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A Letter from the Associate Minister for Discipleship to Pittsburgh Presbytery

Shadows in the Sanctuary
August 15, 2013

I was visiting a congregation in our presbytery recently and was startled to see the large shadow of a person falling across the front wall of the sanctuary during worship.  The sudden appearance of a giant human form reminded me of making a huge shadow hand on the ceiling of the bedroom using a flashlight. It was distracting enough that I turned around to see who was casting the shadow.

A woman was standing in the doorway of the church and the bright summer sunshine was creating her tall shadow for all to see. In a few moments, she moved on; she did not enter the sanctuary to join us in worship.

After worship, I commented on this peculiar shadowy presence to the pastor. She said that when the doors are open wide, people often pause, look in, cast their forms on the front wall if it is sunny----and move on. Like moths drawn to a flame or a light, these observers come close, seeking warmth and light, perhaps, but do not step across the threshold. Yet their very long shadows are cast in our midst.

Sometimes we speak of the “balcony people,” who are the saints who from their labors rest, but are still, from their heavenly perches, watching over us and cheering us on. We can look at the pews and seats in any sanctuary and remember those who used to sit there but have now gone home to God. Sometimes we can almost see them!

We also speak of the “unchurched” folks we long to reach, or the visitors we are expecting. All churches consider themselves friendly and welcoming and want to add to their number. Yet we are painfully aware that many of our congregations are not growing.

That fleeting unknown shadow on the sanctuary wall reminded me of all those people seeking yet not finding connection to God and the community of Jesus Christ which is the Church. Augustine wrote: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

We are told often that people today are longing for connection, collaboration, and community. They are near us and around us, casting shadows in our midst. God may be using our open doors to call people to faith. But we need to find ways to bring people across the threshold.

In Scripture, shadows are most often associated with God’s shelter and protection. In Psalm 91:1, we read, “You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.’”

Let us together proclaim in every way we can, using any and every gift God gives us, which the sheltering shadow of our God falls across all creation, and calls us to a common, abundant, and purposeful life in churches all across our Pittsburgh Presbytery.


The Rev. Dr. Beverly W. James, Associate Minister for Discipleship to Pittsburgh Presbytery

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