Old church buildings a tough sell
Johanna Yoho knew the Pittsburgh church she attended since childhood couldn't hang on much longer.
With membership and collections dwindling, Mt. Zion Lutheran Church on the North Side merged with another congregation in 2006. Afterward, a consultant recommended conducting services in the newer and larger Brighton Heights Lutheran Church and putting Mt. Zion up for sale.
"When we hand the keys over to the (buyer), that will be bittersweet," said Yoho, 48, of Observatory Hill, who was treasurer of Mt. Zion.
About 70 churches have changed hands in Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Lawrence, Mercer, Washington and Westmoreland counties since 2007, according to RealSTATs, a South Side-based real estate information company.
Dozens more across Western Pennsylvania have posted for-sale signs.
"Selling churches is not an easy thing," said Tom Conroy, a sales representative with Howard Hanna Commercial, who is handling the sale of the Mt. Zion church building to another congregation.
But it's a sign of the times.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Greensburg is listing six churches for sale as a result of church closings announced by Bishop Lawrence Brandt in 2008, according to diocese spokesman Jerry Zufelt.
Asking prices for the former church buildings were not released.
"Each successor parish named last fall for each church that was closed is responsible for the sale of the former church buildings. All assets and liabilities from the sale also go to the successor parishes," Zufelt said.
St. Bede Church in Bovard, Hempfield Township, was built by immigrant mine workers in the early 1900s, according to the diocese.
The church, which was closed in 2008, was sold recently to the Laurel Highland Presbyterian Church of America for $150,000, according to RealSTATs.
The former St. Nicholas Church on Route 28 may be sold to Lamar Advertising, parish officials said. The parish said it reached an "agreement in principle" to sell the 108-year-old church, which closed in 2004.
Restoring buildings that were constructed 100 or 200 years ago can be costly. A roof could cost $50,000; one stained-glass window could cost $20,000, according to preservationists.
"Smaller churches have a difficult time surviving the aging process," said Danny Muzyka, president and founder of Service Realty, which handled the sale of hundreds of churches in Texas, Colorado, California, Washington and Arizona.
Many church buildings are sold to other churches, but sometimes they're converted to schools, day care centers, art galleries or private residences. One notable example is the former St. John the Baptist Church in Lawrenceville, which reopened in 1996 as a pub and restaurant, the Church Brew Works. That deal touched off a controversy and resulted in new policies at the Diocese of Pittsburgh.
"We were assured that all religious items were removed before the sale. They weren't," said the Rev. Ron Lengwin, diocesan spokesman.
In addition to increased inspections and inventorying of the contents of church buildings, sales agreements now give the Catholic diocese a right of first refusal if a parish sells a property to a nonfaith group, he said. Twelve churches in the Pittsburgh diocese have been sold since 2007.
Most churches prefer to sell buildings to other churches or for compatible uses, but at some point, it becomes a matter of dollars and cents.
"There's often a sentimental attraction. A lot of people have been baptized there, married there," said Ned Doran, executive vice president of GVA Oxford, a Pittsburgh-based commercial real estate company. "But the upkeep on older properties is phenomenal."
Mt. Zion Lutheran Church, built in 1900, once served as headquarters for the Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod of the Lutheran Church, said the Rev. Brian Shirey, its pastor.
"If I had the money, I'd turn it into a museum. It's a historical site for Lutheranism in Pittsburgh," Shirey said.
Closing the church saddened parishioners, but the church is more than a building, said Yoho.
"If you get that attached to a building, you don't understand what we're here for," she said.
Staff writer Paul Peirce contributed to this story.Additional Information:
Churches for sale
St. Timothy Church, Smithton
St. Charles Borromeo Church, Sutersville
Forty Martyrs Church, Trauger
Harvest Baptist Church, New Kensington
Holy Trinity Church, Connellsville
Holy Spirit Church, Fayette City
St. Albert Church, Palmer
Refuge Temple Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Homewood
Mt. Zion Lutheran Church complex, North Side
Our Savior Lutheran Church, Mt. Lebanon
St. Mary's Church, Duquesne
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pirates acquire Soria from Tigers
- Pirates notebook: Blanton introduced; Worley designated for assignment
- Steelers notebook: Tomlin says Latrobe session won’t differ from normal practice
- Police: Escaped Armstrong County inmate armed dangerous homicide suspect
- Police find 7-year-old boy from Penn Hills safe
- Starkey: Garoppolo baffles Steelers
- Obama nominates 3 judges for federal bench in Pittsburgh
- Arraignment scheduled for Penn Hills woman accused of transporting $1M worth of heroin along turnpike
- China says U.S. trying to militarize South China Sea
- Peduto blasts Wolf’s plan to borrow $3B to shore up pensions
- USW rallies in support of ATI, other steel companies’ employees