The Diocese of Oregon has listed its headquarters for sale, intending to move from the lush, secluded estate to a location that is more accessible to the community and its ministries.
Bishop Diana Akiyama announced the decision in an email to the diocese on Nov. 22, saying that selling the property, which includes an extensive garden that is open to the public, was difficult but prudent.
“Since becoming your bishop in February 2021, I have heard many of you encouraging us to relocate to an area that reflects the mission and ministry of the diocese in these times,” Akiyama wrote. “I also know the building and garden have a special place in the hearts of many in our diocese, making the decision to sell the Bishop’s Close and Elk Rock Garden sobering and one we did not make lightly.”
The Bishop’s Close and Elk Rock Garden are situated on a nine-acre plot on the southern outskirts of Portland, on the Willamette River. The Bishop’s Close was the home of the Kerr family, who built it in 1916 to resemble a Scottish manor house. The garden is one of the largest, oldest privately owned gardens in Oregon and is maintained with funding from its own nonprofit foundation.
The Kerr family donated the property to the diocese in 1957, and it has housed the bishop’s office ever since. But the property is expensive to maintain and relatively isolated, Akiyama said.
“The Bishop’s Close is a monastic sort of setting that is beautiful and also removed from the ministry centers of the diocese,” Akiyama told Episcopal News Service. Many of those ministries are in neighborhoods closer to central Portland, like a women’s shelter and counseling center.
“Our hope is to reflect the work that many of our congregations are doing now, which is turning outward, facing the community, getting engaged with the neighborhoods and finding out what the needs are, and then addressing those needs,” Akiyama said.
The diocese has been considering the possibility of selling the property since at least the 1990s, the bishop said. It was almost sold in 2020, but the sale fell through. It is now listed for $4.5 million.
“My predecessor, if not his predecessor, has explored the idea of moving out of the property,” Akiyama told ENS. “[I am] continuing that effort, and I’m hopefully bringing it to a close.”
The layout of the house is not conducive to the diocese’s needs and the space doesn’t lend itself to collaborative work, especially with larger groups, she said. A new space has not yet been identified, but Akiyama is hoping for something with a more efficient and flexible layout than the historic manor provides.
Other dioceses and parishes have been selling properties in recent years, especially large, old buildings with both high maintenance costs and high property values.
In September, the Diocese of Newark in New Jersey sold its headquarters for $3.85 million to the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. Proceeds from the sale will be used to buy, renovate and move into a new facility, and remaining funds will be added to an endowment that supports the diocesan budget, Bishop Carlye Hughes said at the time of the announcement.
“Among the group’s considerations will be finding a location that can be a visible presence in the community; is welcoming and hospitable to visitors, including better parking; how our use of space has changed during the pandemic; and what this building can be to the wider diocese,” she wrote.
In June, the Diocese of Chicago listed its downtown headquarters next to St. James Cathedral for sale, planning to put the proceeds into an endowment fund for diocesan ministries. The bishop and trustees have set a Dec. 6 deadline for bids on the five-floor building.
The building “is the diocese’s largest asset, and offering it for sale brings us one step closer to creating a fund that will support the entire diocese’s mission,” diocesan trustee Mike Mattson said when it was listed. “All of our parishes and missions will benefit from this move.”