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A Letter from the Pastor to Presbytery

The Crowded Ways of Life
April 14, 2011

During my morning commute to the office, I’m often reminded of the classic Protestant hymn, “Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life,” which lifts up Christ’s presence in the middle of human busyness, commerce, and loneliness. The hymn powerfully reminds us that we are most likely to find Jesus not in some pristine sanctuary, but amid the rough and tumble of life. As Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” (John 1:14)

The reminder comes to me as I descend the hill into the West End, to discover spread out in front of me two major highways pouring their traffic onto a bridge across a river being plied by merchant marine, while on a trestle high above a freight train lumbers along with its massive cargo. And if I raise my eyes still further, I often see a plane on its pathway of descent into Pittsburgh International Airport. This whole scene opens up to the backdrop of Pittsburgh’s Golden Triangle skyline. The world is humming with motion, and I believe Jesus is in the middle of it all. More to the point, he has put us in the middle of it all, to bear witness to his light amid darkness, to resurrection hope amid deathly despair, to wondrous grace amid choking greed, to eternal purpose amid numbing busywork.

God has called us to make a difference in this city with our witness to Jesus Christ. Jesus participated in the religious affairs of his community, but his main work was conducted outside the sanctuary, amid the bustle of daily life. The same should be true of us, yet all too easily we get so caught up with all our ecclesiastical business that we forget the city in which God has placed us.

A few years ago I learned of a new church plant on the west coast that covenanted not to have public worship services for the first five years of its existence. Its leaders believed God had called them to make such a difference in their community that, were the church to pull out, the community would be seriously distressed. And so for the first five years they got involved in the warp and woof of community life, befriending everyone, getting involved with people in need, working tirelessly with schools, organizing their community to improve living conditions. The church plant team met in homes each Lord’s Day, but it was not a public meeting to which they invited others. Only after five years did they begin to hold public worship.

The core question they were invested in was this: “What is a church really for, anyway?” Is the church’s primary purpose to have big worship services on Sunday, or is it to reach the world with the good news of God’s reconciling work in Jesus? Ever since I learned about this church I have been asking myself, what impact would it have on the community were my congregation suddenly to disappear? And now that my parish is an entire county, I ask myself, would Allegheny County notice if Pittsburgh Presbytery closed up shop?

I hope and trust that the answer is a resounding Yes. For that to be so, it must be our first priority always to be engaged with our world in Christ’s mission amid life’s crowded crossways. And thus it is that I have framed my vision statement for our life together: “In a broken and fearful world, Pittsburgh Presbytery joins in covenant life to proclaim the good news of God’s unquenchable love revealed in Jesus Christ.” Our primary location is exactly here: Amid “a broken and fearful world” (a phrase lifted from our “Brief Statement of Faith”). And it is exactly in such a world that the good news of the Gospel is truly good – in Jesus Christ, God heals the broken and gives peace to the fearful. May we never forget just how good this news really is, and how desperately the world needs to hear it.

That the world may know,

The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, Pastor to Pittsburgh Presbytery

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