Majestic church in Reading to get $1 million restoration

READING, Pa. (WPVI) -- Leaders and members of the Hopewell Mennonite Church in Reading were near the end of their rope.

Only 12 members of the once-thriving congregation were left, their old church was falling apart, and they were running out of money.

The first time church leaders went to developer Alan Shuman, asking him to save their crumbling church on South 6th Street, he said... no thanks.

"I've driven by that church a thousand times. It doesn't really look like anything special on the outside," he said.

But those church leaders didn't give up, and this past November Shuman finally went inside.

He says he simply couldn't believe his eyes.

"Came in here and was absolutely amazed with the quality, craftsmanship of this building," he said.

Shuman is talking about the craftsmanship that disappeared generations ago.

German-made stained glass windows, huge solid brass sconces, and oak paneling just to name a few of the details.

Shuman says nearly all of it was paid for by one man, George Baer, who was a member of what was then the 2nd Reformed Church in the late 19th century.

"At the time, George Baer was president of Reading Railroad. That was the largest company in the world. It was headquartered right here in Reading. He was one of the wealthiest persons in the world and this was his family church and the best of the best were brought in to build this facility."

More than 125 years later, the roof is buckling, the outer walls are bowing, and the city condemned this majestic structure two years ago.

But Alan Shuman just recently announced that he will pour more than $1 million into the reconstruction of this church with a promise to restore it to its original grandeur.

When we asked Shuman how he plans on making that money back he said he is not entirely sure yet.

"Sometimes you just have to do something because it's the right thing to do. It's worthwhile doing and it's saving something that can't be created today."

Shuman says it will take approximately 10 years to complete all of the needed renovations and repairs, but he plans to have it open for weddings and/or rentals by the end of this coming May.
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