Upper New York Conference offices moving to downtown Syracuse

Sandra Brands
Standing outside University United Methodist Church after touring the Ruth Stafford Peale Center are, from left, Christine Doran, the bishop's assistant, Bishop Marcus Matthews, Director of Connectional Ministries the Rev.  Bill Gottschalk-Fielding and Trustee the Rev. Thomas Wolfe. Photo by Maidstone Mulenga.
After six months of searching, the Board of Trustees of the Upper New York Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church has found a home for the new Conference office.
The new offices will be housed at the Ruth Stafford Peale Entrance at University United Methodist Church in downtown Syracuse. The 7,200-square-foot space will house not only the Conference staff, but the Episcopal Office and the Crossroads District offices.
Centrally placed near I-88 and I-90 and adjacent to Syracuse University, the new Conference offices will be located in a growing, alive and active area, according to Conference Treasurer Sherri Mackey.
“It’s in an urban location, so that gives us visibility and it should be very beneficial for us to be there,” Mackey said.
Another plus, Mackey said, is that the offices are at “a church within the United Methodist family. It’s like being home and it’s a comfortable place to be. It allows us the opportunity to interact with that church and to use the sanctuary.”
Currently, the Conference offices are located in the Cicero United Methodist Church building in the former North Central New York Conference offices. The building also houses the Crossroads District offices. The bishop’s offices are located at the Baldwinsville United Methodist Church, approximately 11 miles away.
The contract with the church will expire at the end of November, and the trustees, who were elected at the Uniting Conference on June 19, were charged with “locating a new home for the Annual Conference and the Episcopal Office,” said Tom Clemow, president of the Board of Trustees.
“We were given a vision articulated by Bishop [Marcus] Matthews and others to try and create a setting where the surrounding ‘world’ would clearly see the establishment of the United Methodist Church in Upper New York as entity meant to be lasting and prominent,” he said.
That vision took into account the need for visibility in the community, spatial requirements for the efficient operation of the Conference, Episcopal and at least one district office, and the need for a training and gathering center for the leadership, he said.
“The square-foot requirements were ambitious,” Clemow said. “They virtually dictated a commercial property setting if not new construction.”
However, commercial space, particularly in geographically central and prominent locations, was expensiveand would require a long-term lease commitment to justify the property owner’s expenses in “building out” the offices to suit the needs of the Conference, Clemow said.
Though the Trustees viewed several properties that might meet the short-term needs of the Conference during the spring, it was becoming apparent that “we wanted to be as responsible as possible with the resources of the Conference,” Clemow said. “We did not want a long-term commitment before the actual needs and practices of the conference were only just emerging.”
“Then the University United Methodist Church of Syracuse stepped forward and invited us to view space in the Peale wing of their building,” he said.
Named for the wife of Norman Vincent Peale, who once served University United Methodist Church from 1927 to 1932, the Ruth Stafford Peale Center is a three-story facility located just behind the sanctuary. Originally, the first floor housed the church’s parlor, which was opened to the second floor. A walkway around the outer edge of the second floor led to the Sunday school rooms. A 1989 capital campaign raised the funds necessary to divide the two-story parlor into separate floors and create office space on the second floor. At the same time, an elevator was added, making the space accessible.
“The Peale family made a sizable contribution to the capital campaign,” said the Rev. Craig French, senior pastor at University United Methodist Church. “Norman Vincent Peale had been a pastor here and met his wife while he was here—I believe they wed here.”
In gratitude, the church named the refurbished and repurposed center in honor of Ruth Stafford Peale.
French said the bishop’s offices and the Conference office will occupy most of the second and third floors, though some of the office space on the second floor will continue to house local community organizations.
 “As with all other property, our team made a thorough investigation of this space,” Clemow said.
Clemow, Mackey and two of the members of the Conference site selection committee of the Trustees met with the leadership of University United Methodist Church.
“We were presented with terms that were singularly attractive both in cost, time and build-out.  In addition Bishop Matthews toured the facility and determined that it would serve adequately for both his needs and the Conference’s needs.”
Clemow said that the Trustees believe the choice of the Ruth Stafford Peale office space “affirms one of our great churches and its ministry to the city, the campus and the neighborhood.  We believe it is a responsible use of the resources of the conference churches in the matter of providing a physical home for the conference and the area. We are pleased that the spaces offered will be adaptable to our needs and that the build-out costs for areas to be retro-fitted will be shared with the church at their initiative.”
“This decision allows us terms which give us flexibility with regard to the near and the long-term future,” he said.
Although an actual moving date is not established, a small group of Trustees and Mackey have been charged with preparing, planning and implementing renovation work needed and the move.
The Rev. Thomas Wolfe, a member of the Conference Board of Trustees, has a long-standing relationship with University United Methodist Church, one that mirrors the long-standing relationship between the church and Syracuse University. Early in his career, Wolfe was the Protestant chaplain at Syracuse University. His wife, the Rev. Marilyn Wolfe, served an internship at University United Methodist Church, later returning to serve the church first as its co-pastor, then as its senior pastor.
“Syracuse University is the only united Methodist-related institution in New York State,” he said. “When the cornerstone for University Methodist Church was laid, it was the same day the cornerstone of the first building at Syracuse University 1878. The history of the church has been one of great connection to the university, but also the city [of Syracuse].”
Wolfe believes there is symbolic value in housing the conference offices at the church.
“I think of our denomination as being committed to having a United Methodist presence in places of our greatest need. There is a long-standing history of [the United Methodist Church] supporting institutions of higher education and supporting the needs of urban communities,” he said. “University United Methodist Church is at one of those intersections.”