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RMM in the City: An Open Letter About Office Relocation

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By Joe Showalter, RMM President

Background

Within a few weeks after Rosedale Mennonite Missions had purchased the facility at 2120 E. 5th Avenue in Columbus, Ohio, that is now called the Rosedale International Center, a few of the RMM staff approached me about the possibility of RMM moving its headquarters from Rosedale to Columbus. At that point, we knew we had just purchased a large facility that would allow us to grow REACH and City Challenge, our summer and fall programs for youth and young adults. We also knew that it was for more than that. When the RMM board took action to purchase the building, they had clearly stated that they saw broader uses for the building. They had a sense that this could be a center that would take RMM to a new level in its mission training and networking and sending. While I had long seen some advantages to RMM's headquarters being in an urban setting rather than a rural one, I didn't immediately engage with the idea. I could easily see some major downsides, particularly the negative impact it could have on current employees and the inherent potential for loss of connectedness to Rosedale Bible College and the Conservative Mennonite Conference offices, which are all currently located on the same campus in Rosedale, Ohio. But by the time three or four staff members independently suggested that maybe RMM should consider going that route, I began to sit up and take notice and wonder if God was trying to speak to me.

In the six years since, we've discussed the possibility at length. The idea generated enough interest and affirmation that we left a wing of the building unfinished and designated it as "potential office space" when we completed the initial renovation design. The RMM board was initially uncertain about the idea, but over the years began to see that there would be some internal benefits to consolidating our offices in one location. Several years ago, the board stated its position that the offices should move to Columbus at some point, but that the time wasn't right yet. "We'll know when it's time," they noted.

And now, in 2014, it seems that it is time. In February, RMM board chair Duane Detweiler and I met with the CMC Executive Board to hear their thoughts on the matter, since it had been a few years since we had discussed it with them. The Executive Board affirmed the move, while noting the importance of including them and RBC in the larger discussion and developments, and protecting the interests of all three of us. The next day, the RMM board took action to proceed.

So RMM plans to move its headquarters into the Rosedale International Center. Below, I'd like to respond to some of the questions people are asking. Hopefully, it will answer some of yours.

How soon is this move going to take place?

We don't have a firm timeline in place. The space we'll be moving into needs some renovation and preparation. Currently, we're working with our architect on designing the space. No doubt it will be at least fall 2014 or even early 2015 before the work will be completed. Once the actual renovation is underway, we'll be able to project more closely.

Is the move to the RIC driven primarily by finances?

No. While there will clearly be some efficiencies that result from having all of RMM's offices under one roof, money is not the primary motivation. I would point to two major motivating factors: 1) the global mission context calls for urbanized thinkers and practitioners, and 2) our long- and short-term ministries will be better integrated if we share a common office space.

What will this mean for current RMM staff?

This move will affect staff in a variety of ways. While most staff strongly affirm the move for the sake of the organization, it has the potential to significantly impact some in a negative way (e.g. some currently live within walking distance of the Rosedale office). Some may choose to relocate while others may not continue with RMM long term as a result. We are committed to doing what we can to minimize the negative impact as much as possible. Possible accommodations include flexible work hours, telecommuting when feasible, and assistance with commuting expenses.

What will happen to the current Rosedale properties?

Since we own a share of the farmland next to the RBC/RMM campus, we plan to take RBC up on its offer to purchase our share. No decision has been made yet about our Rosedale offices. We understand the importance of maintaining the integrity of the Rosedale campus, so we will be in discussion with RBC and CMC about possible options. The RMM board does not feel we need to liquidate all of our Rosedale assets before moving into the Columbus offices, since proceeds from the sale of the farmland will cover a significant portion of renovation costs.

Won't this move make it more difficult to stay connected to RBC and the CMC offices?

We have been working harder in recent years to strengthen our partnership with both RBC and CMC, and we remain highly committed to that partnership. The RMM Executive Team currently meets three times per year with RBC's and CMC's leaders. Possibly we'll want to increase the length and/or frequency of those meetings. Other initiatives are emerging that I think will ensure our close partnership in spite of greater geographical distance. Because the RIC is proving to be a wonderful gathering spot for groups from across CMC, RMM may actually be getting better connected to the larger church than it has been in recent years.

How will it help you do missions administration if your offices are in the city?

None of us thinks moving RMM's offices to Columbus will work magic. Writing emails and making phone calls won't happen more efficiently just because we're in an urban environment. But it will allow more of us to live in a cultural context much more like the ones most of our workers are living in. It will make it more possible to prepare new workers for urban living, because more of us mission leaders will understand it better ourselves. And it will allow RMM to help CMC engage in a variety of outreach ventures through the endless opportunities that a city like Columbus has to offer.

What does moving administrative offices from a rural context to an urban context have to do with the global missions context?

Our world is increasingly urban, and it's my observation that CMC is following suit. Here in North America and around the globe, people are moving to cities by the millions each month. About 82% of Americans currently live in urban or suburban areas. I just read an excellent article called "The Call to the City" by Timothy Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. Keller points to four groups of people in the city that the Church must reach.

First, the younger generation. Obviously, it's where a large majority go for higher education. But unlike their parents, they prefer to stay there. The Wall Street Journal reported a few years ago that 88% of the Millennial generation (those born in the '80's, '90's, and early 2000's) prefer to live in cities. Automakers like Toyota and GM are alarmed that the Millennials are choosing to live where walking, biking, and mass transit can take the place of driving.

Second, the cultural elites. More and more, networks of major metropolitan areas are becoming the world's most important cultural, political, and financial influencers-even more than nations themselves. In North America, committed followers of Jesus are disproportionately absent from the cities. Our percentages are highest in rural areas and lowest in urban areas. If we're losing the so-called "culture wars," might it be because we've positioned ourselves in places where we can exert little influence?

Third, the unreached peoples. The distinction between "home" and "foreign" missions is disappearing before our eyes. As a result of immigration, in many North American cities, we have access to the hardest-to-reach peoples of the world. By placing ourselves among these immigrants in our cities, we can potentially reach them and their families and friends back in their home cultures.

And fourth, the poor. The majority of the world's poor live in cities, and I believe in God's economy those with power and resources are called to serve them. As Christ's followers make disciples of the cultural elites, they will use their power and resources to improve the plight of the poor. Both groups desperately need each other.

It seems God is calling some of us to be part of all this. With RMM's move to the city, there will soon be more CMC people living, working, and worshipping in neighborhoods in Columbus, rubbing shoulders with the young, the elite, the unreached, and the poor. "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast."

Conclusion

I believe that this move is one step we can take to stay engaged with the rising generation and to help CMC become more fully engaged in Kingdom transformation both locally and globally. I welcome your comments or questions at joe@rmmoffice.org.