The 202-year-old First Presbyterian Church will leave downtown Reading, becoming the latest city church to either move or make other adjustments because of dwindling numbers, financial pressures or changing demographics.
First Presbyterian Church members, who have been struggling with the decision for several months, voted 84 to 31 on Sunday in favor of moving, church leaders confirmed. Founded in 1814, the church at 37 S. Fifth St. is the only Presbyterian church within the city limits. It lists a membership of about 300.
“This has been a significant decision for our congregation, and we have tried to confront it positively and the best way we can,” said the Rev. Dr. David Watson, interim pastor. “As you can imagine, this is an issue that has caused great anxiety, and we have talked about it and prayed a lot.
Watson pointed to declining membership, financial concerns and fears of not surviving into the next decade as prompting the vote to move.
Watson said two committees have been established, one to look for a new suburban location and a second to determine what the move will mean in terms of ministry and how to use the present building. A decision has not been made on whether to sell the church, he said.
First Presbyterian is owned by the Lehigh Presbytery.
“I don’t think any of us really favor the move, but enough of the congregation realize the move is necessary given who we are and where we have been,” said Donald Stevens of Cumru Township, secretary of the First Presbyterian trustees. “I don’t believe the congregation wishes to move so much as it feels it is necessary.”