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New life for old churches

When a church closes, it may attract buyers who want to turn it into a home or condos.

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The pretty white building certainly looks like a church - it has a traditional steeple, several stained-glass windows, and soaring ceilings. But no longer does it echo with the sounds of worship. Instead, this church has taken on a new life - as a family home.

That transformation - and others that have seen former churches become restaurants and movie theaters - isn't as offbeatas it might seem. The church has always had an interesting connection to its buildings, says architect Bruce Wardell of Charlottesville, Va. The first known church was a converted residence in a Roman town. And throughout history, the church has taken over pagan temples, houses, storefronts, and gymnasiums, and used them as sanctuaries.

As churches close for various reasons - an urban church finds that most of its congregation has moved to the suburbs, for instance - these buildings become available for other uses.

Because of their location, appearance, grounds, and high-quality construction,some attract hopeful buyers eager to transform them into individual homes or condos.

It's not necessarily as easy as it sounds, though. For those who want to change a former place of worship into home or office space, there are special considerations. Prospective owners often deal with a host of challenges, from zoning regulations to design issues.

But many people, such as Mr. Wardell, say the extra effort is worthwhile.

When he converted an old church into a residence for his family, the relationship between the sacred functions of the church and the secular functions of his house didn't seem too drastic, since he and his wife led home groups and the college ministry at their church. The large spaces and rooms were used for Bible studies and fellowship meals.

"To a certain extent we saw our renovation as extending the life of the church building," he says, "but I must admit that this was not our primary motivation."

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