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Hallo again to all.

In a region of the United States known more for coal mining and iron smelting than for academic pursuits, there is a college founded at the turn of the twentieth century with money from a man who had become wealthy as a cautious and clever industrialist. He knew a lot about manufacturing, but not much about colleges, so he specified that its principal building be constructed with sloping floors and overhead beams so that if it failed as a college, the building could be easily repurposed as a factory. There was no need; the college thrived and after several name changes is is now a significant university.

Repurposing. The word has great depth of connotation. We began thinking of it a few years ago after dining in an excellent restaurant that had several decades ago been a Methodist church. Since then we've kept an eye out for interesting or worthwhile uses of shuttered church buildings.

The Church Brew Works in Pittsburgh USA is a brewery and pub made from a Roman Catholic church. We found it a bit unnerving to look at brewing vats on what had been the high altar. Presumably most of the locals weren't bothered by it; the place was thriving. We figure that they wouldn't have needed to close the church if enough of the residents still cared about such things.

In central Nottingham the long-shuttered Unitarian church has re-opened as a branch of the Pitcher and Piano restaurant chain. We don't suppose Unitarian churches even have high altars; there was certainly nothing jarring about the setup, and the food was excellent.

In London, the parish church of St John Smith Square (where Benjamin Britten's parents were married) was destroyed by a German firebomb in 1941 and lay in ruins for decades until it was rebuilt as a top-flight concert hall. With restaurants, of course.

A beautiful, ancient, and abandoned Dominican church building in Maastricht was repurposed as a bookstore. It is breathtaking, but most of the interesting parts of its website are in Dutch.

In Katoomba, New South Wales, a disused century-old Presbyterian church is now The Gingerbread House, a sweet and ice-cream shop that also serves breakfast and lunch. There's not much of a feeling of being in a church, but the building is solid and likely to last another century.

In Bath, Maine, USA the Central Congregational Church became one of the earliest church buildings to be re-used in a secular setting. It is painted brown, so for decades it has been used as 'The Chocolate Church Arts Center'. Not very many repurposed church buildings keep the word 'church' in their new name.

We suspect that we are all living through the repurposing of the earthquake-destroyed Christchurch Cathedral in New Zealand as a secular cathedral. No one has yet declared that the primary purpose of the rebuilt structure will be as a tourist attraction and not a place of worship, but time will tell.

We have such mixed feelings about borrowing the grandeur of a magnificent old church building and applying it to a secular venture, but we note that the same thing has been done with wedding vows for ages. That's repurposing words and sentences, perhaps. Repurposing is arguably better than demolishing, but the arguments do continue.

In the meantime, we'll see you next week, with the very same purpose.


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8 October 2017

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