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Sacred Places Unforsaken
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To preserve Texan cultures, volunteer group plans online database of historic religious properties b y S t e p h en S h a r p e
Forlorn buildings, such as this one near College Station, linger on the landscape as reminders
Photo by Erin Marie Hawkins
of once-thriving faith communities.
Every Tex an seems to know of an old church somewhere that has been abandoned and left to molder. Mention the topic and inevitably someone will recall the house of worship they attended as a child, maybe a magnificent edifice just off the downtown square torn down long ago or else an idyllic whitewashed clapboard chapel now tilting precariously in an overgrown field. Whatever their religion or belief, everyone carries indelible memories that spring to mind when the conversation turns to sacred architecture of the recent past. Dr. Anat Geva, who teaches in the College of Architecture at Texas A&M, has been hearing many personal remembrances lately, ever since the university’s public relations office wrote an article about her work to save endangered sacred places. Geva is participating in an initiative called the Texas Sacred Places Project that has been organized to document religious properties of historic and cultural significance. (See Editor’s Note in March/April 2007.) Her particular area of academic research focuses
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on nineteenth-century churches established by European immigrants in south central Texas. (Her article, “Sacred Roots,” on that subject appears on page 18 in this edition.) Readers of the A&M article immediately began contacting Geva asking for help in rescuing their community’s venerable yet dilapidated house of prayer. For someone who grew up in Israel where “old” describes a structure built before the first Europeans settled in Texas, she has reoriented her thinking to a more modern construct of time. “I admire that we treasure things that are not that old,” she says. Another relative term elicited discussion when the Texas Sacred Places Project group held its third meeting on Oct. 9 and defined “historic” as being 50 years or older in regards to buildings under consideration for inclusion in a future database. That database is being planned as an interactive online resource for the general public to post information about religious properties imperiled by a lack of resources or an atrophying congregation. The
Texas Sacred Places Project is an outgrowth of Partners for Sacred Places, a nonprofit and nonsectarian organization dedicated to assisting faith communities across the U.S. with stewardship of their aged buildings. (Learn more at www.sacredplaces.org.) James Nader, AIA, who founded Partners for Sacred Places’ southwest regional office in Fort Worth, mobilized the Texas Sacred Places Project in an effort to catalogue the state’s historic religious properties. Why take on such this immense task? For several reasons, Nader says, but none more critical than preserving the dwindling cultural remnants of Texas history for future generations. That noble objective resonates with Anat Geva: “What we know for sure is that these churches at one time had an impact on the people of their area. If we lose these buildings, we lose part of history and perhaps a piece of our own heritage.” She adds, “That would be a terrible loss for everyone.” Stephen Sharpe is the editor of Texas Architect.
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