Renovation project underway at Franklin’s St. John’s church

As Christians celebrate the Easter season of renewal, St. John’s Episcopal Church in Franklin has begun a renewal and remodel of the floor of the church nave to improve accessibility to all.

The Rev. Shawn Clerkin, vicar at St. John’s, said the remodeling of the nave floor will include lowering the pews to the level of the rest of the floor, spacing them slightly farther apart, and adding more areas throughout the church to accommodate people in wheelchairs.

“We want to make the church more accessible, safer and a little more comfortable,” he said.

“It’s an unusual construction,” Clerkin said of the raised pews. “The pews have a step up, and we’ve noticed that there have been a few stumbles over the years. There’s also dark carpet underneath, making the step hard to see.”

The pews will be lowered to the same level as the aisles, he said, and the dark carpet under them will be replaced by new vinyl flooring resembling gray-tone wood. However, he emphasized the church will keep the historic 1901 Italian tile that paves the church aisles.

“We can’t match the tiles themselves from 1901, but the vinyl will match the tile colors,” he said.

The existing pews, which Clerkin said are currently “close together,” will also be spaced about two inches farther apart so people can navigate them more easily, and the first row of pews will be moved back a row to provide more space at the front of the church.

Clerkin said the spacing would cause the church to lose a few rows, but “not many.”

Some of the shorter pews at the back of the church will be moved to the middle of the church to give more options to people who are in wheelchairs, as well.

“Before, those with wheelchairs could only sit at the very front and the very back,” he said. “Now we’re adding places in the middle of the church where they can sit, off the center aisle.”

And the baptismal font at the back corner of the church will be moved closer to the rear door of the church, which will make it more visible to the entire congregation since it will no longer be behind a pillar, he said.

Work began Monday, and Clerkin said it is being funded through a combination of a New Development grant from the Episcopal Diocese of Northwest PA, donations from Grace Lutheran Church, which is currently using St. John’s space for worship as well, and donations from the congregation and others, as well as memorial funds that are dedicated to church maintenance.

“People have been very generous,” Clerkin said.

The work should be finished in another two to three weeks, he added.

St. John’s, which will celebrate its 200th anniversary in 2026, is home to one of the few remaining complete church sets of Tiffany stained-glass windows in the country, featuring 30 windows crafted by the renowned Tiffany Studios of New York City.

Clerkin said the changes are something the church has “talked about for a while.”

Some opposition has been voiced to the changes because it will make the church “different from what it was,” he added, which “I understand,” he said.

However, he said the changes will make the church more accessible to congregants and visitors.

Clerkin remarked that the historic church is a “community treasure” and, in a sense, belongs to the people of Franklin.

“That’s one of the reasons we wanted to do these renovations,” he said.