A church that has stood in East Finley Township for nearly 180 years will soon go to auction and be torn down, but some hope to preserve the building.
Pleasant Grove Baptist Church, located at the intersection of Pleasant Grove and Chapel Hill roads, was built in 1840, and is currently owned by the Pleasant Grove Cemetery Association.
The cemetery association, which tends to the cemetery across the street from the church, is auctioning off the building and its contents – including its pews and tables – through auctioneer Randy Shook at 6 p.m. June 13 at the church. The buyer will then be responsible for tearing down the church within 45 days of the sale.
The auction will include a short service and a monetary collection to benefit the McGuffey Area Food Bank.
A majority of the cemetery association’s 10-person board recently voted to approve the auction. However, brothers Jay and Mark Plants, who sit on the board, believe their fellow board members are moving too quickly.
“They were handed (the church) for free. They never talked about auctioning it off. We expressed interest in buying it and turning it into a community hall,” said Jay, 49, of East Finley Township.
The church had been owned by the American Baptist Churches of Pennsylvania and Delaware. Washington County property records show the organization sold the building to the cemetery association for $1 on Dec. 3, 2018.
According to Mark, though the Baptist group turned over the church for practically nothing, they kept the gas drilling royalties.
“It’s structurally sound,” said Mark, 61, of Augusta, Ga., “We were thinking about doing a feasibility study, ask the community if they have any interest in it.”
Larry Sprowls, also a board member and uncle of Mark and Jay, supports the cemetery association’s plans, saying it’s a financial issue, and that it could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to fix and maintain the church.
“It all boils down to who has the money to take care of it,” Sprowls said. “My position is to take care of that money, not to waste it on something we have no use for.”
For the Plants brothers, the church holds a deep, familial connection.
Their grandmother, 103-year-old Mary Jane Sprowls, was on the Pleasant Grove Cemetery Association board for more than 40 years.
Sprowls lives in Shenandoah, Va., but lived in East Finley for much of her life.
“I know that a lot of people are going to be sad because of memories,” Sprowls said. “My mother found Jesus Christ as her savior there. ... I’ve lived there over 100 years.”
Both Sprowls and Mark Plants indicated that the board is interested in having the property the church stands on become a parking lot for the cemetery, which neither believes is necessary.
“Count how many graves are there. There are only nine plots left to be sold,” Sprowls said.
Sprowls also saw three of her children marry at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church, including Jay and Mark’s mother, Betty Ann Plants.
“My grandfather wouldn’t have wanted this church torn down,” Mark said. “It seems like anything you can do to help the community is a plus. ...There is no monetary gain for me. It’s all about the culture. I don’t know what the hurry is.”