This commentary is in response to Val Mountjoy’s article entitled “A crisis of heritage in Shamokin” from Thursday’s edition.
If there were any people who are more hurt by the decision to close Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, it was not only the parishioners, such as my wife and myself, but also the Episcopal Diocese of Central Pennsylvania. There was no overly exaggerated numbers printed in The News-Item. There were no plots to remove a building. The fact still remains that, before the structural dilemma, our sister church in Mount Carmel was having serious talks of closing its doors and moving to Shamokin. That was until these foundation issues were found and estimates were given over the span of more than two years.
I know from talking to other churches that numbers are down all over, and I know that when we joined the church we had a weekly attendance of under 20. Mount Carmel had about the same numbers, often less. The decision to close Holy Trinity came with much heartache and tears. No one wanted to see this church close, especially the diocese. Our bishop has made it clear she was not in the business of closing churches, and we even had a member of another Episcopal church, who happened to be an architect, try to come up with a more reasonable offer to repair and keep the buildings. Much to our chagrin, those estimates were very high, and seeing as our parish was not financially in a place to take on such costs, our members had to make some very painful decisions. Those decisions were not made lightly and those decisions were based on facts, not hearsay or opinion. We needed to make a conscious decision to keep an Episcopal presence here in our coal region.
Seeing as the church in Mount Carmel was structurally sound and in much better shape, we decided to move there. Our insurance company had explicitly said no more services were to be held in Holy Trinity, citing structural issues. For the time being, we did, in fact, have services in our church hall.
Now on to the historical end of things. I am speaking on behalf of myself. I love local history. I grew up in Shamokin and started my adult life in Shamokin, and have since relocated to Kulpmont. My passion is local history, and our former church is chock full of history. The diocese has stated that it is willing to sell the property as-is to someone looking to utilize this structure in a positive way. That being said, I feel this can only be done by a group of community-minded people who want to save the building for historical reasons. To allow this building to continue to decay will not only hurt those around it, but also those of us who called it our spiritual home.
There have been many, as stated, who have come through those doors, yet not many have stayed. And the few who were left represented a group of dedicated people who loved their church. Those people put their hearts and souls into their church. The love and dedication of those few have shown me that you do not need 100 people in the pews to make a church special; just a handful of dedicated people will make a church seem huge. A few have passed, but others are still with us, and have made the journey to our new spiritual home in Mount Carmel. The love and dedication is still felt.
It is a shame that we have lost our former home, but with God’s grace and good people, we will survive. It is these very people who make the church, not the building it is housed in. It would be a wonderful thing to see this structure saved, but that will take large numbers of people, money and time. If there is a community-based group interested in saving this structure you can contact Chad Linder at email@example.com.
(Walczak is clerk and advisory board member of the Church of the Resurrection Episcopal Mission, Mount Carmel.)