A family in Serbia is commercializing a portable mini-church that it can deliver to anyone who wants a place of worship in their backyard.
The 5-ton, stone-and-steel construction is equipped with a cross, a bell tower, an altar, and frescoes. It can accommodate up to 15 worshipers.
The enterprise was initiated by Svetislav Mancic and his son Goran from the town of Gadzin Han, close to the southern Serbian city of Nis.
Svetislav Mancic, founder of the interior- and exterior-design company Mancic Granit, tells RFE/RL's Balkan Service that he came up with this idea when portable churches were used to hold services in the army. He says he quickly realized that there was likely a wider market for such mobile churches.
"It will be available in every restaurant that organizes weddings, in hotels, motels, and hospitals," says the older Mancic. "The only thing that we need is a blessing from the Serbian Orthodox Church, and we don't need any construction permits and approvals."
Svetislav Mancic describes the sales and delivery process in simple terms. "We load it onto a truck and deliver it to the address. The church is painted with frescoes, you just have to take a cable and connect it to electricity and you are ready in 10 minutes," he says. "It also has a bell that weights 17 kilograms and you make a sound by pulling the rope, but it can also be electronic."
The portable church can be ordered online, with the cheapest model selling for about 12,000 euros ($16,000). The price, however, varies depending on each client's individual needs, such as the quality of stone, size of the cross, bell, and altar.
Svetislav's son says that the churches have already has attracted a lot of public attention. "People are asking about it. Some of them want the bigger one, some of them want the smaller one, even though this is still an experimental model," he says. "We are still testing the market."
He says that potential customers from small villages have called them and said that "they don't need a big church and that they would put this one on the main square."
"A man who has a private cemetery in Svrljig contacted us," Goran says. "We also had a case of a man who wants to put it next to his weekend house and he wants it to be small. I also spoke with the owner of the restaurant on Belgrade-Nis highway."
Sanctity And 'Showbiz'
The Mancices insist they're just keeping up with the times. If everything is for sale today, they ask, then why not churches?
"It seems that the circle of ignorance is getting wider as is our need to look for help where we cannot find it," counters Ratko Bozovic, a Belgrade-based sociologist who doesn't like the trend. "There are no adequate politics, there is no culture, and nothing is rational anymore. We are led by a populist wave that now turned into showbiz. This is all part of the story."
According to Ljubisa Rajic, a professor at Belgrade University, the apparent craze for portable mini-churches is another example of the growing influence of the Serbian Orthodox Church in society.
"The church has been on the offensive for 25 years and it is supported by the state," Rajic says. "We have become a clerical state. We practically don't have any state institution where icons and priests are not present. They are everywhere: police, army, ministries, universities, schools, kindergartens."
Rajic says that "a small church in the backyard is a status symbol." He characterizes the perceived attitude of Mancic's potential customers as "I have enough money to order a church and a priest to come to me."
He says this "represents this false feeling that all our sins are forgiven. And with that I show to the world that I'm a better Serb than the others who don't have a church in their backyard. And with that I want to say that Serbia is a country for Serbs and everyone else is a guest."
But it's not strictly nationalism inflecting such an approach, according to Rajic. "In the newspaper 'Novi List' from Rijeka [in Croatia], someone said that they should change Lord's Prayer into 'In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Property.' [In Serbia,] they made a portable church and they will certainly pay the priests to come to them -- they will certainly make some kind of a deal," he says. "As we like to say in the Balkans: We are humans, we will make a deal."
The Mancic family says it has orders for its mobile churches but hasn't completed any sales yet. Before that happens, they need to get clearance from Orthodox authorities to assure that each construction has been constructed according to its rules and standards.
Svetislav Mancic says this should happen very soon. "We are about to get a blessing from the Bishop of Nis," he says. "We already held talks, they checked the church, and by the end of the week we will have their blessing."