One of the most historic churches in Tamaqua has been retrofitted with a state-of-the-art elevator, and the pastor says it's a blessing that couldn't have come at a better time.
As with most churches, the 1852 First United Methodist Church, 124 West Broad St. is dealing with aging members.
As congregants grow older, issues such as arthritis, rheumatism, heart and breathing conditions can keep members from climbing steps to reach the church and the second floor sanctuary.
But the new electronic "lift" will eliminate any worries about access.
"Our congregation is getting older. This will make it easier for people who come here to worship and to let them continue to come," says the Rev. James Cavallero.
The elevator was provided through the generosity of member Phyllis Carter, Tamaqua, and will be dedicated to the Carter and Haldeman families. A bronze plaque is being readied for the occasion.
The $85,000 project was extensive and daunting.
It began April 12, 2012, and involved a series of zoning clearances, including approvals by Tamaqua Borough; the Tamaqua Historical Architectural Review Commission, which is a group charged with protecting the resources of the 55-block Tamaqua National Historic District; and additional oversight by the state Department of Labor.
Construction was done by the team of Kane Construction Co. and Inclinator-Elevetee, Inc., of Sewell, N.J.
It is the same team that installed an elevator a decade ago at St. Jerome Catholic Church one block away.
"We're very pleased with Brad Kane and the others," says Cavallero. "They worked together and did things that weren't even part of the project."
Careful attention to detail was required in order to blend new construction with the building's historic facade, especially because the church building is regarded a strong contributing resource to the integrity of the national historic district, a designation earned in 2001. The project also involved extensive exterior excavation on the building's east side and boring through solid brick walls 18 inches thick.
The elevator is rated for 1,400 pounds, about a seven-person capacity.
There are always challenges when a 2013 computer-controlled elevator is installed inside a vintage 1852 sacred house of worship, but teamwork made it happen, especially oversight and hands-on involvement by trustees.
For example, the project involved considerable work and support by the church's board of trustees.
"They were very involved," says Cavallero. "They were always there doing painting and wiring."
Unfortunately, there also were some bittersweet moments along the way.
For instance, the project lost one of its key figures. Construction was supervised by church member Howard "Howie" Miller of Tamaqua. Sadly, Miller passed away in November.
"He wasn't alive to see its completion or certification and never took a ride in it," laments Cavallero.
The architect was Dan Poncavage of Tamaqua.
Still another figure in the project is Andrew Yearick, who built an elaborate external ramp and rails as his Eagle Scout project. The wooden ramp, complete with steel grids for traction, provides wheelchair access to the building's main floor and elevator.
So far, the new lift has been a hit with the church's 137 members.
"We use it every Sunday and on choir nights," says Cavallero. "It's so much better than going up the steps."
The elevator is expected to provide renewed energy at a church that already is an active part of the greater Tamaqua area community.
"People who stayed away from worship due to mobility problems can see new life here now," says Cavallero.
The elevator has been up and running since November, 2012, and Cavallero welcomes area residents to stop by and see it.
Service on Sunday is set for 10:45 a.m. and all are welcome.
In fact, the new elevator is expected to see heavy use on Sunday, March 17, at 6 p.m. when the church presents "Born for This," an Easter Passion Play.
Worship at First United Methodist Church is theme-centered on how to apply the Holy Bible to daily living. Members examine principles such as how does God want us to apply scripture to how we live our lives.
Preaching is done in a practical, down-to-earth manner with spiritually enthusiastic music and prayer.