Thursday, December 12, 2013

Shuttered church in Sheppton getting new life

(Standard Speaker) - A shuttered church could get new life in Sheppton.

A Russian Orthodox Rite congregation in Mayfield bought an historic Russian Orthodox church in Sheppton that closed down years ago. They plan to make it usable sometime in the future for possibly a Russian Orthodox parish.

The church is located on West Market Street in Sheppton and, according to East Union Township resident John Biros, services haven't been conducted there in more than 20 years.

Biros said he and his wife, Ann, purchased the church with the intention of perhaps building a home on the property, but once inside something told him not to demolish the old church because it was so beautiful.

"It was not heated but it somehow withstood the elements after it went out of service and it was preserved," Biros said. "It was just amazing how beautiful it was inside."

Schuylkill County records indicate that Biros purchased the church in 1999 for $5,000 and sold it for $30,000 in 2003 to the Russian Orthodox Church in Mayfield.

Father John Sorochka of St. John the Baptist Cathedral in Mayfield used those same words to describe what he saw when he went inside with then-owner John Biros. He had contacted Biros about his parish wanting to buy the church and was struck with how well preserved the church was after all the years had passed.

"We were very much surprised how beautiful the inside of the church was," Father Sorochka said.

The Russian Orthodox parish in Mayfield and some local volunteers intend to restore the church so that at least a service could be conducted in it from time to time, Father Sorochka said.

About five years ago, Father Sorochka 71, and a few of those volunteers put a new roof on the church to stop any rain or water from leaking into the structure and he said the outside needs a new coat of paint.

"The inside needs some cosmetic work but it is a very solid church," Father Sorochka said. "Outside the church looks rustic."

He noted that some paper print icons were found inside with "vibrant," original colors that are more than 100 years old.

"There is a chandelier missing but the altar is there and again it is surprisingly in good shape considering the years that have passed since a service was held inside it," he said.

Biros bought the church 14 years ago and his only stipulation in selling was that it remain a church, according to Father Sorochka. The parish didn't hesitate to buy it.

"Just from a historic aspect it is believed to be one of the first, if not the first Russian Orthodox Church in the area, its very important," Father Sorochka said. " The cornerstone of the church is marked 1891."

The county records indicate the church was officially built in 1894.

The Russian Orthodox Church in Mayfield has almost 800 parishioners and in two years St. John The Baptist will celebrate its 125th anniversary, Father Sorochka said. The congregation may look into having the Sheppton church added to the Schuylkill County Historical Register.

"Our position is that we want to get the Sheppton church in usable condition to where it can have a service once a month," Father Sorochka said. He added, "It's cost a few dollars, so far. The roof was most expensive and, you know, the cosmetic things, like the grass has to be cut and maintained each year."

Father Sorochka said if anyone would like to donate money toward getting the outside of the church painted they can contact St. John The Baptist Cathedral in Mayfield at 570-876-0730.

"Its part of the history of that town, so, for that reason alone in addition to the spiritual aspect," he said. "This is the actual motivation to restore a landmark church in Sheppton."

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