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Deteriorating church will force East Deer congregation to relocate

| Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014, 12:51 a.m.
ERIC FELACK | Trib Total Media
The Rev. Clifford Manley and his wife, Anitra, outside the Vermont Baptist Church in East Deer. The building is beyond repair, so its parishioners are looking for a new place of worship. Friday, Aug. 1, 2014.
ERIC FELACK | Trib Total Media
The Rev. Clifford Manley and his wife, Anitra, inside the Vermont Baptist Church in East Deer. The building is beyond repair, so its parishioners are looking for a new place of worship. Friday, Aug. 1, 2014.
ERIC FELACK | Trib Total Media
Rev. Clifford Manley in the choir loft of the Vermont Baptist Church in East Deer, where the ceiling is falling in. Friday, Aug. 1, 2014. The building is beyond repair, so its parishioners are looking for a new place of worship.

The Vermont Baptist Church in East Deer is crumbling, so its parishioners need a new place of worship.

Huge trees have grown steadily over time against the 90-year-old building's back wall, leaving thick cracks that twist like vines through the church's chalk- white walls.

Torrents of water and mud cascade down during heavy storms from the hillside that hunches over it from behind, and leaks in the roof warp and discolor the ceiling and walls.

“It's bad,” said The Rev. Clifford L. Manley, an associate pastor and longtime parishioner of the Freeport Road church. “It's really bad. I wouldn't give this building another 18 months.”

The parish has been holding fundraisers for a building every weekend since February. Mostly, they've been selling dinners and hosting bake sales at parks in Tarentum and Brackenridge or Manley's New Kensington home in Mount Vernon, where he lives with his wife, Anitra, a deaconess at Vermont Baptist Church.

So far, the congregation has raised about $1,800.

It's a far cry from the hundreds of thousands they'll need to raise if moving to a new location is to become a reality, Anitra Manley said.

“We're looking for all the help we can,” she said. “We're exploring every possible option to keep our church going.”

The Manleys first approached the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, but none of its available buildings were going for anything less than $500,000.

They also explored filling the former St. Mathias Church in the Natrona neighborhood of Harrison, which has been vacant since the early 2000s, but ultimately decided against it.

Renovations are out of the question, they said, since the work necessary to repair the 10,000-square-foot property could exceed $1 million, according to Manley.

“They would have to excavate the entire hillside,” he said. “And there are so many problems here that repairs are just futile at this point.”

The church's problems extend beyond its structural issues. Its parking lot, about a 300-square-foot patch adjacent to the building, is too small, and visibility issues make it dangerous for parishioners to pull onto the busy Freeport Road. It gets so bad sometimes, Manley said, that he has to direct traffic out of the parking lot.

The location also presents issues for parents whose younger children sometimes run out of the church unsupervised following services. With the building's front door only about 6 feet from the road, a devastating accident is not unlikely, Manley said.

The church also is not wheelchair accessible — a growing problem given that the majority of parishioners are senior citizens who are lifelong members.

The Vermont Baptist Church was built in 1924 to house a growing parish that the Rev. William Merriwether started in his Creighton home just eight years prior.

In 1962, the church was rebuilt with stained glass windows installed in its front facade.

It hasn't been touched since, and the parish is paying for it, Manley said.

“We make it work, but it is really getting to be unbearable,” he said. “We need some help. We need donations, or we won't have a place to go pretty soon.”

Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4673 or bashe@tribweb.com.

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