Tin tabernacles

File:Maesbury St John the Baptist.JPG
St. John the Baptist, Maesbury, Shropshire. (Image/Wikimedia Commons. By J3Mrs).

As England industrialized in the 19th century, there came to be a massive demand for church buildings in communities that, until recently, hadn’t existed. For that reason, churches made of corrugated metal became wildly popular in some places. If funds allowed, they could be replaced with traditional buildings.

Some of the aesthetes, artists and intellectuals of the First Catholic Revival reportedly held the “tin tabernacles” in contempt. (“They disliked them, this I know/ For Wikipedia tells me so!”). If this is indeed the case, it may have limited their appeal to those whom they singled out for mission.

But, as you can see, it was possible to follow all Anglican canons of good taste on a very restricted budget. Nowadays, with people abandoning small towns for cities just as they did in the Victorian era, and with the price of land (and everything else) rising, I wonder if we could once again save money by putting up pre-fab churches.

I’m also advised that there would be financial and legal benefits to using these churches as sites for parochial schools.

If you’re reading this after returning home from Mass in a storefront or even a house church, do you know whether the zoning restrictions or CC&Rs in your community would prevent you from building such a church cheaply, then saving the money that would otherwise have been spent? If not, can you find out?

If we can build cheaply, we should have work crews of parishioners who maintain these structures, and learn skills by doing so. Then we’ll save even more money, and spend it on books for the classical Christian schools that I know you’re planning because you’ve read my articles about the youth. Benedictine ethos, anybody?

We have to start thinking this way.


The Rev. Deacon Dan Bursi, who has worked in architecture for 50 years, tells us that “A commercial assembly building has a lot of code issues, from increased fire safety to space restrictions. If you can find a good ‘pro-bono’ architect, you will have a better chance of getting it all right. An experienced architect can research different building systems… You will need to be able to let him know exactly what you want, sanctuary, sacristy, rest rooms etc. Also, you need to be up front as to budget and your expectations as to the level of finish.”

Br. Roy Edwards says, “Look at a pole building. If you have contractors/craftsman available in congregation ‘you’ can do the inside (volunteers) or hire contractors… They grade the lot, lay the base for concrete flooring to be poured, erect the shell framing & outside walls, metal… How much you lower the cost depends on availability of folks who volunteer.”

Mr. Chris Bailey writes, “Actually, repurposing an existing building could be the easiest way to go. In my area, the SBC, Methodists & smaller Protestant groups way overbuilt in the 60s. There is a lot of way underused church property out there. Unfortunately, many in the Protestant world view churches as just another piece of property and don’t mind converting churches into (my favorite) floor covering stores.

A relatively cheap and perfectly functional church building can be constructed out of CBS(concrete block on a slab) with wooden trusses.”

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