Christian school proposed for closed Reading church

READING — A Christian school seeking to open in a large former church is scheduled to make a proposal before the city Zoning Hearing Board Wednesday night.

Arrows Christian Academy bought the former St. Mark’s Evangelical and Reformed Church at 211 W. Greenwich St. for $250,000 on Dec. 8, according to city property transfer records.

The new school would have eight classrooms, two offices, an auditorium, library and playground, with a commercial kitchen that would be used as a cafeteria. The church also has a full attic and basement, Arrows Administrator Loren Yoder said.

“You can see the amazing work they did there,” Yoder said, referring to St. Mark’s.

The academy is seeking special exception approval to establish a school in an existing church. The property is in the R-3 Residential Zoning District.

David Hollenbach, a former member of the consistory at St. Mark’s, said the church in the 1960s boasted Reading’s largest membership, with more than 1,600, and recently celebrated its 129th anniversary. But over the years, attendance had dwindled, and in recent years was only 20-25 people a week.

The membership voted in November 2020 to wind down operations and put the building up for sale in February 2021. In July, it held its final services in the building.

Arrows Christian’s website says it will open with the 2022-23 school year on Aug. 16 and be a K-12 building, with an optional preschool.

“Lord willing,” Yoder said.

Its instruction will be in traditional classroom settings, taught by salaried and volunteer teachers, with small class sizes, the website says.

It’s now enrolling kindergarten through fifth grade.

In a video on the website, Arrows Christian Academy Administrator Kevin Martin said, “our vision is to provide a Christian school alternative for families living in the city of Reading. We firmly believe that as followers of Jesus, that that should impact all areas of our life.”

Martin said both he and his wife have taught in the Reading School District, “and so we both have kind of a first-hand experience with some of the both academic struggles that the school district is experiencing, but also some of the moral and cultural decline that also is happening within the public school system. So we’re excited about the opportunity to offer a Christian school alternative.”

The website says the school would be funded through tuition as well as an endowment fund and grants. It says tuition will be “well below average for private school education.”

In another video on the website, Arlen King, principal of the Fairview Christian School, a 45-year-old parochial school on South 14th Street in the southeastern part of Reading, noted that enrollment at that school is at its maximum with 150 students.

“And as you can see, the city of Reading is a big place and there are many needs,” King said. “And we are very, very excited about Arrows Christian Academy and their vision to bring even more quality education to the city of Reading.”

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