Pitcairn congregation trying to return home
When the Rev. Cyndi Bloise arrived six years ago at Center Avenue United Methodist Church in Pitcairn, she answered concerns that the church might close, as several others in the borough had closed their door.
“I said, ‘I'm not going to be a church-closer,' ” she recalled.
That changed in November, but not because of dwindling membership or consolidation.
Contractors came in to replace the 106-year-old church's roof but, concerned about one of the Gothic-style structure's trusses, they encouraged church officials to call structural engineers to look at it.
The engineers' inspections changed the church's course. One of the building's trusses was so unstable that the church had to be closed immediately.
“It was hardly holding up the roof at all,” Bloise said.
The building was vacated. Children in a Head Start program were awakened from naps so their parents could take them home, and church services and numerous outreach programs were shuffled to other locations.
“There were no meetings, no final farewell, nothing,” Bloise said.
The 150-member congregation is trying to raise money for repairs so it can return to the building. Fixing the 58-foot truss might cost three or four times the expected $25,000 for the roof, church officials said.
Time is of the essence. Church Mutual, which insures the church, will cover the cost of the scaffolding that supports the three-story brick church from basement to ceiling only for about three more months. After that, the church would have to pay $56 a day.
“We hope it's a matter of reinforcing what's there,” church trustee Bill Decker said of the project. “The (truss) has lost its integrity and now has to be re-engineered.”
Another option is to take off the roof and put in a new truss system, he said, but the cost isn't feasible.
The church's problems are not unique, said Carole Malakoff of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation. She administers the foundation's religious properties preservation program.
“It's becoming more prevalent. Churches are being vacated every month,” she said. “Hopefully, it will not continue because our religious properties — not just churches, but synagogues and mosques — are some of the most architecturally significant buildings in the area.”
Financial support to repair religious buildings can be found, Malakoff said, but churches have to “get creative.” One option is to form a nonprofit that could receive donations.
Bloise said her church is doing that, but it takes at least six months to secure nonprofit status. Applying for grants takes more time.
Pittsburgh History & Landmarks provides grants of as much as $10,000 for construction on religious buildings with historic value. Center officials say they haven't approached the foundation, and the deadline for 2014 grants has passed.
Architect David Vader, chairman of the foundation's historic religious property program, said a well-constructed church building that is 100 years old can be made stable again.
Without knowing more about the Pitcairn church, he said, he can't offer specifics but, “There are many old buildings that have been maintained over the years or repaired and retrofitted that are able to go on serving for another 100 years.”
Church services are held in a nearby school. A Boy Scout Troop, Lions Club and social outreach programs such as the Circles/Bridges Out of Poverty initiative and Naranon had to relocate.
“We were getting some young members, helping to bring young people to the church,” member Ellis Michaels said. “Most of the church members I know are very adamant about doing whatever we can to save the church.”
Julie E. Martin is a freelance writer.
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.
- Digital Age reboots foreign language instruction in Western Pa. schools
- Moon Area hires security company for second consultation
- Therapy dogs trained to provide affection, comfort for ailing people
- Dormont to ease parking crunch once auto dealer vacates lot
- South Park middle school project will require student relocation