Historic Houses of Worship
Historic religious buildings are vital to their communities. They remind us of local history, they exhibit irreplaceable artistry and craftsmanship, and they often provide needed space for community activities and social services, in addition to serving as centers of religious practice. Yet, across the country, historic synagogues, churches, mosques, meetinghouses, temples, and other houses of worship are increasingly vulnerable to deterioration and loss.
Destruction and Deterioration
We are losing historic houses of worship for several reasons. Shrinking congregations and the steady shift of people and wealth to the suburbs from rural and urban areas have caused many closures. Even strong congregations can lose sight of the needs of their buildings, and can find themselves facing years – or decades – of deferred maintenance. In rapidly developing areas, religious buildings often occupy large central sites that are now highly valuable for clearing and redevelopment. These factors are leading to the loss of an increasing number of iconic religious buildings.
New Life for Religious Buildings
Religious buildings can be sensitively adapted for a wide variety of other uses. Examples have included:
- Arts and cultural facilities
- Community centers
- Commercial space
- Residential conversions
- Civic and educational uses.
Historic religious properties have influenced and shaped our lives for centuries. If we abandon them now to demolition and deterioration, we’ll lose all of the cultural, artistic, historic and other values they bestow on our communities.
Share Your Story
Please help the National Trust for Historic Preservation track how re-purposed historic houses of worship are being preserved and utilized in your community and others across the nation. Fill out the Share Your Story form and return it, along with any photographs and clippings you may have, to the Northeast Office.
Resources for Preserving Historic Houses of Worship
The National Trust for Historic Preservation and Partners for Sacred Places joined forces to collect models for reusing houses of worship no longer in religious use. As communities take proactive steps to encourage and protect sacred places, these case studies are intended to help community leaders advocate for alternatives to demolition and inappropriate alterations.
- Religious Reuse Case Studies
- Reusing Historic Houses of Worship Summary (pdf)
- Preserving Historic Religious Properties Toolkit (pdf)
- America's Endangered Urban Houses of Worship (pdf)
- Partners for Sacred Places is a great resource for congregations seeking information and resources for repairing and restoring buildings still in religious use.