Church, community members fight to preserve historic retreat

Church, community members fight to preserve historic retreat

HEREFORD TWP., Pa. - A group of church and community members is fighting to save a 136-acre Christian retreat center that's scheduled for auction in Berks County.

For almost a century, the Mensch Mill Conference and Retreat Center in Hereford Township has served as a sacred spot belonging to the United Church of Christ.

"It's been the place that a lot of our children have really deepened in faith, deepened in love for the environment and been called into community and ministry," said UCC Rev. Dr. Deborah Rahn Clemens.

On Wednesday, Clemens met with church and community members to discuss ways to save the property.

"There's nothing we can do through official channels, there's no time. And we don't have the money among the people who have attended the meeting to be a competitive bidder," said Clemens.

Ideally, Clemens said the group will find a buyer interested in preserving the center for church or community use -- a task that the UCC can no longer afford.

It was that reality, paired with declining camp enrollment, that prompted a narrow sale vote among the UCC Pennsylvania Southeast Conference in late 2012.

"It was a two-vote difference," said UCC member Fred Schuetz. "But that two votes was considered sufficient reason to sell."

Now, the property is listed for auction through the Roedig Vesco Commercial Group, scheduled to go up next Wed., May 14. The starting bid is set at $975,000.

A summary on the UCC PSEC website states that 16 potential buyers have registered for the auction so far.

The summary also notes that an offer for $1 million was received and rejected in 2013.

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