A church in crisis looks for a path forward
● By J. Chambless
Kemblesville United Methodist Church is facing a financial deadline to find a use for its large building.
The Kemblesville United Methodist Church and its cemetery are a large part of the village, but with a financial future in crisis, the few remaining members are looking for a way to make something good out of a bad situation.
At the July 17 meeting of the Franklin Township Board of Supervisors, Tom Veasey and Dan Mahala from the church estimated the church could survive only two more months before having to close its doors.
“The Kemblesville Church is in great financial difficulty here,” Veasey told the board. “We can’t afford the mortgage for the building. We’re not using that building very much anyway. We just can’t sustain it.”
He explained that the church’s previous pastor, Dave Bergstrom, made a decision to expand the church in 2008, when there were plans to add a large community of homes on property behind the church. Expecting a population increase, the church, which then had some 150 members, decided to put on an addition. That debt now stands at $425,000.
“It was wrong thinking,” Veasey said. “We took more debt on than we should have. With hindsight, it should never have been done. So things started to turn south. We couldn’t afford pastor Dave’s salary anymore. He was probably one of the better paid pastors in the area. There were some other issues going on that I don’t want to get into.
“The decision was made for him to leave,” Veasey continued. “Now, if he had stayed in the Methodist church, he would not have been able to move to a church within a certain number of miles of Kemblesville. But he went to Avondale Presbyterian, and with him went half our congregation.”
The replacement pastor, Veasey said, “is a good guy, but very untraditional. This is a conservative area, and he was far from conservative. So this is where we are now. Trying to regain the congregation will be difficult. People hear about what happened. It’s hard to get new people to come in when they think the church might not make it, or they heard rumors. We’re trying to move forward now.”
Several options for the building were detailed by Veasey. Chief among them is to turn the church into low-income housing for veterans or seniors, in a design similar to that of the Luther House in Penn Township. This would require a grant from the State of Pennsylvania and the grant application must be submitted by November. The building could also possibly be sold or rented to businesses or for use as offices.
“For seniors or veteran housing, the estimate is that there could be 30 to 40 apartments in there,” Veasey said, adding that the sanctuary could be split into two floors, with apartments on both levels. “Ideally, we would like them to leave us some worship space somewhere,” he added.
After getting a favorable initial opinion from the Franklin Township board, Veasey said he will explore applying to the state for grant money in connection with the low-income housing proposal.
“We wanted to go get a feel for what the board thinks. Nobody has the answers right now,” he said. “There is a lot of space in the building. The fellowship hall downstairs could be divided, there’s a commercial kitchen, and there are lots of classrooms.”
Board chairman John Auerbach told Veasey, “I’m not opposed to this plan. You should get options and get back to us quickly. I want to see what you can do. I’ve lived here 40 years, and the church has always been here. So, we’re giving you a favorable opinion, but we need more details.”
The board offered to hold an additional meeting about the plans for the church before their regular Aug. 28 meeting. As of Aug. 12, no meeting has been announced.
To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email email@example.com.