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[10 on Tuesday] How to Preserve Places of Worship, Part Two

As with any type of historic site, churches, synagogues, and mosques can find themselves at risk when no longer in use. The key difference: They have a religious context and sacred atmosphere that deserve special attention and care.

We began this conversation with ten questions to ask at the outset of any preservation or reuse project concerning a sacred space. (Read part one: Now, we have ten things to consider when planning for the most sympathetic reuse possible of a place of worship.

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[10 on Tuesday] How to Preserve Places of Worship, Part Two

  1. 1. Photo courtesy toddwendy, Flickr How To Preserve Places of Worship, Part Two
  2. 2. The first, best place to start when considering new uses for a religious space is with other congregations. A number of today’s sacred spaces are being reused as places of worship for another denomination. While specific religious practices may differ, another congregation is more likely use the space for similar purposes. 1. Look to other congregations. Photo courtesy Ohio Office of Redevelopment, Flickr
  3. 3. The most sympathetic type of reuse, outside of another religious organization, is one that has a “social gathering” purpose similar to the worship space. Examples include cultural or performing arts organizations, community centers, or educational facilities. Commercial and residential reuses can be more compromising because they usually require space partitioning. That said, many smaller churches or synagogues have been thoughtfully and successfully reused as gallery space, bookstores, and even single family residences. 2. Consider cultural or educational purposes. Photo courtesy dok1, Flickr
  4. 4. Understand the needs and strengths of the surrounding community to help determine which alternative uses would be the most appropriate, feasible, and affordable. What would neighborhood sentiments suggest or discourage? What would zoning laws permit on the site? Which spaces are accessible to the disabled? Is parking available? Does the building offer bathroom, kitchen, and other support facilities? Would the property first need any repairs? 3. Listen to the neighborhood. Photo courtesy functoruser, Flickr
  5. 5. Hosting a forum or town meeting can help answer many of the questions on the previous slide. Invite a local denominational office or ecumenical agency to be a part of the conversation. 4. Lead a forum or town meeting. Photo courtesy Dave Hogg, Flickr
  6. 6. Invite architects, attorneys, real estate agents, financial advisors, and civic leaders to participate in the discussion about potential reuses for the sacred space. These professionals can also help provide a tangible, visual illustration of alternative uses. 5. Bring in outside expertise. Photo courtesy usarmyband, Flickr
  7. 7. If the reuse or purchase of a property is likely to be uncertain for months or even years, create a plan to help preserve the building’s significant physical fabric in the meantime. Discourage vandalism by making sure the building is locked and outside lights are working. Regularly check for water or other types of damage. 6. Care for the space while awaiting transition. Photo courtesy Ian Poellet, Wikimedia Commons
  8. 8. For any type of reuse, encourage the new owner or renter to retain as many original features as possible, such as windows, altars, decorative stonework, and lighting fixtures. Keep in mind, however, that some traditions’ canon law might require that certain interior liturgical elements be removed. 7. Retain original features when possible. Photo courtesy Ohio Office of Redevelopment, Flickr
  9. 9. Record a history of the space. Photograph the rooms and larger areas; describe how they are currently being used; inventory important architectural elements and furnishings. This record can be submitted to the local preservation organization or historical society. 8. Document the space and significant items. Photo courtesy dave_mcmt, Flickr
  10. 10. The preservation community and local congregation can work together in many ways to sympathetically reuse a sacred space. Preservation groups can advise on and assist in protecting the space’s historic integrity, as well as caring for the structure. The local congregation can provide historical religious context and help preserve the sanctity of the space. 9. Build a relationship with the congregation. Photo courtesy f2point8, Flickr
  11. 11. If you can, explore alternatives to full demolition. Sometimes a partial demolition can preserve a religious property’s most important features yet permit the construction of an appropriate building. But if full demolition is unavoidable, salvage as many significant features as you can and, if possible, make them available for reuse within the local community. 10. Explore any and all alternatives to demolition. Photo courtesy pasa47, Flickr
  12. 12. Ten on Tuesday features ten preservation tips each week. For more tips, visit