Diminishing congregation forced to put church up for sale

5:10 min

There's no for-sale sign out front, but St Paul's Church in Stockholm, is up for grabs.

The terra-cotta colored building sits on a prime lot, right by Mariatorget on Stockholm's trendy island of Södermalm, where it's neighbors include high-end boutiques, cafes and a luxury hotel. The church has been here since 1876. It's got a garden and rooms for receptions and stained glass windows and an organ. It's spacious - with enough room to fit about 300 people. And Bo Berglund is one of the people who's been coming here for the last couple of decades. He's the chairperson of the congregation and explains that they need to sell St. Paul's, because they have so few members left, less than 10 according to Berglund. They can't afford the costs of upkeep.

On this day, an organ and piano student named Henri Turu, is here practicing.

"A church is supposed to be a church, and not something else, so it's sad," he says.

What's happening is nothing new to Bo Berglund, the chairperson of the congregation, who says St. Paul's sister church in Östermalm was sold about a year ago.

Staffan Tell, the spokesperson of Hemnet, a big website that collects real estate listings from all over Sweden, says a handful of churches are listed on the real estate market every year and thatthis has to do with long-term trends in Sweden, which is becoming more secular and more urbanized. 

Tell says these types of listings can be attractive to buyers seeking the charm and character that buildings with history can offer.

Station-houses and windmills that have gone into disuse occasionally come up on the market, too, and get converted for other purposes. A courthouse in northern Sweden, in Sollefteå, with almost 2 dozen rooms, distributed throughout some 800 square meters recently went for 4.3 million kronor. In Stockholm, for that price you might be able to buy an apartment a tenth of the size.

In the case of St Paul's, though, the price will undoubtedly be a lot more, given such a desirable location in the nation's capital. The church has been valued at between 30 and 35 million kronor, and whatever the congregation gets for it, they've already decided to give every penny - or öre - to charity. They've been discussing using part of the money to help pay wages for hospital chaplains. 

Berglund says that well over 100 people have already expressed interest in it, but he explains that it won't necessarily go to the highest bidder. The congregation would not like the new owners to install a nightclub there, for example. Instead, they would prefer another church to move in or a cultural organization. However, they can rest easy knowing the church won't get torn down, because it's protected.

Berglund, whose favorite thing in the church is a painting of the resurrection, that hangs over the altar, is pragmatic about the whole idea of selling the church:

"Of course it's a strange feeling, but I can go to another church," says Berglund, adding, "My God is not only in this church." 

The few church members who are left will go their separate ways and find new places of worship.

Bidding ends this weekend.