Several churches in the United States of America are closing down and are being converted to breweries, reports from the country fondly called “God’s Own Country” said. A recent article by the Associated Press spoke of at least 12 such churches, with four others about to join.
It identified the Church Brew Works in Pittsburgh, “an early church-turned-brewery that opened in 1996”, as one of the pioneers. “Owner Sean Casey bought the former church because it was cheap and reminded him of beer halls he used to frequent in Munich. Aficionados cite its rustic decor as a major draw,” the article said.
It said that one of the latest to be converted to a brewery is a 1923 Presbyterian church bought last year by an investor, Ira Gerhart, “to fulfill his years long dream of opening a brewery: It was cheap, charming and just blocks from downtown Youngstown.”
The article said that soon after Gerhart announced his plans, residents and a minister at a Baptist church just a block away complained about alcohol being served in the former house of worship.
“I get it, you know, just the idea of putting a bar in God’s house,” Gerhart said. “If we didn’t choose to do this, most likely, it’d fall down or get torn down. I told them we’re not going to be a rowdy college bar.”
“With stained glass, brick walls and large sanctuaries ideal for holding vats and lots of drinkers, churches renovated into breweries attract beer lovers but can grate on the spiritual sensibilities of clergy and worshippers,” the AP article said.
It disclosed that at least 10 new breweries have opened in old churches across the country since 2011, and at least four more are slated to open next year.
“The trend,” according to AP, “started after the 2007 recession as churches merged or closed because of dwindling membership. Sex abuse settlements by the Roman Catholic Church starting in the mid-2000s were not a factor because those payments were largely covered by insurers, according to Terrence Donilon, spokesman for the archdiocese of Boston.”
Gerhart’s is scheduled to open this month after winning over skeptics like the Baptist minister and obtaining a liquor licence, according to AP.
It spoke of growing opposition by the clergy of the affected faiths, “leading to the deed restrictions to stop other closed churches from becoming bars and clubs” in places such as Cincinnati and Altoona-Johnstown, Pennsylvania, “while the Boston archdiocese says it solicits proposals from potential buyers and screens them to make sure they’re in line with Catholic values.”
“Churches,” according to the article, “are uniquely difficult to renovate, preservationists say. Large stained windows and cavernous sanctuaries are tough to partition into condominiums. Historic landmark protections can bar new owners from knocking down some churches, leading them to sit empty and decay.
“But the same vaulted ceilings that keep housing developers away from churches also lend them an old-world air hard to replicate elsewhere, making former houses of worship particularly suitable as dignified beer halls.”