SHAMOKIN — Everywhere you look inside Holy Trinity Episcopal Church there is a story.

A framed photograph of an altar cloth depicting what thousands of people in the 1970s perceived as the image of Christ hangs in the vestry. In the chancel, sunlight shining through a stained glass window made in honor of Kulpmont founder Monroe Kulp and his wife, Sarah, illuminates an altar railing inscribed with “1891,” the year construction began on the chapel along Lincoln Street near Shamokin Creek.

But large cracks in the plaster and stone of the chapel also tell a more recent story of how the foundation is bowing and wood framing hidden by a stone facade has been reduced to saw dust in some locations. Empty pews, darkened lights and the absence of historic items indicate the damage has caused the congregation to leave its place of worship and combine with St. Stephen’s in Mount Carmel to form the Church of the Resurrection Episcopal.

The final chapter of the church may soon end with a pile of rubble to be cleared away by an excavator. The Episcopal Diocese of Central Pennsylvania has decided to raze the chapel and adjoining two-story rectory, unless a person interested in purchasing the building “as is” contacts the diocese in the near future. The decision was made from a public safety and financial standpoint.

The diocese analyzed the costs for stabilization and partial and complete demolition, and determined the most feasible option, given the circumstances, was to demolish the buildings, Chris Walczak, clerk and advisory board member of the Church of the Resurrection Episcopal, said last week.

He said a Mass to desacralize the church has been set for All Saints Day on Thursday, Nov. 1, with removal of the buildings expected to begin in the months following.

“They did what was best for the church, which was to remove the buildings from the property, because they’re a health hazard and dangerous, and then move forward from there,” he said. “No one wants to see a church go, but the number to make that chapel safe was astronomical.”

Three options

Walczak, a former member of Holy Trinity, said past members of the congregation attempted to make repairs, but, absent a professional contractor to perform the work, the issues eventually worsened. Moisture inside the walls caused cracks — some large enough to place fingers inside — to appear more frequently. Roof leaks that can cause it to “rain indoors” also started to occur.

Damage became so great that the congregation held Mass in the rectory because the church’s insurance company determined it to be a liability to hold Mass in the chapel.

Strosser Architecture, based in Danville, was hired to inspect the church and discovered a fissure in the foundation facing Lincoln Street. The firm provided three recommendations: demolition of the chapel and rectory at a cost of $77,000; stabilization of the chapel at $200,000; or demolition of the chapel, and stabilization of the rectory, at $500,000.

Walczak said stabilizing the chapel would not solve all the issues, adding that Mass would still have to continue inside the rectory until additional repairs were completed. Discussions were also held to demolish the chapel, but save the rectory, which includes several meeting rooms and a kitchen on the first floor and an apartment with a full kitchen and several rooms on the second floor. The cost for that option skyrocketed, however, when it was determined the rectory and chapel share a common wall.

Following several advertised meetings last year to discuss the issues, which he said drew little public attention, the congregation voted to combined its parish with St. Michael’s and move into its chapel at Fourth and Maple streets. The move was marked by a several-mile trek in November from Shamokin to Mount Carmel.

Alcoholics Anonymous, which stopped holding meetings in the rectory in January, was the last group to occupy the building.

“Having a congregation with seven to eight people is hard enough to operate with,” Walczak said of the ability to pay for Holy Trinity’s operating costs. “The diocese is not in the business of closing churches. Some members of the congregation wanted the church to stay open, some people did not. Once the parish closed the church, it was up to the financial committee of the Diocese to figure out what they wanted to do with the property.”

Demolition, but also reclaiming

Members of Resurrection Episcopal are in the process of removing historic items from Holy Trinity. The diocese is expected to distribute some of the items, such as pews, to churches in need. Details have not been released by the diocese, but Walczak expects the stained glass windows throughout the church to be saved.

“Historical items are not going to go in the Dumpster. We are going to take it with us,” he said. “From my understanding, the diocese is not only looking at demolition, but reclaiming.”

He said many items have already been moved out the church, including the famed altar cloth. Persons interested in items donated in memory of a family member or purchasing the buildings can contact Chad Linder, Canon of Finance and Operations, at clinder@diocesecpa.org.

‘Heartbreaking’

Walczak said the decision to close the church was not made lightly. He said the area is not only loosing a church that served area residents since 1865, but a historic chapel that gained worldwide attention with the 1977 vision.

“It really hurts my heart, too, from a history angle. It’s one of the more historic buildings in Pennsylvania,” he said. “To see this go … it’s heartbreaking.”

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