Ekström, Nelly, Master of Managing Cultural Heritage, “Small parish, many churches”

Small parish, many churches – a study of the problem of redundancy within Lagunda parish

The problem of redundancy was recognized in other northern european countries like England, Germany and the Netherlands about 20 years before the problem emerged in Sweden.

Redundancy is today a growing problem within the Church of Sweden. When a church becomes redundant, this often has severe effects on the religious heritage manifested in the church building.

The problem of redundancy within the Church of Sweden puts the religious heritage into physical danger in a long term perspective. Churches that are kept closed are more likely to be damaged by damp, burglary, etc.  The primary cause of the current redundancy problem is that the number of churchgoers is decreasing, which leads to weakened economy. The Church is losing members rapidly, and fewer and fewer of the remaining members attend the traditional service. Since the year 2000, Church of Sweden’s membership numbers has gone down by 10%, to 73% today. The provincial congregations are also losing members due to migration to the cities. The shrinking of congregations has led to the unification of several smaller parishes into fewer, larger ones to ensure  that the economy of the parish covers the religious work, but also rendering them with an increased economic responsibility for the religious heritage.

The parish of Lagunda in Uppsala diocese is a provincial parish with a small congregation of about 3500 people. Today the parish is responsible for ten medieval churches, all with very high cultural heritage values. The parish has a need for two or three of these churches in their religious work; the rest of them are redundant. Several of these churches are very seldom used for religious purposes, or even kept open to the public. Since the separation between the state and the Church of Sweden in year 2000, the religious heritage belongs to all swedish citizens, whether one is a member of the Church of Sweden or not. In the parish of Lagunda, and in many other parishes both in Sweden and abroad, this religious cultural heritage is no longer accessible to the public whom it belongs to.

The aim of my masters thesis, Small parish, many churches. A study of the problem of redundancy within Lagunda parish, written at the Department of Art History, Stockholm university, was to examine what ways of action that are possible for the parish of Lagunda to safeguard the religious heritage in redundant churches, promote future preservation, accessibility and use of the religious heritage. The problem of redundancy was recognized in other northern european countries like England, Germany and the Netherlands about 20 years before the problem emerged in Sweden. By studying the development in these countries and the different ways in which they have handled the problem of redundancy, a number of ways of action have been identified: profiling, reconstruction, mothballing, demolition, shared use, renting and selling of churches. These ways of action have been put in relation to the situation of Lagunda parish through interviews with people who in different ways and on different levels work with the religious heritage of Lagunda parish. Put in relation to Lagunda parish and its history, several of these ways of action turns out to be old rather than new. In fact, profiling, reconstruction, mothballing and demolition have been used as ways to handle the redundancy problem in the parish since the Middle Ages. The study show that most of these ways of action do not apply to Lagunda parish because of the differences in conditions between Sweden and England, Germany and the Netherlands. Compared to these other countries Sweden is sparsely populated, and the problem of redundant churches is most severe in the countryside. The ways of action that are new, i.e. shared use, renting and selling, all build on the presumption that there is a demand for premises, which there is none in country parishes like Lagunda. Instead the study showed that the informants agree that the best way forward for the parish is through increased cooperation and changes in the organisation structure within the Church of Sweden.

Nelly Ekström
Bachelor of Museology
Master of Managing Cultural Heritage