Critics say they intend to argue that there is nothing so urgent, so dire, that requires the sale of precious assets. The church building is structurally sound and in relatively good shape, they argue. The congregation also boasts an enviable $18 million endowment. Since 2007, the church has agreed to spend no more than 4 percent of that each year — which means the endowment provides just under $700,000 annually, $550,00 of which helps support a $2 million budget.
Taylor, the senior minister, said that although the church is growing and its members have dug deep to increase giving, it has accrued $7 millionin deferred maintenance, including a needed replacement of its 80-year-old heating system. The church is trying to set aside money each year so that it has cash on hand to address inevitable repairs.
Critics say most of the problems on the deferred maintenance list are either not pressing or frivolous. Yetman said he saw no need, for example, to rush to replace a boiler that was still working.
“The more questions you ask, the less satisfactory the explanations are, and that is I think damaging to the congregation,” Yetman said.
But Stern and Taylor said the fixes are necessary, and that prudent budgeting for needed repairs is crucial to maintaining the church’s building and fiscal health. The church is a “sanctuary in the city” that keeps its doors open to all visitors seven days a week; it supports some 30 nonprofits, including some that work with “the poorest of the poor,” Taylor said.
The question members need to answer, Stern said is, “Should we still own these things, despite their having nothing to do with the life of the church, or do we promote the work of what this church is?”
If the proposal passes, the trustees would then decide who would handle the sale. Sotheby’s has been closely following the debate .
Redden said if his auction house handles a sale, it would probably begin by exhibiting the book across the country. “One wants to remind everyone that it is, in essence, the story of Western civilization beginning in North America,” he said. “It is that kind of activity that everything else flows from — universities and colleges, newspapers, knowledge — all that flows from the ability to print on a printing press.”
Redden said his estimate of the book’s value is based on its rarity and desirability, as well as somewhat comparable sales: There are more than 200 copies of Shakespeare’s First Folio, one of which sold recently for more than $5 million. There are 48 extant Gutenberg Bibles, Redden said, estimating their individual value at more than $60 million.
As the first book printed on American soil, the 1640 Bay Psalm Book would be a seminal piece for a serious collector of American books. There are only 11 copies, all owned by major institutions unlikely to sell them soon.
Ian Quinn, a professor of music at Yale, said one of the first orders of business for Puritan ministers in the New World was creating a more literal — and therefore, to their thinking, theologically correct — translation of the psalms in meter that fit one of a few different tunes congregations knew.
During worship, someone with a copy of the psalter would read or chant a line out loud, and the congregation would sing the line. But the language of the translation was inelegant, and after about a century, as a new translation with beautiful verse became available, it fell out of fashion.
David D. Hall, a professor of New England church history at Harvard, said that in their preface to the book, the Puritan ministers defended their literal approach, writing: “God’s author needs not our polishing.”
William S. Reese, a prominent dealer in antiquarian books in New Haven, said he expects the Book of Psalms would bring more than $10 million. He said several billionaires near the top of the Forbes 400 List are serious book collectors.
Lisa Wangsness can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.