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Refitted freight barge a floating church at London's Canary Wharf

Meeting place for bankers

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

LONDON Ė The 140 ft Dutch river freight barge, which serves as the home of St. Peterís Barge, Londonís Floating Church, is definitely is not the first floating church in the world. The refitted 30-year old 180-ton barge was sailed from Rotterdam, the Netherlands, to London in a 31-hour voyage in 2003, and has since been used as a midday chapel for people working in Londonís Canary Wharf financial district.

Organizers surveyed various options as they wrestled with ideas for setting up a permanent place of worship in the 40,000 workersí Wharf district development which, when it was built, had not set aside space for a church. As a temporary solution, Christians working in the area held their lunchtime prayer meetings in a local pub.

St. Peterís midday meetings have gained in popularity now that doubt has been cast over the future of long-established financial institutions. The ship was just undergoing some work at a wharf elsewhere when Lehman Brothers went into bankruptcy. Since then, more employees from financial institutions have been coming to the lunchtime gatherings.

Creating space

Moored at the West India Quay in the midst of bank offices, skyscrapers and Britain's tallest building at One Canada Square, the floating church is owned by the St. Peter's Canary Wharf Trust. In 2004, a Church of England minister was appointed and church services were set up. In addition to the midday schedule, St. Peterís also holds Sunday church services in the hold of the ship.

Floating churches are not unknown in the English speaking world. London already had one in the 1820s and New York dedicated one in 1870. Both ships had a fixed location in their respective harbours. Other floating churches served Scotland over time. Holding church services aboard a ship is very common, as emigrants who traveled by boat to their destination know.

In the Netherlands it is more common to use redundant ships and freight barges for a range of purposes, often in places where space is in short supply. The Dutch house everything from jail cells, regular housing, museum exhibits and specialty pancake restaurants in such vessels. In London there are three other groups using Dutch barges as their Ďhome.í