Dr. Nicholas Lynch: Tracking Change at Canada’s Places of Faith

Dr. Nicholas Lynch is an associate professor in the Department of Geography at Memorial University of Newfoundland. His research focuses on studying the change of built environment, and its impact on local/regional sustainability and culture. Dr. Lynch is particularly interested in the practice and process of adaptive reuse of institutional properties (i.e., former spaces of worship) as a part of sustainability initiatives. Dr. Lynch also explores how buildings’ life cycles can be impacted by culture, and lead to discussions of heritage identity, as well as overall local/regional development and economic change.

An important part of Dr. Lynch’s work is the After Church Atlas, a comprehensive online tool for identifying, mapping, researching and sharing knowledge of the evolving “after church” landscape. The Atlas is a collaboration between Dr. Lynch and Dr. Barry Stephenson (Religious Studies, Memorial University) that explores the challenge of worship spaces closure from an interdisciplinary perspective. “There’s not enough understanding of how and where these (church closures) are happening”, says Dr. Lynch, “Or how the future will look for those spaces (that are being closed and reused) in Canada, or the impact of transformation on the local communities.” The Atlas aims to be a multi-disciplinary tool for various stakeholders that are involved in adaptive reuse projects. Although the Atlas focuses on only the phenomenon of worship space closure now, it is expected to expand and explore other post-institutional changes too.

Since the After Church Atlas is a crowdsourcing project, which means data are being collected from a growing number of stakeholders and community engagements, the project is designed to grow and evolve through continuous use and engagement. So far, the Atlas has found a rich, growing landscape of reuse and closure typologies in Canada, ranging from religious spaces being transformed into secular spaces, to faith conversions in the same spaces. The Atlas has also been exploring a diversity of impacts of closure and reuse that are connected with heritage management and the future of heritage landscape in urban environment. The Atlas team has been working closely with key partners: The National Trust for Canada, Trinity Centres Foundation, Heritage Newfoundland and Labrador, and Sphaera Research.