Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community strives to be authentic, not unique
June 6, 2016
What do you get when you have two college friends with backgrounds in theater and combine that with degrees in ministry? Simply put, you have the Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community in Pittsburgh.
Pastors Jeff Eddings and Jim Walker teamed up to create Hot Metal Bridge, a congregation that offers a “narrative style of worship that shares the story of God through drama and the arts, as well as traditional forms of worship.” Located in the South Side neighborhood of Pittsburgh since 2004, Hot Metal Bridge is affiliated with both the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the United Methodist Church. But Hot Metal Bridge is more than a church that provides worship in the forms of plays and music; it is also a key component in the community, offering meals twice a week plus a homeless ministry on Saturdays.
“When we started this, there was the whole emergent church thing, and we kind of got labeled in that,” Eddings said. “We had all of these punk rock kids, and we did a Bible study in a tattoo shop. We were the cool kid on the block. You can get caught up in that, trying to be the unique church. I’m not worried if we’re unique or not. I’m worried if we’re authentic. I hope that more than unique, we’re being an authentic church, because that’s what I’ve seen draws people over the years.”
Both Eddings and Walker had been doing youth ministry in United Methodist churches and attended Pittsburgh Theological Seminary together. They had similar interests in theater and had teamed up to put on shows in churches. Then in 2002, they hatched the idea of a different style of worship and began holding monthly services for two years before starting Hot Metal Bridge. The twosome approached some people from the seminary who were involved with the PC(USA)’s New Church Development ministry about their idea. That led to Eddings’ being ordained Presbyterian, which fit well with Walker’s Methodist background.
“From the beginning we said this needs to be an ecumenical adventure,” Eddings said. “Some people are more drawn to a church pulling together than a church pulling apart.”
The two pastors then approached Pittsburgh Presbytery and enrolled in a church planting evaluation. Don Dawson, who chaired the evaluation committee, told the two that the presbytery would support their congregation.
“Don just said, ‘We see the Holy Spirit at work,’” Eddings said. “‘It’s not necessarily just you guys; we see the Holy Spirit is moving, and we want to join with where the Spirit is moving.’”
They then set up a church in the South Side of Pittsburgh, a neighborhood that had been a thriving steel-mill area. The neighborhood included a bridge that had been used to transport steel; it was known as Hot Metal Bridge. The church, which started in a Goodwill cafeteria, was located just three blocks from the bridge—thus the congregation’s name.
“The bridge imagery worked for us,” Eddings said. “We wanted to be a bridge to God for people through Jesus Christ.”
The church building moved a block closer to the bridge in 2007, when it purchased a restaurant/bar location. It holds the 150 to 200 people who turn out on a Sunday morning to hear a sermon by one of the pastors or come to see some other expression of the gospel. “We still do some drama—we do a little bit less now—but we still try to do other creative things,” Eddings said. “We have a lot of artists in the community.”
One example came recently during a series on the Sermon on the Mount. As people were speaking about the Scripture, a local artist could be seen painting a picture of Jesus with the disciples. The painting took about six weeks to complete and coincided with the sermon series.
“It was very cool to have him in the background painting during the service,” Eddings said. “So we try to find creative ways to interact; we try to be very participatory to get people involved with our music. We try not to make it a one-person show.”
Eddings admits that the dramas and other programs have their share of glitches. However, putting on a flawless presentation is simply not what Sunday mornings are about at Hot Metal Bridge.
“We’re not slick. We never had slick PowerPoints,” he said. “The dramas are not slick productions either. Sometimes people are holding the scripts in their hand because we just created something a little earlier that morning. We started out trying to appeal to a younger generation but found out that when you’re authentic, everyone is hungering for that.”
Michael Givler, Synod Communications Director
Let us join in prayer for:
Sheldon Sorge, General Minister
Beverly James, Associate Minister for Discipleship
Ayana Teter, Associate Minister for Outreach
Carla Campbell, Stated Clerk
Betty Angelini, Executive Director, Crestfield
Roy Burford, Business Administrator
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray
Gracious God, you have given us gifts to share and strength to serve you faithfully. Amen.