Churches: Shortage or surplus?

Morgan Hill’s Temple Emmanuel Apostolic Church is finally under

A reader of this column recently wrote to find out about Morgan
Hill’s Temple Emmanuel Apostolic Church. She wondered about the
progress of their building at the corner of San Pedro and
Butterfield.
A reader of this column recently wrote to find out about Morgan Hill’s Temple Emmanuel Apostolic Church. She wondered about the progress of their building at the corner of San Pedro and Butterfield.

I have tried contacting the church’s pastor, the Rev. Tito Lopez. Unfortunately, the church has no phone number listed with Directory Assistance. (My attempt resulted in contacting a Jewish temple in San Jose.) A letter sent to their post office box didn’t achieve any results, either.

One Saturday morning a few weeks ago, I saw some people working at the site, so I stopped and introduced myself to Pastor Lopez, asking for an opportunity to write a story about his church, but I haven’t heard back from him as of yet.

I do know that this congregation met for several years at a building on Monterey Street built in 1920 and used by the Christian Science Church for decades. That building was sold to the City of Morgan Hill, moved north a hundred yards, and now houses the Community Playhouse.

This episode got me thinking about the difficulty South County’s religious institutions face in looking for buildings to purchase because of the high price of real estate here. Many accommodations have been made while money is being saved to purchase or build a structure. For example, here are some creative solutions being used:

n The Gilroy Bible Church meets in the parish hall of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church.

n Emmaus Christ Church meets in the Morgan Hill United Methodist Church.

n Congregation Emeth, South Country’s Jewish Community, meets at the Carden Academy in Morgan Hill.

n When Gilroy’s New Hope Community Church needed larger quarters, they moved to a huge commercial building in an industrial neighborhood.

On the other hand, San Francisco has a surplus of religious buildings. Last month the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco announced that St. Brigid’s Church, closed for nearly a decade, would be demolished and the property sold to a developer. Eight other Catholic churches have been closed because of low attendance and the high expense of needed repairs.

According to Carol Lloyd, writing in SFgate.com, “Keeping a giant space open for two or three services a week with pay-what-you-can entrance fees doesn’t exactly cover the electric bills, much less the mortgage. And God’s not writing a check. It’s true that churches don’t pay property taxes, but the cost of maintaining large old buildings is never cheap.”

One may wonder what happens to these churches which are no longer used for worship. Of course, some are redeveloped as the property is put to more profitable use. But there are more creative uses, too.

n The buildings used by the Gilroy Presbyterian Church for nearly a century are now used by another religious institution, the Salvation Army.

n Recently the “Christian Science Monitor” reported on a trend which has changed many church building across the country into houses, movie theaters and restaurants.

n European countries have similar problems with surplus (or, as the British say, “redundant”) churches. In Dublin, I visited a church that had been deconsecrated and turned into the city’s Visitor Center. Perhaps the most unusual new use of a former church I have ever observed is along the River Leith in Edinburgh’s port area. A beautiful stone church has been converted, as the sign proudly proclaims, into “Scotland’s largest indoor climbing center.”

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