On the corner of 6th & Cherry St in downtown Reading, sits a church with a rich history and stunning stained glass windows. Sadly, the walls of Hopewell Mennonite Church are deteriorating under the strain of its structure and are continually pushing outward. In 2017, the city of Reading prohibbited meetings from happening on the premises until the walls can be secured. Dolan Construction, Providence Engineering, Kaiser Martin Group and Reading city engineers have confirmed the need: Without taking the necessary steps to secure the walls, the building will inevitably fall and exist no more. The walls and building can be saved for the cost of between $130-150k.
Hopewell Mennonite Church began as a church plant in 1848 out of the congregation of First Reformed and was known as the Second Reformed Church. It soon became the home church of many of Berks County’s most prominent families. In 1898, George Baer, president of the Reading Railroad, oversaw the commissioning, transporting and installing of the beautiful stained glass windows throughout its sanctuary. While great expense was taken at the time to ensure the beauty of the place in which they met to worship, Second Reformed was a missional church and often gave their entire weekly offering away to ministries and non-profits in the growing city of Reading. Its members were involved in numerous social justice initiatives to better the lives of the less fortunate in their neighborhood. In the 1970s, the congregation at Second Reformed began to decline in numbers and the decision was made to sell it while the remaining congregation returned to the congregation of First Reformed (then First UCC).
In the early 1980s, Hopewell Mennonite church in Elverson, was experiencing rapid growth and, what many considered to be, a revival. As a result of that growth, numerous church plants were started. In 1982, they purchased the Second Reformed building and began Hopewell Mennonite in Reading. The church again quickly grew to over 500 people. Many powerful services were had and again, an active, life-giving group of believers were present at 6th & Cherry, helping the less fortunate.
In time, this congregation began to shrink as well. Within the last 10 years, the congregation numbered between 10-30 on any given Sunday. In 2016, the remaining congregants of Hopewell made a formal decision to become part of another church body and as part of that union, the building at 6th & Cherry would be given. A study was done of the building at that time, revealing the desperate state the walls were in.
Reading City Church began in 2010 at the IMAX theater with the hopes of being a relational church that was passionate about Jesus and passionate about loving and serving the city of Reading. Part of our vision, from the start, was to have multiple “parishes” throughout Berks County that would serve their neighborhoods while having Reading as their missional heart. The picture that we used to describe our mission while we met at the IMAX, was that of a church with broken walls which seemed hopeless. Yet, underneath the church building, were roots and growing through the brokenness was a large, shading tree. The tagline we often used was “Life From Brokenness.” At the time, we had no idea or intention of owning historic church buildings. However, within 4 years, we found ourselves owning St James building on the corner of Penn & 7th Avenues in West Reading and then we were graciously given the historic building of First UCC on the corner of Washington & Reed Streets in Reading. Both became parishes of RCC that embody our vision. The remaining congregants of Hopewell Mennonite are now members of our St James Parish of RCC. If we can raise the funds to make the needed repairs, Hopewell will become the 3rd Parish of RCC. This means the building can once again be the home of a thriving church body that will serve her city for generations to come.
While we did not plan on owning these buildings originally and while do not foresee owning any more historic church buildings in our future, we cannot deny the spiritual and historical significance of the story that RCC is being grafted into. Historically, the building that is now First City Parish of RCC (First Reformed) started what will become the Hopewell Parish of RCC (Second Reformed) and the Hopewell Parish and First City Parish together started St James Parish of RCC. Through the years, all three congregations became different denominations and disconnected from one another. Now, they are being reunited again. Beyond this, Reading City Church started by 50 people from the original Hopewell church in Elverson that spun-off Hopewell Mennonite.
Whether or not you are a part of RCC, we invite you to become a part of the larger story that is unfolding in Reading, PA. The saving of the Hopewell building is significant to the history of our city and beyond. The artistic beauty of the space is worthy of preservation. Its future as a parish of RCC and life-giving work in the city will be ensured into the future if the needed funds are raised. Here is what you need to know:
- We have until the end of this year, 2018, to raise $150k
- Every donation, no matter how small, helps us get closer to our goal of $150k.
- Every dollar that exceeds this amount will go to bringing needed renovations in the building such as new carpet, updated heating, and other needed repairs. This will ensure a strong setup for the future parish.
- If we fail to raise the needed funds, we will have to make the difficult decision to have the building demolished.
- In the event that the needed funds were not raised, all money donated will go to the preservation of our other two historical church buildings.
- Every donation is tax deductible.
- Donations can be made by clicking on our DONATE button.
- Share this post with anyone you think may be interested in helping.
Thank you for taking time to read this post and for taking action in helping us SAVE HOPEWELL.
Go here to read a recent article in the Reading Eagle about our efforts: http://www.readingeagle.com/news/article/stained-glass-strained-walls-reading-churchs-historic-windows-in-danger
Like our Facebook page to stay up to date with progress and events: https://www.facebook.com/savehopewell
And lastly, here is a video to further show the beauty of this historical gem: