all new development. The planning commission members showed in their comments that they believed everything possible had been done to satisfy neighborhood concerns. The planning commission then voted unanimously to approve our project. 

There is a reference to the “informal ‘grapevine’ of communication.” In my opinion, that ‘grapevine’ has developed because of the lack of information communicated to the congregation and the lack of ongoing opportunities for congregational conversation and prayer about these matters.

We respectfully disagree. Church leadership has communicated every month about the project during the past 20 months. Listening sessions and presentations were the predominant form of communication between Aug 2021 and June 2022 and monthly written updates from July 2022 to the present along with a presentation to current Boulder Vision Project donors in Dec 2022 and the congregation on Mar 19, 2023. At least two more forums are scheduled for April and May. An extensive FAQ has been written and as questions come we are updating the FAQ. In our system of Presbyterian polity leaders are elected to represent the covenant partners. Those leaders have been working on the project faithfully and well.  

It was stated that “Grace Commons Church is likely to participate in this investment.” Where’s this money coming from (annual budget, reserves, designated funds)? What’s the expected amount?

We expect to participate in the range of 10% of the total commitment.

What are the plans for conversations and prayer in the congregation about our collective affirmation (or refinement) of the following commitments and for making these commitments visible in our life and ministry? Do we intend to put as much time and effort into communicating and developing congregational buy-in to these discipleship commitments as we have into this real estate development project?

  • Connecting people to God (through evangelism and worship)
  • Connecting people to one another (through community and discipleship)
  • Connecting people to the city (through mercy and justice)
  • Connecting people to the culture (through the integration of faith and work)

The short answer is yes and staff and our future pastor will build out these commitments with our leaders and covenant partners in the months and years ahead. Frankly, the conversation about ministry priorities and discipleship commitments for our church’s ministry will be a moot point if we have no viable financial plan to sustain the church’s ministry for the coming decades. We face a major fork in the road if we can’t further monetize our downtown campus. Donations and planned giving through our foundation will not be enough to cover the deferred maintenance and overhead of an aging physical plant in the near future. We have to choose now, sell the church campus and endow future ministry or develop and monetize the church campus. 

This information was updated May 31, 2023

Thank you for your engagement!
If you have further questions email and we will respond to you soon.