Though these four houses of worship may have lost their congregations, they are enjoying a richly rewarding afterlife
— public gathering places with soaring ceilings and stained-glass windows designed to inspire, tell a story or, at the very least, amuse an unenthusiastic churchgoer during a long sermon. But what happens when the congregations leave? How do you honour a church’s illustrious history even as you give it a new, secular life?
In the following pages, Ottawa Magazine tours four former houses of worship that have been transformed in unexpected ways: a modern-day home, a gathering spot for the city’s cultural movers and shakers, a peaceful recording studio, and a busy climbing gym.
These conversions are endeavours of both will and imagination, with visionary owners prepared to take a chance at rescuing old buildings in need of some serious TLC. But the rewards are also legion. High ceilings are essential to the climbing gym, while the owner of the recording studio raves about the sound quality produced in a building with tongueand-groove walls and ceilings. And though the new congregations of these refurbished buildings may not describe themselves as spiritual, they would freely acknowledge they can’t help being moved by their surroundings. So what does it take to get started? Generally, once a church is no longer used as a sacred space and the sacred objects have been removed, it is no longer considered consecrated. The priest or minister will usually preside over a closing worship ceremony that allows the congregation to celebrate its history and mourn its closing. If a church is considered to be a heritage property, new owners must get approval before altering the building but, on the plus side, may find they’re eligible for a heritage grant to help defray the costs of restoration.
It takes a certain braveness and vision to take on a church conversion, but the key players behind these bold projects attest that their resurrected spaces continue to fill their original purpose as welcoming houses designed to encourage people to congregate and share ideas.