Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Methodist churches hit the market as congregations close, consolidate

The historic First United Methodist Church in Harrisburg

If you’ve ever been in the market for an old, stately church in the Harrisburg area, your time has arrived.

Recently, the Susquehanna United Methodist Conference listed six of its churches for sale, part of a plan to cut costs and consolidate congregations. The churches cover numerous neighborhoods around Harrisburg and range in price from $169,000 to $325,000.

“I’ve shown all of these churches a number of times already,” said realtor Bill Gladstone of the Bill Gladstone Group, part of Wormleysburg-based NAI CIR, which is listing the properties. “The demand for these churches has been very high.”

Late last year, the conference, facing dwindling membership in the immediate Harrisburg area, decided to dispose of 10 of its buildings, several dating back a century or more.

Since then, one of the churches, historic Grace United Methodist Church on State Street, voted to maintain its congregation, said Shawn Gilgore, the conference’s director of communications. Another church, Rockville UMC, has become affiliated with Linglestown UMC, with both buildings in use, he said.

Six of the remaining churches currently are for sale:

  • Camp Curtin Memorial Mitchell UMC, 2221 N. 6th St.: $195,000
  • First United Methodist, 269 Boas St.: $169,000
  • Riverside Methodist Church, 3200 N. 3rd St.: $325,000
  • St. Mark’s UMC, 3985 N. 2nd St (Susquehanna Township): $325,000
  • Trinity Penbrook Church, 5 N. 25th St.: $255,000
  • Grace Penbrook Church, 25 S. 28th St.: $265,000

Another church, Derry Street UMC on Allison Hill in Harrisburg, soon will be listed for sale, Gladstone said.

The final church in the group, Twenty Ninth Street UMC in Harrisburg, is the new home of The Journey Church, a combined congregation of Twenty Ninth Street UMC and the former Riverside Methodist Church.

Gladstone said that most potential buyers have been interested in continuing to use the buildings as churches. They often are leaders of emerging congregations that have been using temporary spaces for worship.

“Everybody wants one,” he said. “Even if they can’t afford it, they want one.”

Two of the churches date from the 19th century. First United was built in 1881 and Camp Curtin, which is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, was constructed in 1896.

These large, aging buildings, which feature stained glass and other impressive architectural details, are very costly to maintain. As a result, banks can be skittish about lending to aspiring churches without a very solid financial plan, Gladstone said.

“The last thing a bank wants to do is foreclose on a church,” he said.

Some of the properties lend themselves to non-church uses, but also may be constrained by parking and zoning issues. For example, First United in Midtown is located in a desirable area, but is tucked on a residential block with no off-street parking.

“It could have a residential use for apartments,” Gladstone said. “If you’re a smart developer, you can figure out how to do that.”

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