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2017-06-01 / Features

Capturing the Light

R. Thomas Berner

When I first started photographing churches in Centre County, I was surprised at how many there were — and that was just in the phonebook. As I drove around the county checking out barns for a tour next year, I discovered churches not in the book.

While the more than 100 listed churches are mostly Christian, they do represent a broad range of beliefs. Lutherans and Methodists dominate the list.

The real challenge, though, is figuring out how to photograph each church so the photographs don’t become repetitive.

In addition to shooting only on sunny days — and preferably with lots of cumulus clouds to satisfy my cloud fetish — I also came across one unique setting courtesy of serendipity.

We had just enjoyed Calendar Girls at the Nittany Theatre at the Barn in Boalsburg and, wanting to get back on Route 322 with the help of a signal, I drove down Church Street to Main Street and discovered that the Zion Lutheran Church was lit up. I returned a couple of times with my tripod to get some nocturnal photos. You might say I went from the profane to the sacred.

The United Methodist Church on 550 in Benner Township was a challenge until I took my wife’s advice and photographed it from a field below, enabling me to get some unique shots that included snow, clouds and sunsets.

When I first began photographing churches, I thought that because I had restricted myself to Centre County, I could complete the project in short order. Alas, with only about a fifth of the churches photographed, I’m already into my second year and will probably be photographing for at least one more.


Trinity United Church of Christ in Centre HallTrinity United Church of Christ in Centre Hall

Brit Shalom. Congregation Brit Shalom moved into its current building on Hamilton Avenue in 1965. In 1983, an expansion provided a 200-seat sanctuary, a library and additional classrooms.Brit Shalom. Congregation Brit Shalom moved into its current building on Hamilton Avenue in 1965. In 1983, an expansion provided a 200-seat sanctuary, a library and additional classrooms.

Curtin United Methodist Church. Dedicated in 1805, the Curtin United Methodist Church, previously known as the Bald Eagle Chapel, was threatened with flooding by the construction of Sayers Dam in 1963.Curtin United Methodist Church. Dedicated in 1805, the Curtin United Methodist Church, previously known as the Bald Eagle Chapel, was threatened with flooding by the construction of Sayers Dam in 1963.

Egg Hill Church. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, Egg Hill Church in Potter Township was built in 1860 and is reputed to be haunted.Egg Hill Church. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, Egg Hill Church in Potter Township was built in 1860 and is reputed to be haunted.

Grace Lutheran Church. Once located on the corner of College Avenue and Atherton Street, the iconic “Dorito Church” moved to its current location in 1965. Architect Harold E. Wagoner modeled the design after Le Corbusier’s Chapelle Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp, France.Grace Lutheran Church. Once located on the corner of College Avenue and Atherton Street, the iconic “Dorito Church” moved to its current location in 1965. Architect Harold E. Wagoner modeled the design after Le Corbusier’s Chapelle Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp, France.

Rock Hill Church. Built in 1897, the Dubsite Evangelical Church, more commonly know as the Rock Hill Church, is part of the Linden Hall Historic District. Rock Hill Church. Built in 1897, the Dubsite Evangelical Church, more commonly know as the Rock Hill Church, is part of the Linden Hall Historic District.

St. John’s Episcopal Church in Bellefonte. Dedicated in 1871, St. John’s records show a request for steam heat to be added to the building in 1884. That same year, the Edison Electric Illuminating Company built a plant in Bellefonte and installed electric lights in the church for $40.St. John’s Episcopal Church in Bellefonte. Dedicated in 1871, St. John’s records show a request for steam heat to be added to the building in 1884. That same year, the Edison Electric Illuminating Company built a plant in Bellefonte and installed electric lights in the church for $40.

Union Church and Burial Ground. The unusual plaster and clay stucco covering this Philipsburg church led to the nickname “Old Mud Church,” which was rebuilt in 1842. The cemetery contains the “Founder’s Oak,” which is more than 300 years old.Union Church and Burial Ground. The unusual plaster and clay stucco covering this Philipsburg church led to the nickname “Old Mud Church,” which was rebuilt in 1842. The cemetery contains the “Founder’s Oak,” which is more than 300 years old.

Gatesburg Lutheran Church. Gatesburg Lutheran parishioners celebrated the church’s centennial in 2013 with the opening of the vault in one of the original cornerstones.Gatesburg Lutheran Church. Gatesburg Lutheran parishioners celebrated the church’s centennial in 2013 with the opening of the vault in one of the original cornerstones.

Spring Mills Faith United Methodist ChurchSpring Mills Faith United Methodist Church

Buffalo Run Church. The Buffalo Run United Methodist Charge runs services at three churches each Sunday — first at Fillmore, then Valley View and finally here, at Buffalo Run Church.Buffalo Run Church. The Buffalo Run United Methodist Charge runs services at three churches each Sunday — first at Fillmore, then Valley View and finally here, at Buffalo Run Church.

Grace Chapel in LivoniaGrace Chapel in Livonia

Zion Lutheran Church in Boalsburg. Originally a stone structure built in 1825, the current brick church was built in 1868. Zion Lutheran Church in Boalsburg. Originally a stone structure built in 1825, the current brick church was built in 1868.

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