One in mission | Linda Valentine
Vision and vitality
Presbytery’s outreach efforts bring new energy to Pittsburgh congregations
Though my frequent travels have taken me to Pittsburgh before, it’s a rare treat to have the opportunity to return to the city this summer for the 220th General Assembly. And no doubt I’ll find changes in Pittsburgh since my last visit. It’s a place where God—and Presbyterians—are “doing a new thing,” to borrow from the prophet Isaiah.
Just as the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus noted the impossibility of stepping into the same river twice, so has this vibrant, vital city continued to flow, to change and to bear the fruit of a mission-driven presbytery’s intentional outreach efforts.
Pittsburgh Presbytery expresses its evangelistic goals simply and directly. “If we truly want to reach the post-Christian West and the growing non-Euro immigrant populations, we must create new churches,” reads the presbytery’s new church development manual. “Church planting is also one of the greatest ways to renew and revitalize existing and established churches because it connects those congregations to the mission of God in their neighborhoods, while fanning into flame the missional Spirit of God in the local congregation. That excitement washes back into the life of the established church.”
As it boldly plants new churches—four in the last five years—the presbytery is indeed finding that its existing congregations are being reenergized. In its upbuilding of the church, Pittsburgh Presbytery embodies the spirit of 1,001 New Worshiping Communities, a movement that we see taking hold in places like Pittsburgh. Of the 1,001 movement, my colleague Roger Dermody, the General Assembly Mission Council’s (GAMC) deputy executive director for mission, has said, “There are very few things that can revitalize an existing fellowship more than starting something new.”
Pittsburgh—in modeling the 1,001 vision—renews my energy as well as my hope for the transformation of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Young adults and new communities
When I can’t visit Pittsburgh, the energy of Pittsburgh visits me in the person of Kears Pollock, an elected member of the GAMC and a ruling elder at Parkwood Church in Allison Park, Pa. Bringing a unique set of gifts and skills to his work on the council, Kears is an attorney, a retired adjunct professor of law and corporate executive, and a partner in two equity investment firms.
Kears, who served in 2009 as moderator of Pittsburgh Presbytery, has been especially vocal in his support of the denomination’s focus on young adults, which along with the 1,001 New Worshiping Communities movement is a priority of the GAMC.
“I’ve said to my friends [that] the largest mission field is always the next generation,” Kears says.
Kears was moderator when the vision for the Upper Room new church development took shape, and he presided and asked the constitutional questions at the ordination of one of its pastors, Michael Gehrling. “Mike Gehrling and Chris Brown felt a call to minister to students at Pitt and Carnegie Mellon,” Kears recalls of Upper Room’s co-pastors. “Their approach was simple. Knowing that graduate students were arriving in Pittsburgh from all over the world, they recruited church members from all over the presbytery to meet new students when they arrived at the airport.”
According to Kears, whenever volunteers offered to help students find an apartment, furniture and where to buy groceries, “Mike was not infrequently asked, ‘Why do these people do this for us?’ To which he would respond, ‘Because they’re Christians.’ ‘What’s that?’ the students asked. That’s the moment where the teaching begins.”
Today, young people who had never heard of Jesus Christ three years ago are actively engaged in Bible study and discipleship, helping newcomers to be introduced to the Christian faith. “It’s the most fantastic story,” says Kears. “The stories from Upper Room tend to be ‘I’ve never heard of this good news before. Tell me more.’ ”
As this General Assembly is inspired by Pittsburgh’s bold witness, may we all dedicate ourselves anew to being the missionary people God has called us to be.