“Manor from Heaven – turning a church into a home” was the title of a recent article in The New Daily by Max Opray who claimed that once churches converted people, now people are converting churches.
Max Opray warns the unwary, that transforming a house of worship into a plain old house is no ordinary renovation job, it comes with a vast tangle of heritage regulations and unexpected challenges ready to trip up the unprepared.
In NSW for example, unauthorised work to an item listed on the State Heritage Register is punishable with fines of up to $1.1 million or six months imprisonment. Ouch!
But having said that, he cites architect David Brown who says that they are truly amazing spaces for someone who wants something a bit different and open plan, with tall windows that offer good natural light …. “they offer the closest thing we have to that New York-style loft dream”.
The four second test
He notes that sermon halls (the church structure) are designed to carry noise as far as possible, church soundscapes are one of the hardest issues to manage. Where a noise in a modern house will reverberate for roughly half a second, in churches sound will bounce around the walls for an average of four seconds.
Choirs were big years ago, every church had their own choir, whether that was a larger group of parishioners or a small group such as a choir ensemble, the church design accentuated the voices being heard in their full tone all the way to the vestibule of the church.
Even today, such churches are remarkably good for such acoustics with modern church bands with their electronic instruments from key boards to trumpets to guitars - the architect’s of church buildings of yesteryear knew their business.
The question then becomes, when converting a church into a home, how best to deal with this four second test and it needs to be handled well.
In October 2012 I wrote in this column about a select number of churches that had been given a make over and were now homes.
I cited a Sydney Morning Herald illustrated article how a 1876 one room Presbyterian church in Laggan, 250 kilometres south-west of Sydney, 57 years later was sold to a farmer who turned it into a sheep pen and now, has become a you-beaut weekender retaining all its classical church like features.
Trisha Croaker concludes her article with: “The building's fourth life? Hopefully as respectful as the lives that have gone before.”
There are numerous churches around Australia that were sold and became transformed into homes. I recall one such visit for an afternoon tea. We were shown around the various nooks and crannies that had been turned into a kitchen, bathroom, dining area, lounge and bedrooms.
It got me wondering about those who had long gone but had worshipped in that church building, who had given liberally and sacrificially and in most cases, help construct the building.
Moreover the congregation members and where they might have disappeared. Surely the children of those families would have grown up and moved away, mostly to the cities. As in many such situations, as the congregation got older so too the numbers dwindled.
Checking the internet and typing into Google “Churches turned into homes”, expecting a number of entries, but was somewhat astonished at the pages after pages of references to this subject.
Europe is awash
Images of Churches turned into homes - this site has photographs of approximately 1050 churches that have been turned into homes. These images range from huge Gothic buildings to much smaller stone edifices that were once churches.
Many of the photographs were of 'internal' images of these churches turned into homes and they are something to behold. Some are simply a living home, whereas others are clearly 'statements' of the well-healed.
Clearly, one needs to have a flair for this type of conversion. With tongue in cheek, whereas crazy old houses get reputations of spooky ghost legends, perhaps old beautiful churches have “angels”.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children. Dr Tronson writes a daily article for Christian Today Australia (since 2008) and in November 2016 established Christian Today New Zealand.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html