Sunday, February 5, 2012

Morning Brunch Talk

The Rev. Dean Byrom, our Pastoral Assistant, will be preaching this morning. I, though, have the opportunity to address those who gather at the invitation of our Vestry for a "between the services" brunch and introduction to a time of reflection and discussion about future directions of our life and ministry at St. Andrew's.

The year was 1837. Andrew Jackson had just completed his second term, and in March of that year his Vice President Martin Van Buren would succeed him. “Old Kinderhook,” as some of you will remember. (Al Mann?)

Here in Pittsburgh things were going like gangbusters. What had been a relatively small agricultural and commercial center was expanding rapidly with mining, coal, lumber, glass, new industry, a center for factories, and for transportation, shipping, and the beginnings of a regional railroad system. The jumping off point for the westward movement from the Eastern seaboard, and a center for new immigration from western Europe, and especially Ireland and Germany. The population of Pittsburgh tripled between 1810 and 1830, and it would triple again between 1830 and 1850. (Thank you Wikipedia.)

It was I’m sure, it must have been, an incredibly exciting time and place to live, and perhaps we can catch a glimpse of that in the memory of that small group of families who in 1837 made the decision to move out of their Church home at old Trinity Church and to found a second Episcopal Church in the City of Pittsburgh. 1837.

It was a new season of expansion for the Episcopal Church as well. For a generation or so after the Revolution the Church had been in a convalescent mode. Weakened by the loss of many clergy, who had gone to Canada or back to England, not helped by a lingering association with England in the popular feelings of the day. But by the 1830’s a new generation of missionary leaders, bishops, clergy, lay people in a time of renewal, expansion, rebuilding the Church in the east and moving west into new territory.

In 1837 that was all here, for the new congregation of St. Andrew’s Church. Meeting at first in an auditorium on Penn Avenue. They were building something new, something really exciting. Inspired by the opportunity of mission, building up the Church and making new disciples and sharing Christian witness in this wild and energetic city. Of course they were helping to build a Church for themselves and for their families. But they were investing themselves, their lives and their resources, to be a part of a future that was just beginning to unfold.

There was of course, a great deal that they couldn’t possibly know. Generations of growth for this community as an industrial powerhouse, waves of immigration, new patterns of life. Wars. Booms and depressions.

Certainly they wouldn’t have pictured in 1837 the move that would take place just 65 years later, St. Andrew’s Church, from the center of the City to the rapidly growing East End. Pretty much just farms and orchards out here in 1837.

But for all that, I don’t think they would have been surprised, either. Because they knew that God had great plans for their lives. And I think that in the far distance, all the way back in 1837, they had a glimpse of us here this morning, 175 years later. I think they’d be excited to see who we are, what great things God is doing here in our day, and I think they’d be proud to know that their efforts and investments all those years ago, their hopes and dreams and risk-taking and hard work, had built the foundation for what we are able to do here at St. Andrew’s today.

What is really exciting to me about this moment in our congregational life, for me as your Rector, friend, and as a member of this St. Andrew’s family, is to see how the “spirit of 1837” is still a part of who we are. In the spirit of mission, building up, reaching out in new ways as we grow ourselves in Christian faith and life, and in numbers and resources.

And in our ability not simply to focus on ourselves, but to be looking down the road, to see what new things God has in mind for us next.

And as we think this year about our 175th anniversary, it’s wonderful for me to be with our Vestry over this past year, and so many others in the wider parish, as we celebrate our past, also to be looking to the future, to be thinking about the foundation we are building now for those who will be a part of St. Andrew’s in years to come, and even long after we have gone. Literally and spiritually, for our children and grandchildren. Foundation and infrastructure. Resources for Christian life and ministry. Addressing the challenges and the opportunities that we have in our own day. To restore, to renew, to expand.

Those who will gather here in Brooks Hall in 2037 to celebrate the bicentennial of St. Andrew’s, and who will remember with thanksgiving not only the founders, in 1837, but every generation, including ours, who will have prepared the way for the exciting mission that God will have in mind for them.

That’s broad brush-strokes. Thinking about the future. During the past year Dr. George Knight, Junior Warden emeritus and Chair of our Property Committee, has also at the request of our Vestry been chairing what we've called an "exploratory committee." And I’d like to pass this along to him now for a few words about why were here this morning and what will be coming up for us in the next few weeks and months.

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