WHAT IS a church? When a church building is desacralised, is it then just a building, or does it retain a special significance because it was once a
The Danish state church, Folkekirken, was faced with the very real implications of this question when in 2013 it decided to close five of its churches in Copenhagen.
IT WAS the first time in Denmark’s history that churches had been put up for public sale, and this week the last of the five, Blågårds Kirke in Nørrebro, was sold.
Folkekirken’s aim was that the church buildings shouldn’t be used for commercial purposes and that they should respect the earlier sacred use of the building and continue to be active in the local community.
Church gone wild
PERHAPS the church’s decision- makers were familiar with the story of the Hungarian Catholic church that in 2009, to the Vatican’s chagrin, was sold off and became a strip club.
Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, the president of the pontifical council for culture, then described to the Telegraph newspaper his displeasure that “a stripper performs her finale on the altar each evening.”
BUT THE Copenhagen churches escaped the same fate. Two of the churches were sold to congregations outside of Folkekirken.
Samuels Kirke in Nørrebro was sold to the housing association VIBO, which plans to convert it into accommodation for young people.
Absalons Kirke in Vesterbro was sold to the founder of the Tiger chain of discount stores, Lennart Lajboschitz, who plans to turn it into a new interpretation of the community centre.
And now Blågårds Kirke has been sold to the association KoncertKirken Blågårds Plads, which since 2009 has used the building as a music venue.
THE ASSOCIATION has spent the past two years gathering funds for the purchase and has received support from the Maersk Fund, Augustinas Fund and Realdania. They have also raised over a million kroner by selling co-operative shares in the enterprise to musicians, local residents and members of the public.
Björn Ross, the head of KoncertKirken Blågårds Plads, said he was particularly pleased with the level of support from the local community.
“After the enormous support we have received, we are looking forward to giving something back to the local area that has taken such an active part in our future,” he said.
“We look forward to continuing to fill the church with music.”
HENRIK Bundgaard Nielsen, the general secretary of Kirkefondet, the independent division of Folkekirken that promotes engagement with the community, is also happy with the development.
“We are very happy that the sale of the church buildings is now completed, not least because we have found such diverse buyers, all of whom will use the churches within the framework that Kirkefondet set out for using the closed churches,” he said.
“In this case the closed church is sold for a purpose that doesn’t require any big changes to the church’s interior since Koncert- Kirken will exploit the special thing about the church building – namely its completely unique acoustics.”
PETER Lassen – a partner at the commercial estate agency Colliers International who handled the sales – said that the process was not straightforward.
“It’s been a long process to find the right buyers for the church buildings,” he explained.
“It has been a special process that has required creative thinking and delicate handling.” Although he is happy to have closed the sales, Lassen hopes to be able to take on a similar commission in the future.
“We expect it to be a number of years before more church buildings come up for sale, but we hope to have the opportunity to repeat our success and contribute to another exciting sales process. Generally we focus on using our creativity and alternative approach to finding the right buyers – especially in the sale of special properties.”