But Is It Really A Church?


It was quite different from what expected. I walked by this church on a couple occasions last year, but didn’t have the opportunity to go in.

Turns out it is a church, and not a church at the same time. They call it an “open church,” whatever that means. St. Elizabeth’s is trying to do things differently. I admire the effort, though I wonder how successful it is. Since I don’t live there, I don’t know.IMG_5441

The 19th century building was the first new church built in Basel since the reformation. Can you do the math? That means no new churches in 300 years. I wonder what that says about Swiss Christianity. Maybe they just used existing buildings as required.

By the late sixties, apparently it had run its course. Plans were to demolish the building in favor of a parking lot for the new city theatre adjacent. A Joni Mitchell time comes to mind: “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot…

There were those in the community though who successfully fought the demolition, and the building was re-born. It is still standing, now more cafe and community centre than a place of worship. Thought it is still, in between slam poetry readings and concerts, a place of worship.

There don’t appear to be church services, but one evening a week you can come and ask questions of a pastor. I assumed the pastors are from other churches, given that there was a rotation. As busy as the building is, I doubt there is support full-time clergy. I think I saw mention of a weekly Bible study and a prayer meeting also, as well as activities for refugees.IMG_5409

Ordinarily I would applaud a church that repurposes itself to remain relevant in the 21st century. And if I lived in Basel, I would be very interested in discovering more, for the church is a busy place.

My mild unease came from looking at the literature rack. It was great to discover material in English as well as German – the place obviously gets its share of tourists coming through.

What I didn’t see though in what I read was the name of Jesus. Maybe it’s just assumed He is at the heart of a Christian church and needs no mention.

I did wonder though if maybe, as they move from slam poetry to classical concerts to feminist awareness to ecological action to various good works, if Jesus had somehow got lost at St. Elizabeth’s. I hope not.

Most of the pews have been removed, creating an open and versatile space. I like that. There are still some remaining for those who want to pray in the stillness of the sanctuary. St. Elizabeth’s feels like a peaceful place.


  1. Perhaps one should wonder what the effect the Reformation had on Swiss Christianity. Appears there is a correlation between the Reformation and use / need for Christian services.

  2. Great post 🙂

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