Church in Vrbice rejuvenated into a community gathering place

The small village of Vrbice lies on the western periphery of the Central Bohemian region, which was predominantly populated by Germans in the past and where we can now find both the melancholic traces of a vanished world as well as attempts to forge new beginnings. One such new beginning is doing very well right in Vrbice.

Members of the local civic association Let’s Save Vrbice rented the deconsecrated Church of the Ascension of the Holy Cross and are gradually transforming it into a place to meet, sit together, share potluck meals and talk about what’s new. They are restoring the church very sensitively in the process.

Do you know what the term Drowned Grannie (in the Czech original: “utopená bába”) means? It’s a competition to choose the best Bundt cake (that’s the bába) and the best “utopenec” (meaning a type of sausage as well as “drowned man”) that takes place as part of a popular festival in early summer in Vrbice.

Over the course of the year, Let’s Save Vrbice also puts on events such as Witch Burning, a spring bonfire to bid winter farewell and usher in spring, and the village fair and St. Martin gathering in the fall. A number of events take place in the church itself, which also serves as the association’s base of operations.

When the association rented the church, it was in much worse shape than it is today. And because the wind found its way inside, the church was unusable in the winter. Two individuals who have second homes in the village offered to repair the original windows of the sacristy. But windows for a historical building are not inexpensive items and so the association members put the remaining 11 window replicas up for ‘adoption’. The idea quickly took hold among residents and all of the windows soon found their adoptive parents from among association members, permanent residents and owners of second homes.

We awarded a grant of CZK 80,000 ($3,500) to Let’s Save Vrbice through our program Living Communities. The grant purpose was to support the second phase of church renovation, which includes repair of the sacristy roof and purchase of tables and lighting for cultural events. An exhibition of historical photos and documents about the history of Vrbice is permanently located in the church.

Residents organize and fund events in the church and surrounding area by themselves, where ‘fund’ is taken as a broad term, meaning that everyone gives what they can. One person brings sandwiches, someone else bakes a Bundt cake, another takes care of beverages. They have also received a gift of a gas lamp to provide heating so that winter events can be held in the church.

The association members have a track record of community improvement projects, from cleaning up a pond and well on the village commons to repairing the Chapel of the Virgin Mary with a significant gift from the municipality of Hořovičky, which is the administrative home of Vrbice.

Not only residents and second home owners help out at work parties at the church; for example, volunteer firefighters from the nearby village of Kolešova often lend a helping hand.

“Thanks to this grant from Via Foundation, we can continue renovating the church, which is becoming a gathering place for our community. We hold many events here over the year and try to continue with the association’s work here. The church renovation process is giving local residents a chance to meet each other, to help save a historical monument and to develop a relationship to this place,” said Hana Gottfriedová of Let’s Save Vrbice. As an architect, she has many other plans and dreams for Vrbice that may come to fruition in the future. But there are already signs that the association’s labors to engage residents in community life are starting to bear fruit.