Mt. Ararat moving to Penn Hills…Still in early phases of building project

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Almost three years after purchasing more than 50 acres of land in the Penn Hills area, the ground that is planned to be the new site for Mount Ararat Baptist Church continues to remain unbroken. Mount Ararat, one of the largest churches in the Pittsburgh and East Liberty area, continues to grow their congregation, and with several services on Sunday, a service Saturday night, Bible studies and other programs, promises that they will not abandon the community that has supported them.

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FUTURE SITE—The land on Universal Road and Main Street will be the future site of Mt. Ararat’s new church.

“We are still in the preliminary phases of the building project. Even if we build a new worship facility in Penn Hills, we still plan on maintaining a strong presence in the East Liberty-Larimer community and neighborhoods,” said Rev. Benjamin Calvert, executive minister of the church and project spokesperson. “It will probably be two or three years before the new facility is built.”

According to the Alle­gheny County Recorder of Deeds website, in August 2007, Mount Ararat purchased more than 50 acres of land for $541,500 on Universal Road and Main Street in Penn Hills. Reverend Calvert said the decision to build a new church was because of space restraints when it comes to seating capacity, classrooms, activities and parking. “We want to relieve the community of the parking (issues that are caused when services and events are held), but also create more designated parking for congregants.”

“We (originally) wanted to stay in the East Liberty-Larimer area,” said Rev. Calvert. He said that five or six years ago, when the church began their search for land with adequate acreage, they looked at the East Liberty-Larimer area and even had a deal with the Urban Redevelopment Authority to buy land in the area. After the deal fell through, they continued their search and when they could not find what they had been looking for, they expanded their search to within five miles of the current church, then 10 miles and that’s when they found the land in Penn Hills.

With the use of a new church, there are several buildings that would be left vacant, including the current church. Reverend Calvert says that since there is no mortgage on the current church, it will give them an opportunity to continue to use the church and continue its significance in the community. Although selling the building could be an option, Rev. Calvert says it is one that has not been talked about at the moment.

One of the greatest concerns for members is transportation. As it stands now, the church is located in a central area that is convenient for drivers, bus riders and walkers. Whereas in Penn Hills there is already a lack of bus service on the weekends, especially Sundays, and with Port Authority’s constant raising of fares and cutting of service, one never knows what to expect.

“We have had limited conversations with Port Authority to see how to run more transportation from East Liberty to Penn Hills, (in conjunction with) our church vans (that are already used),” said Rev. Calvert. “(It is issues like this), which are the reason why we have not rushed into building yet. We are looking at everything and want to make sure all our bases are covered.”

But what Rev. Calvert says people do not realize is that approximately more than 40 percent of the congregation is from the Penn Hills/Monroeville area and that approximately 10-15 percent are from the East Liberty/Larimer area.

He adds that while a lot of the community say it may be a problem or inconvenience, when one looks at the numbers and the break down, it is not so troubling.

While some are concerned about the move, others are embracing it. Nicole Moore, a member of the church for nine years says, “I feel the move would be a benefit to the church. The additional space is much needed. Change can be a very good thing. The move would not be an inconvenience for me. (As far as the distance), if I can drive out to Monroeville or Ross Park to go shopping, I can definitely drive to Penn Hills to worship and fellowship with the Saints of God.”

And when it comes to the residents of Penn Hills and how they feel about a new church in their community, Rev. Calvert says, “there has been no resistance from surrounding neighbors of the new site. It has been more of a welcoming presence. At the zoning meeting, which is open to the public and residents, we had members of the community speak on our behalf.”

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