Tooming, Kaire, “What could be the future for Estonian churches?”

Secularisation and urbanisation processes have hit Estonia as hard as any European country. People move away from the countryside to bigger cities and less people are going to church for the services. Churches in the countryside have been hit the hardest and Sunday service (often on every second Sunday) with less than ten people in the church is reality for Estonian rural churches these days. Due to atheistic policy during the soviet occupation which prevented erection of new church buildings for fifty years, bigger cities have the opposite problem. The network of churches follows the cityscape of the 1930s but cities have grown considerably since then. Some new churches have been built during past decades but, obviously, there is room for more.

Estonia does not have a State Church. The biggest denomination in Estonia has traditionally been the Lutheran Church. Since the middle of the 19th century the Orthodox Church has had many followers, especially in the countryside.

Estonians consider themselves to be one of the most secularised nationalities in Europe. The 2011 Population and Housing Census supported this vision as only 29% of Estonian population aged 15 and older is affiliated with a particular religion. The variety of religions people follow is very wide, reaching from different Christian denominations to several new-age movements. The latest census showed that for the first time the Orthodox Church has more followers than the Lutheran Church. The membership numbers for both denominations are still very small – 16% of the Estonian population aged 15 and older declared to belong to the Orthodox Church and 10% to the Lutheran Church.

There are approximately 450 religious buildings in Estonia. The majority of those buildings belong to the Lutheran Church and are situated in the countryside. There are different conservation problems concerning churches – from leaking roofs to milder maintenance problems. Most of the churches in the countryside are unheated and due to that are not used during colder months of the year. Rural churches have grown too big for their congregations who are not able to maintain the buildings. To improve the state of the conservation of Estonian historical churches a national ten year programme “Preservation and development of places of worship” was initiated in 2003. This state funded programme financed big conservation projects (mainly conservation of roofs and spires up to 100% of the cost of the project), research, awareness rising and capacity building. The programme will continue 2014-2018.

With this national programme much attention has been paid to systematic preservation of historical churches. At the same time the debate about the future of historical church buildings has not started yet in our society. It is obvious that with those quickly diminishing membership numbers we will face the problem of closing down a church in coming years. Clergy is not willing to discuss the matter openly, yet. The state programme for churches has somehow backfired, leading denominations to the understanding that the state has taken responsibility for the conservation and maintenance of historical church buildings. Prolonging the programme will have to prove the opposite. The unwillingness to discuss the matter comes not only from the clerics. Estonians might be secularised but almost each and every one of us has a certain understanding of what kind of activities are proper in a church. To talk about extended use or change of function of a church building will wake many memories from the soviet occupation period when several churches were forcibly turned into gyms or warehouses. Only few neglected churches were reused in a more dignified way as a museum-concert hall or library.

However, the first signs of inevitably changing times have reached Estonia. The past six months have seen the first sale of a church. It was bought by another Christian denomination.

Kaire Tooming
Conservation Centre Kanut, project manager


UK/ENGLAND – Hispanic church opens in Suffolk

A Pentecostal Hispanic congregation is breathing new life into the church building at the corner of Shoulders Hill Road and Nansemond Parkway that Union Baptist Missionary Church — as it was then known — moved out of in 2010.

With 70 members, the church currently leases the building but is looking to buy it, Ortiz said. Bible study is held at 7 p.m. Wednesdays, he said, and Sunday worship at 1 p.m. follows an hour of Sunday school.

“(The Suffolk location is) better, because over there we had just one room for the service; we didn’t have any rooms for the kids,” Ortiz said. “Right now, we have plenty of rooms for different classes.”

via Hispanic church opens in Suffolk | The Suffolk News-Herald.

ITALY / NETHERLANDS – 3d scanners help digitize weathered inscriptions

3D scanners are being used successfully to make digital documentation of weathered inscriptions. Leonard Rutgers, of Utrecht University, has been using 3d imaging technology to enable Hebrew inscriptions from an early medieval Jewish cemetery at Venosa, in southern Italy, to be read. The cemetery is  believed to have been destroyed in the late 10th century: some of the gravestones were used as building material for the 11th century abbey church of the Holy Trinity and other local buildings.

via Technology: 3d scanners help digitize weathered inscriptions | Jewish Heritage Europe.

UK/SCOTLAND – Historic Edinburgh church on sale for just £500,000

A LANDMARK building in Edinburgh’s New Town has gone on sale for less than the cost of a semi-detached home in the capital. St Stephen’s Church has dominated the city’s skyline since it was built in 1828.But falling Church of Scotland attendances saw it close as a place of worship in 1992.

St Stephen’s, a Category A listed building, was designed by William Playfair, one of Scotland’s most revered architects, who also created the National Gallery of Scotland and the Royal Scottish Academy.

It sits at the heart of the Unesco World Heritage site, a fresh vision of city living said to have influenced 18th and 19th-century urban planning all over Europe.

Under existing planning rules, any prospective purchaser could use the three-storey building as a nursery, day centre, museum or library.

via Historic Edinburgh church on sale for just £500,000 | Herald Scotland.

ROMANIA – Launch of online catalogue of Jewish archives

Over the past six months, the Leo Baeck Institute has conducted a survey of Jewish-related archives in Bukovina and Transylvania, two formerly German-speaking regions of Romania.

The launch event for the survey’s online catalogue will take place at the Center for Jewish History in New York, on January 13.

via Launch of online catalogue of Romanian archives | Jewish Heritage Europe.

SWEDEN – Handbook on maintenance of organs

The Wedish National Heritage Board has produced a new handbook on management and maintenance of legally protected organs, for managers, care-takers and administrations.

(Available to download in Swedish)

Riksantikvarieämbetet har tagit fram en ny handbok om vård och underhåll av piporglar.

Piporglarna är en viktig del av vårt kulturarv, men samtidigt som de ska fungera som regelbundet använda musikinstrument är de också en del av den fasta inredningen i kyrkorummet och därigenom skyddade genom lag.

Handboken är framtagen för att fungera som ett stöd för förvaltare i församlingar, handläggare på länsstyrelser och stift samt konsulter och andra som kommer i kontakt med vård och underhållsfrågor för orglar och som hanterar processen kring upphandling och tillståndsansökan.

via Handbok om vård och underhåll av piporglar | Riksantikvarieämbetet.