Time has taken its toll on St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

Built in 1885, the historical church building at 340 Locust St., Columbia, has weathered rain, snow and wind for over a century. Faced with a growing list of repairs and a lack of funds, the church is struggling to keep its doors open.

“The most urgent structural repair needing to be done is the roof,” says the Rev. Patrick Peters, priest at St. Paul’s.

If something isn’t done soon, he says, the building will need to be vacated due to safety concerns. He knows the roof protects the structure of the building and church artifacts as well as those who gather for worship. St. Paul’s leaking roof affects the interior as well as exterior of the building.

Peters says he’s seen a lot of upgrades to the church buildings in his almost 18 years as church rector.

The necessary roof repairs are estimated at $300,000, Peters says. This involves replacing ridge caps, flashings, valleys and gutters on the 135-year-old gabled slate roof. The main problem appears to be the masonry wall under the capstones on the roof peaks which will need to be rebuilt.

LNP-PAB-121020-ST-PAULS-05.jpg

A general view of the damage sustained to the St. Paul Episcopal Church on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020.

“The wall beneath the capstones has disintegrating mortar, creating loose stones making the capstones unstable,” Peters says. The capstones are designed to protect the walls from weather. Fortunately, only a few of the slate shingles need replacement.

The church acquired a $30,000 loan to replace the flashings, which was partially done. But before finishing the job, the capstones need to be rebuilt.

A recent proposal from a contractor offered some hope. Instead of replacing the dozen capstones, it’s possible they could be lifted to repoint the wall and seal the mortar joints. Within the next two weeks, an on-site inspection of the roof will determine what work needs to be done to secure the capstones. The cost could be more, the same or less than the earlier estimate. Approval to spend $2,660 for the inspection was authorized by the church vestry, the committee of members selected to manage the affairs of the church.

St. Paul’s has two buildings connected by an inner breezeway. One houses the one-story, 4,000-square-foot church consisting of the nave, chancel, sanctuary, sacristy, small meeting room and bathroom. An unfinished dirt basement has a small classroom.

The parish hall is in the other two-story, 12,000-square-foot building. The first floor has a large room for events or dinners; two offices, choir room, three meeting rooms, kitchen and two bathrooms. On the second floor is a large room used for storage by the Columbia Food Bank. Only the first floor has heating, ventilation and air conditioning. There’s no elevator, only stairs to access the second floor. The basement has a 90% concrete, 10% dirt floor.

The Columbia Food Bank is located in the parish hall. Originally, it was an outreach ministry of the church, but in 2014 became a separate, nonprofit 50l(c)3 charitable organization.

LNP-PAB-121020-ST-PAULS-07.jpg

Father Patrick Peters poses outside of St. Paul Episcopal Church on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020.

Other repairs, parishioners opinions

Other less critical future repairs include repointing the exterior stone, replacing the windows in parish hall, rebuilding the stained glass window frames in the church, fixing moisture problems in the church and parish hall basements, and installing a new HVAC unit, which stopped working a week ago.

For years, the Central Pennsylvania Diocese has given the church grants and loans, but funding is limited. Fundraisers by the church helps pay for minor needs. A capital campaign in 2009 raised $355,000 for major renovations. It included a new heating system, carpet and refinishing hardwood floors in the church. The parish hall had a new HVAC system installed, lighting, windows and hardwood floors.

Peters admits many of the 85 members are concerned about spending a lot of money to save the building. Others want to spend whatever it takes.

The vestry and 76-year member, Mary Lynn Geltmacher, believes the members need a touch of reality about the magnitude of issues facing the beautiful historic building.

“Having to vacate the building will be difficult, but the safety of our parishioners is important,” she says.

A few members, like Bev Euculano, believe it might be best to tear down the building and use the salvageable material to build a smaller church to meet the needs of today’s smaller congregation. Even this would require a substantial amount of financial support.

“We would be very grateful and humble to donors who want to provide financial help or gifts-in-kind for repairs,” says Euculano, church treasurer and 68-year member. She says giving is currently keeping up with expenses, but it’s challenging to find funds for unexpected needs. While the faith-based, family-oriented parish members are generous givers, she says repairs have fallen behind due to the smaller congregation.

Due to COVID-19, services were online March 29 through June 7. In-person worship resumed June 14 through Nov. 15, returning online Nov. 22.

St. Paul’s has accepted the gracious invitation from St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, 616 Locust St., to hold worship services there when coronavirus restrictions are lifted until roof repairs are done. The parish hall can temporarily remain open for staff and the food bank.

“We would welcome a helping hand. ... I still have faith there may be a solution,” Peters says.

What to read next