Suburban congregation bought downtown church for second service

From June’s InterConnections feature story, now online at

The 9 and 11 a.m. services at the Unitarian Church of Harrisburg, Pa., are 4.3 miles apart. At 9 a.m. part of the congregation gathers at the church’s longtime suburban location on Clover Lane, tucked in between a housing tract and two hotels. Then at 11 a.m. a larger part of the congregation gathers for worship at a big, old, red brick church building on Market Street near downtown Harrisburg. The congregation bought the building three years ago to relieve overcrowding at its suburban building. At a price of $111,000 plus $340,000 for renovations, it was a better deal than the congregation’s other prospect—raising six to eight million for a new building.

In May the congregation completed nine months of holding weekly services in both buildings—and nine months of deep engagement with its new neighborhood. In addition to the overcrowding issue, a desire to do more social justice work was a big reason for buying the building, said the Rev. Howard Dana, the church’s senior minister.

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New building made possible by recycling, volunteers

When the Unitarian Universalist Church in Eugene, Ore., went in search of a new building for its growing congregation, it wanted to make sure that its move upheld its green values. Long story short: The congregation bought a Scottish Rite building, then deconstructed the interior.

In the process it recycled 75 to 85 percent of the waste, according to Ed Zack, volunteer project manager for the congregation. That included removing and stripping wiring to resell the metals, salvaging thousands of board feet of oak flooring, finding a buyer for 140 theater seats, and dismantling a fire sprinkler system so its parts could be used by a contractor to install a new system.

The congregation estimates it saved more than a half million dollars through its recycling efforts. More than 150 of its 350 members worked on the site, including a crew that provided snacks and cooked for the volunteers and hired contractors.

The building itself was made energy-efficient with better insulation, lighting, and 43 skylights with louvers to control the building’s temperature. A more complete article with photos is at