Dear Friends and Members,
As always, I enter into this New Year with deep thankfulness for Emsworth U.P. Church and the opportunity I have been given to serve as your pastor. After nearly three years of ministry together, I am still learning about the many gifts all of you bring to our work in fulfilling God’s call to be the hands and feet of Christ in our community.
This year marked the death of one of our beloved, long-time members, B.J. Robertson. B.J. was so much a part of this congregation’s heart and she is so missed by all of us. I know that this year has marked other personal transitions for many of you – some painful and some filled with joy. As a small community of faith, we are privileged to share these burdens and these celebrations with one another, and keep each other in prayer.
I’d like to just touch upon some of the more hopeful events of this past year.
At the end of 2012, we received a grant from Pittsburgh Presbytery to repurpose a portion of our parking lot to create a prayer garden and labyrinth. That project is now well underway, with the first phase scheduled to be completed by Easter of this year. What has been so gratifying about this work is the community support we have received. The garden team has gone out to a number of community events this year to talk with our neighbors and get them excited about the project.
The new “branch” model in Pittsburgh Presbytery is up and running, and I am convinced that this offers a great opportunity for mission partnerships between Presbyterian churches serving in nearby neighborhoods. I am working with 4 other West Branch pastors (including the new pastor at Community Presbyterian Church in Ben Avon) to develop imaginative mission opportunities for our congregations. My hope is to involve other pastors and congregations from churches in Emsworth, Ben Avon, Avalon, Bellevue and other communities in the North Boroughs.
In terms of mission, we have developed new relationships with local non-profits such as the Shepherd’s Door in Bellevue, and strengthened our relationship with Meals on Wheels. We have responded to natural disasters around the world with donations to Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, and continue to provide support to the Malawi/South Sudan Partnership of Pittsburgh Presbytery and the jail ministry at the County Jail. The Advent Conspiracy was a great success for a third straight year, with significant donations going to Meals on Wheels, World Vision, and young adults served by Family Services of Western Pa.
We have created new opportunities for fellowship on Sunday mornings with our coffee hour before worship, and we purchased new Presbyterian hymnals this fall to enhance our worship experience. We have welcomed a diverse group of guest preachers over this year including folks involved in exciting new church developments in Homewood and Hazelwood. We have tackled difficult issues like poverty and hunger in our Sunday school classes, and continued energetic Bible studies at our midweek gatherings.
In the fall, three determined members – Joe Maguire, Paul Zende and Marge Williams completely renovated our two basement restrooms. So many thanks to them for an incredible job! We continue to find ways to update our facilities so that our church space is as welcoming as possible.
All of this work is made possible through your financial support and your prayers, as well as efforts of our church officers, and the great faithfulness of our staff – Marti, Cindy and Paul.
There is no question that this is a challenging time for all churches, large and small. Every pastor and church I know is asking the same questions about finances, viability, and what the future may look like for mainline denominations like the PC(USA). I wish I could tell you that I have the answers to these big questions. I don’t. What I can promise you is that I will continue to work with you to find ways in which we can be faithful to God’s claim upon us as God’s people. I will continue to seek out points of connection in which we can respond to Christ in our midst with other people of faith.
My prayer is that we will face 2014 with confidence that God is with us in all things, and that we can serve Jesus Christ fearlessly and creatively, knowing that our future as individuals, families, and as a church is in God’s hands.
As we gather together to ordain and install our church officers for 2014, and enjoy our congregational meeting/lunch, let us all remember this day and every day why we have been called to this place:
Today we all are called to be Disciples of the Lord,
To help to set the captive free, make plowshare out of sword,
To feed the hungry, quench their thirst, make love and peace our fast,
To serve the poor and homeless first, our ease and comfort last.
-- Glory to God Hymnal, #757 “Today We All Are Called to Be Disciples”
Blessings and peace,