“The emptiness, functionality and size of the local space – a disused warehouse – enable these […] worshippers to develop an aesthetics and ritual through which they can express their spiritual life with the intensity they desire.”
A few notes from the Transnational Ties: Cities, Migrations, and Identities. Comparative Urban and Community Research, volume 9. Michael Peter Smith and John Eade, editors. First published 2008 by Transaction Publishers. Published 2017 by Routledge, an imprint of the Taylor and Francis Group, London and New York.
Part III – Transnational religious networks. Chapter 7. Spiritual Spaces in Post-Industrial places: Transnational Churches in North East London. Author: Kristine Krause, PhD, research fellow in the German Research Foundation project on Transnational Networks, New Migration and Religion
“The churches in the industrial park are part of a phenomenon that has recently received increased scholarly attention” says Kristine Krause (p. 121).
Citing many studies (2002-2006) about the phenomenon which started in the early 1990s, she informs about “the continuing tendency to rent spaces in industrial areas and warehouses among many neo-Pentecostal churches in European cities” such as: London, Amsterdam, Hague, Hamburg, Berlin, Copenhagen. (pp. 121-122)
As a scholar in social anthropology, and research fellow in the German Research Foundation project on Transnational Networks, New Migration and Religion, she observes and addresses the tensions between what seems to be a paradox: doing spiritual exercises (church worship) in a mundane secular place (industrial area).
“Churches located in industrial area and warehouses seem to be odd“, says Krause (p. 119). That is because historically we associated the church with the main street, steeples, bell towers, dominance… On the other hand, it is acknowledged that many historic church buildings are empty, desecrated or functioning as tourist sites instead of places of vibrant worship or bases for community outreach.
Krause observes that “in recent years more and more churches have rented old storehouses, garages and industrial depots throughout London, due to difficulty of finding other places, which are financially affordable and tolerant of noisy worship.” (p. 109).
She details the process of place-making, which “involves finding one’s places within a specific spatial-political situation. In the case of the churches this entails meeting certain juridical, political and financial requirements in order to inaugurate a church and struggling to find a place of worship.” (p. 109)
The editors of the volume confirm the view of the author: “the emptiness, functionality and size of the local space – a disused warehouse – enable these […] worshippers to develop an aesthetics and ritual through which they can express their spiritual life with the intensity they desire.” (p. 9)
Spatial history of a church
The typical “spatial history” of a church usually observes the following trajectory:
- first a few people meet in someone’s living room or office
- then they rent space on an hourly basis from community centers or other churches
- the next step is to find a place, which the church can rent on its own
- until finally they buy or build their own churches
The chapter enriches the reader with a view from the inside and from the outside, helping to raise awareness of different aspects and paradoxes of a warehouse church: (a) churches founded by migrants, (b) worshipping in rented places, (c) mega churches purchasing warehouses, (d) lack of interaction between churches in industrial areas and yet cooperation in renting together or sub-renting, (e) lack of appropriate outdoor signposting (visibility) but developed indoor media equipment, (f) disputes with other neighbours (on parking, noise, bins), (g) addressing the needs of many migrants and using the place as educational centre, (h) having a marginalised social status, yet being part of a global community and using the place as a base for organising transnational connections and linkages etc.
Read here the entire chapter.