When the evangelical Westside Church bought the 1,800 seat Centre in Vancouver For Performing Arts on Homer St. earlier this year, I was pretty disappointed. My religious beliefs had nothing to do with it. No one likes to see a cultural institution fall by the wayside.
OK, that’s not entirely true. It bothered me to learn that the same venue that gave people a chance to see the Nutcracker was becoming a church. I didn’t like that its leader was a master at ambiguously dancing around his church’s stance on homosexuality. I didn’t like it one bit.
I mean, Tchaikovsky was gay, so the thought of at least some of this congregation – possibly believing in their generous hearts that the brilliant composer of the 1812 Overture was suffering an eternity in hell – worshipping in the same location where Tchaikovsky’s glorious notes once fittingly resonated is tricky for me to reconcile, try as I might.
But live and let live, right? That’s how they roll in The Netherlands, where a 1465 Dominican Monastery was recently converted into a bookstore (see above). The Dutch firm of BK Architecten was sensitive enough to preserve the pipe organ, the stained glass, and the ceiling art, but the reverence that the design once inspired is now for learning, not God. The conversion, to me, is just as beautiful as the original.
So with Christianity’s popularity on the local wane (non-believers are now in the clear majority in Vancouver), it’s fair to wonder if the future will see our increasingly under-utilized churches, maybe even our cathedrals, playing host to punk rock shows, operas, book fairs, ballets, flea markets, and performances of the Trio for Strings in B-flat major by Franz Schubert (cough – also gay – cough).
That isn’t meant to be an insult to Christians or religious people in general. Far from it. I only mean to say that if houses of the holy are permitted to supplant our cultural institutions, then it shouldn’t be a one-way street.