A few months ago, I visited Louis XIV's Palais de Versailles located just outside Paris, France. During the tour, I asked our Guide if the Palais was now owned by the French Government? She looked at me with surprise, and said, "Mais non, Monsieur, I own it". I suppose, it was my turn to look surprised because she quickly added, "Oh, pardon! I mean, it is owned by the people of France, the Government only looks after it for us".
More recently, I stood looking at an old church in Brampton, Ontario, and couldn't get her comment out of my mind. This heritage church was wasting away from neglect, unoccupied and in the need of care and attention. It's heritage goes back to the original settlement period of the 1850s. It is in fact the second structure to be built on the site. The first, a frame building, was outgrown by the original congregation and replaced by the present more permanent brick church in 1904. At the time it was quoted in church records that, "Great liberty was shown by the people in providing the means for the building".
The old farming community has long since gone, but I felt that the original founders were intent on having a permanent place of worship on the site, but now it was on the verge of abandonment. Like the French tour guide, I felt that it was part of my heritage and believed there must surely be a use for the property that would serve the community better than just letting it be brought to the ground.
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case, many church properties across Canada and elsewhere, perhaps not as grandiose as the Palais de Versailles, but still significant heritage properties in their own right, are being written off due to demographic changes that resulted in declining congregations. Many have found other non-religious uses or were demolished to make way for condominiums and other forms of commercial enterprises. But the question I ask myself is what is the social good coming from their re-use and should we re-think our approach to their eventual disposition?