New life for old church
DAVID WARGO/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS Summit Hill Heritage Center board members Elnora Clay, left, and Lyle Mantz open the building for a tour of the heritage center. The SHHC is the former St. Paul's United Church of Christ at Hazard and Chestnut streets.
A few years ago Summit Hill lost one of its landmark churches on Holy Square, a moniker coined by Robert Ripley in "Ripley's Believe It or Not."
But thanks to the help of volunteers, a second church may be spared a similar fate as St. Paul's United Church of Christ, which closed two years ago, will be reopening as the Summit Hill Heritage Center in early 2010.
"I really think this (facility) can be a center of community activity. It's part of our hometown," said President Debbie Ranck.
Ranck is one of the volunteers to serve on the board of directors for the fledgling organization that was formed to prevent St. Paul's Church from suffering the fate of the former St. Phillip's Episcopal Church which was demolished after becoming a ruin from years of neglect.
SHHC treasurer Elnora Clay and former St. Paul's member said, "I watched them rip down the other church and didn't want to see it repeated here. We want people to use this building as a community center. When we were kids, the church was the center of our community, and I would like to see this building continue to be used."
St. Paul's UCC closed as a church in October of 2007, but leaders Lyle and Andrea Mantz worked behind the scenes with former parish minister, the Rev. Wilbur C. Albright and Penn Northeast Conference to allow the building to serve as a community center. After two years of work, the conference agreed to allow the plan to be implemented.
"The church has been used even after it has been closed as Summit Hill's Food Bank, for Scouting meetings and as a meeting place for quilters. We have also opened the sanctuary to those who wish to use it for weddings," Mantz said.
His wife Andrea agreed. She noted that the sanctuary was most recently used for the community's Thanksgiving service.
"We hope to maintain the sanctuary for music, community services, wedding rentals, baptism rentals and other community events," she said.
Ranck pointed out that many people don't have a home church so the board hopes this sanctuary will be available for Christian services for them also.
Clay pointed out that besides the sanctuary there are three large multipurpose rooms upstairs, a fully-equipped kitchen downstairs, as well as a seating area for 150-200 people. All of the spaces are available for use and recent improvements to electricity and heating will make it easier to use the facility all year round.
Ranck said a grand opening is planned for the spring and prior to that she hopes to meet with local organizations to discuss what the heritage center has to offer and how they can use the building for events.
"We also plan to have memberships with the center and will be launching a membership program in early 2010 for residents," Ranck said.
Current board members include Ranck, chairperson; David Wargo, vice chairperson; Andrea Mantz, secretary; and Clay, treasurer; as well as Sis DeHaven Ruhf and Lyle Mantz.
Several scheduled events for 2010 include flea markets, a possible craft show and more.
A work session is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 9, at the church from 8 a.m. until noon. It is open to anyone who wishes to volunteer to help.
For more information, call Ranck at (570) 645-9133.