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Trinity United Methodist Church, which includes religious murals on the rear building, was finally sold to Potter's House after it had been threatened with demolition.

Here's my list of the top religion stories for 2012 that involved York County:

1. The gay issue

Congregations struggled again with how gays fit in church throughout 2012. While the Catholic Church and like-minded conservative denominations continued to insist that homosexuality is a sin, others softened their stances.

In July, the Episcopal General Convention approved a churchwide ceremony to bless same-sex couples. The Rev. David Lovelace of St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church in York said he voted in favor of the blessing and will perform it.

In October, Heidelberg United Church of Christ in York voted unanimously to grant full "membership and ministry" rights to gay, bisexual and transgender people.

At the other end of the debate, Guinston Presbyterian Church of Chanceford Township voted 84-0, also in October, to leave Presbyterian Church USA and join the more conservative Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

Guinston joined several other congregations that have left PCUSA in response to its May 2011 decision to lift its explicit prohibition on gay ordination.

2. Declining attendance

A June survey by the Association of Religion Data Archives comparing religious affiliations in 2010 with those in 2000 confirmed a striking decline in church attendance. The number of York County residents who report belonging to a church dropped from 45 percent to just under 39 percent.

The Catholic Church and mainline Protestant churches followed national trends, losing about one in six followers in York County.

The Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg lost more than 2,100 members, or about 6 percent. The drop was greater for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which lost 8,754 members, or nearly 23 percent of its York County membership.

As a result, many clergy members across denominations reported new initiatives to try and recapture some of the lost followers. For example, they have adopted the use of social media and are conducting services in nontraditional sites. The Catholic Church unveiled a national "Theology on Tap" effort in taverns.

Among the winners in the survey were the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which added 861 members in York County, a 48 percent increase.

3. Prudhomme's atheist complaint

Although it happened in Columbia, Lancaster County, the story of the atheist customer who objected to a Sunday discount offer by Prudhomme's Lost Cajun Kitchen ignited a passionate debate among York County residents.

John Wolff of Lancaster County filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission about the 10 percent discount Prudhomme's offers diners who present a church bulletin. He said the practice discriminates against him because he does not attend church.

A settlement was announced by the commission at the end of November.

The one-sentence settlement reads: "Respondent will continue to give a discount for any bulletin from any group oriented around the subject of religious faith, including publications from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, as long as they maintain the Sunday discount program."

An attorney for the restaurant said his client continues to offer the discount.

4. Lives Changed By Christ opens

The megachurch LCBC opened its doors on a new Springettsbury Township satellite church in March.

LCBC, which stands for Lives Changed By Christ, purchased the former Sutliff Saturn dealership at North Hills Road and Route 30 in 2009, paying $3.2 million for the 6.6-acre tract.

Leaders invested $8 million in renovations to convert the existing 22,500-square-foot building, adding 5,000 square feet. The main church campus is in Rapho Township, where York County worshippers formerly drove for Sunday services.

Within days of its first services, the church added a third service to accommodate the crowds. About 1,400 people attend the Springettsbury campus.

Formerly known as the Lancaster County Bible Church, LCBC was named the 38th-largest church in the United States last year by Outreach Magazine.

5. Same-sex marriage passes in Maryland, elsewhere

Maine, Washington and Maryland passed referendums in November allowing same-sex marriage.

The outcomes -- including Minnesota, which voted down a proposal to ban gay marriage -- broke a 32-state streak, dating to 1998, in which gay marriage had been vetoed by voters. Reverberations were felt in Pennsylvania, where many faith officials got involved in the Maryland campaign on both sides.

Nationally, the Catholic Church spent at least $1.1 million on efforts to oppose gay marriage measures in the four states. The referendum outcomes gave Pennsylvania gay marriage backers renewed hope.

Equality Pennsylvania began 2012 playing defense against the proposed "Marriage Protection" amendment that would have defined marriage as "the legal union of only one man and one woman." The House State Government Committee pulled the amendment from consideration in March.

Ted Martin, the executive director of Equality Pennsylvania, called the ballot success elsewhere "a watershed moment" that could lead to same-sex marriage in the Keystone State.

6. Trinity United Methodist Church in York

After being put on the market, threatened to be demolished and put back on the market again, Trinity United Methodist Church was finally sold in August to Potter's House, an independent church in York.

The historic building at 241 E. King St. had been condemned by the city. Sale terms were not disclosed.

For Potter's House, the sale was just the beginning of an ongoing effort to restore the church. Fundraising is under way to pay for the building, the parsonage and extensive repairs needed to make the church habitable.

The structure is in ill repair, its roof trusses separated from the roof. It also needs a new roof, with repairs expected to be in the $500,000 range.

Once the construction is complete, Potter's House plans to turn the building into a place for outreach for the young Hispanic community in that area, said Sue Diaz, who handles fundraising and public relations for Potter's House.

Back in the day, Diaz said, Trinity held Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and day care. And Potter's House has plans to bring that type of outreach back.

7. Katallasso Family Health Center

Early in 2012, Brian Kreeger went public with plans for the nonprofit Katallasso Family Health Center, a Christian-based health clinic.

Volunteers helped renovate a former church at 38 S. Belvidere St. in York for the clinic's home. The center, slated to open this week, will provide health care to low-income residents in a Christian environment, using a mix of paid and volunteer staff.

The total renovation budget was $125,000, Kreeger said, and dozens of volunteers from area churches are helping keep costs in check.

The idea for a health center grew out of discussions Kreeger had with partner Duane Furman over two years ago. They followed up by talking to dozens of community leaders and health-care professionals trying to identify the need and the area.

8. Grace Fellowship Church buys the Shrewsbury Kmart

The long-anticipated purchase of the Kmart in Shrewsbury Township by Grace Fellowship Church was finalized in September, and the church announced plans to convert the space into a community "dream center."

When Grace initially leased the building three years ago, church officials needed space for the 400 people who worshipped every Sunday. That number has since tripled.

Grace paid $2.5 million for the 118,000-square-foot building and nearly 18 acres, purchasing the shopping center from Hill Management in Timonium, Md.

The Rev. Jeff Smith, lead pastor at Grace, said the church wants to turn the property into a "dream center" to serve southern York County. That means partnerships with area churches and nonprofits, such as the Southern York County Pantry.

9. Southern York County church rift

A church rift split the renamed St. Paul Community Church in North Hopewell Township early in 2012.

The dispute boiled over in December 2011 when the Rev. Robert Harry LaForce grabbed a congregant by the arms with force and threatened to slap her. He was later found guilty of harassment.

Various former members have said the congregation is split over control of the church and the controversial methods of the Rev. Howard Edmondson, who declined all requests for comment.

Certified letters were mailed to about 10 worshippers in the spring, informing them they were no longer welcome at St. Paul and that they would be charged with trespassing if they returned.

Brought on board as senior pastor in 2007, Edmondson's hiring meant leaving the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and changing the name from St. Paul Lutheran Church.

Edmondson had been the church's musical director, but he did not have the appropriate academic background required by the Lutheran Church to become a pastor.

10. Maranatha/Abundant Life church merger

Maranatha Church of God in Christ and Abundant Life Ministries, both in York, finalized a merger in May and took a new name: New Covenant Community Church.

Rachel Baxter from Maranatha and Anthony Sease of Abundant Life are co-pastors and deliver Sunday sermons together. Services are being held the first and second Sundays at the South West Street Maranatha church and the third and fourth Sundays at the former Abundant Life church at 701 W. King St.

The pastors say they knew the neighborhood needed a united church in order to promote change more efficiently. The new church plans to be a leader in the community, the pastors said, teaching people life skills they need to be successful and escape poverty.

The new church counts between 150 and 200 members, the pastors said.

@jhilton32; 717-771-2024

By the numbers

Here are the 10 largest religious groups in York County, followed with 2000 figures in parentheses.

  • The Catholic Church: 35,605 members (37,745)
  • Evangelical Lutheran Church in America: 30,170 (38,924)
  • United Methodist Church: 28,904 (31,709)
  • Nondenominational churches: 20,122 (unavailable)
  • United Church of Christ: 14,750 (19,944)
  • Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.): 3,940 (6,339)
  • Assemblies of God: 3,368 (3,127)
  • Church of the Brethren: 3,189 (4,031)
  • Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: 2,677 (1,816)
  • Southern Baptist Convention: 2,505 (3,179)

Source: The Association of Religion Data Archives