Europe’s Empty Churches Go on Sale

The former Roman Catholic Church of St. Joseph in Arnhem, Netherlands, one of hundreds of decommissioned churches, was turned into a skate park.

The former Roman Catholic Church of St. Joseph in Arnhem, Netherlands, one of hundreds of decommissioned churches, was turned into a skate park. Photo credit: Merlijn Doomernik for The Wall Street Journal.

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Wall Street Journal

By Naftali Bendavid

Jan. 2, 2015

ARNHEM, Netherlands—Two dozen scruffy skateboarders launched perilous jumps in a soaring old church building here on a recent night, watched over by a mosaic likeness of Jesus and a solemn array of stone saints.

This is the Arnhem Skate Hall, an uneasy reincarnation of the Church of St. Joseph, which once rang with the prayers of nearly 1,000 worshipers.

It is one of hundreds of churches, closed or threatened by plunging membership, that pose a question for communities, and even governments, across Western Europe: What to do with once-holy, now-empty buildings that increasingly mark the countryside from Britain to Denmark?

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At the Arnhem Skate Hall, the altar and organ of the church, built in 1928, have been ripped out, while a dusty cupboard still holds sheet music for a choir that hasn’t sung in 10 years. A skateboard attached to a wall urges, “Ride the dark side.”

Two dozen young men speed along wooden ramps and quarter-pipes, their falls thundering through the church, as rap music reverberates where hymns once sounded. An old tire hangs on the statue of a saint.

Puck Smit, 21, a regular visitor, says the church ambience enhances the skating experience. “It creates a lot of atmosphere—it’s a bit of Middle Ages,” he says, between gulps from a large bottle of cola. “When I first saw it, I just stood there for five minutes staring.”

Another regular, Pelle Klomp, 14, says visitors occasionally stop by to complain. “Especially the older people say, ‘It’s ridiculous, you’re dishonoring faith,’ ” he says. “And I can understand that. But they weren’t using it.”

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Father Hans Pauw, pastor of St. Eusebius Parish, confirms the parish is trying to sell the church, but says church leaders have no problem with skaters using it for now. He said the parish is talking to a potential buyer.

“There are some things we don’t want—a casino or a sex palace or that kind of thing,” Father Pauw says. “But when it’s no longer a church in our eyes, then it can have any purpose.” As for the painting of Jesus holding a skateboard that now adorns the interior, he says, “I can see the humor in it.”

Read the whole story at The Wall Street Journal.

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1 Response to Europe’s Empty Churches Go on Sale

  1. Alfred Valstar says:

    At the same time there are migrants from for example Ghana who are celebrating church services under public buildings in Amsterdam, turning the places in vibrant places. These people would like official places of worship but burocracy is hard to crack.

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