As theological debates on sexuality and marriage become more and more central, many Christian denominations are being asked to clarify their views.
Since 2014, 27 places of worship have been closed, affecting around 40 Christian communities. Some “bought a premise with a loan, remodeled it, but cannot use it”, says pastor Daniel Magnin.
In the last three years, 27 places of worship were closed in the region of Lombardy, which affected around forty communities, considering that sometimes two or three churches meet in the same place.
“There is not a real estate market of places of worship conditionated for that use, as required by law. Some communities that lost their meetinghouses, now gather in private houses, but many have directly disappeared”, Daniel Magnin, pastor of the “Un Nuovo Giorno” church in Monza, says.
Each new Christian community rents business premises for its meetings, perhaps a place that was enabled as a restaurant, an industrial warehouse or a shed.
If a building owned by a church it is not conditioned for being a “place of worship”, it may be closed at any time.
“There have been cases of communities that bought a premise with a loan, remodeled it to adapt it to their needs, and now they are still paying the fees, but cannot use it. They lost everything they have invested” , Magnin explains.
THE SPIRIT OF THE LAW
Nowadays, if a church requests the change of use of its premises, be it own or rented, the procedure can last several years or never be resolved.
"It cost us four years of much paperwork, great perseverance, a good dose of patience and several thousand euros. We got the change a few months ago, and we can say that we are fortunate. The aim of this law is to prevent the opening of mosques”, points out pastor Magnin, who is also the treasurer of the National Evangelical Conference (COEN in Italian) in the Lombardy region.
“In fact, there are no Muslim worship places in Lombardy. Evangelicals are also limited, as well as any other non-traditional denomination in the area. Obviously, the Catholic Church has many properties throughout Italy.”
“In Milan, there are more than a hundred evangelical churches and very few have a legally recognised place of worship", Magnin says.
LEGAL COVERAGE FOR FREE CHURCHES
COEN was born seven years ago, to provide legal coverage to many churches that do not belong to a specific denomination.
"We previously had the Milan Evangelical Conference (COMEL, in Italian), but we transformed that regional association into a national church association. About eight or ten pastors began the process and we continue to work together”, he recalls.
Baptists and Assemblies of God of Italy churches have legal coverage. “These organisations have agreements with the State and receive part of the eight per thousand of the taxes collected.”
But “most of the churches in Italy - say almost 90% - are chiesa libre, free churches, and have no legal representative or agreements with the State”, the pastor explains.
SEARCHING FOR A SOLUTION
Some weeks ago, COEN managers met with a prestigious lawyer from Milan, seeking advice to address this problem that affects a growing number of churches.
“The lawyer told us that we must do what my church did years ago: denounce ourselves before the local authority, communicating what activities we carry out in our premises”, says Daniel Magnin.
“Silence gives consent, says the saying. If the authorities know that we are here - because we ourselves have told them, and they also know everything we do for the benefit of the community - it is less likely that they would close the premises”, the pastor believes.
The recognition of the place of worship of this Christian community by the local authorities is such a rare event, that the local newspaper Il Cittadino di Monza reported about it.