Though these four houses of wor­ship may have lost their con­gre­ga­tions, they are en­joy­ing a richly re­ward­ing af­ter­life

Ottawa Magazine - - THIS CITY - By Sarah Brown

— 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.

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