Atheist Scruples: Church costs too much! Tear it down!

Actually, that headline is just for the clicks. This is a big issue in terms of history and traditions versus practicality and costs.

The gracious old church where you worship is an inspiration, but the declining church membership can’t support it. A big developer offers big money to demolish it. Do you vote to sell?

In August of 2013 the North Buxton Baptist Church in Chatham, Ontario faced this problem.

The First Baptist Church that was built in 1883 is being torn down, and Shannon Prince, curator of the Buxton National Historic Site Museum says part of it like pews and windows will be saved, but that doesn’t make it easier.

“It is going to be a sad day, very sad,” she says, “A piece of your community a piece of what has been built has been lost.”

She says the decision was made as a community. The church has been closed for some time, and with limited resources to keep up old properties the decision was made to tear it down rather than let if fall down.

It’s not just churches that fall victim to the possibility of demolition or sale. Heritage Canada has a running list of “Worst Losses” of Canadian history. Saskatoon winds up with a few on the list, like the Gathercole building:

Gathercole Building (1931), Saskatoon, Saskatchewan — [2004 List]
Despite the efforts of a coalition of cultural and heritage organizations to convert the historic Gathercole Building into a combined market and arts centre, City Council, led by the Mayor, chose to let the private sector redevelop the waterfront site by tearing down the landmark and using the ensuing property taxes to fund surrounding amenities.

Schools get closed up, too. Saskatchewan has many little towns. When there aren’t enough kids left in Rinkdinkville to make it worth heating the school and keep teachers on staff, the school closes and the kids are bused to neighbouring towns. Same goes for neighbourhoods in larger centers with aging populations. Schools will shut in those areas if there aren’t enough kids to fill the seats and new schools will be built where the kids are now.

Changing demographics within a city will affect churches for the same reason. If the population isn’t enough to fill the place anymore, maybe there is a better use for that space.

Back to the question, I’d wonder if the building itself could be repurposed rather than torn down. Advertise it as concert space, public speaking venues beyond religious ones, daycare, museums, art galleries.. find something useful to do with it if nobody really wants to pray there anymore. Yoga classes, book clubs, music practice space. There are always people looking for space to set up that kind of activity. Hell, see if the atheists want to borrow it for their secular services. Lots of atheists like the notion of church-style gatherings these days. It’s a big deal.

Or, if the building is old enough to qualify as a heritage site, maybe look into going that route and try to save it for historical reasons. I don’t know how successful those projects tend to be, though.

Ideas? Other thoughts on the topic? What happened to old buildings in your city?

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One Response to Atheist Scruples: Church costs too much! Tear it down!

  1. kbeck13 says:

    I like the idea of making it into something else. We had a church in our town that was turned into a restaurant and now it’s someone’s house. It’s a beautiful little building and I’m glad it is still around.

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