On June 20, when McLaughlin Run flooded low-lying areas of Bridgeville and Upper St. Clair, the First Baptist Church of Bridgeville, on Bower Hill Road, was all but destroyed. Floors, ceilings, walls, furniture, and belongings like choir robes and Bibles were ruined. Floodwaters got under the basement flooring, seeping into the earth below and causing walls to buckle. Pastor Flo Demus says, “The smell is unbelievable.” The mainly African American congregation has been in existence for 115 years, but the flood damage is an enormous blow to both morale and finances.
Bower Hill Church received a call from Rev. Liddy Barlow, who directs Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania—the local office of the National Council of Churches. Rev. Barlow asked if we might have space that could be used temporarily by First Baptist. The request came just prior to our June session meeting, so I asked Pastor Demus to come and see some of the lesser-used rooms in the south wing of our building. With her came Deacon Ray. (A deacon is the Baptist equivalent to a Presbyterian ruling elder.) Deacon Ray reminisced fondly about the days when he and his friends used to walk up to Bower Hill Church from Bridgeville for our raucous Thursday night dances. The pastor and deacon agreed that our chapel was the perfect size for their congregation, which meets at 11:00 a.m. on Sundays, 7:00 p.m. on Wednesdays, and holds choir practice at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays. (Friday evening choir practice? That’s commitment!) Pastor Demus said, “We can be flexible, but it would be good for morale if we could keep all the programs running the same as before.” They also asked for the use of a few classrooms that we do not use during the summer months.
On June 25, session unanimously and enthusiastically agreed to help our neighbors in need. We do not know how long First Baptist will be using our building, but the relationships we build now may last many years into the future. If their stay extends into the fall, we will have to negotiate some space-sharing in the south wing—which is the least we can do. There are three additional rooms at that end of the building that are never used except when we host Family Promise, not to mention the now-vacant Braillist rooms in the north end. In the meantime, let’s see this as an opportunity to be in relationship with fellow Christians whom we would otherwise never get to know. I’ve encouraged members of First Baptist to show up a little early for worship so that they can join us for coffee hour. Make an effort to introduce yourself and strike up conversations. Pastor Demus and I are working to come up with ways that we might occasionally worship together, do mission together, and perhaps engage in educational events together. She was enthusiastic about helping with various missions of our church, and thought it might be a good experience for her church members to host a meal for Family Promise. Do you have any ideas about these things?
Our building was erected in the days of the thriving institutional church. It was meant to be a thing of beauty, pointing the soul toward higher truths than the earthly. But more than that, it was intended to be a tool for ministry and mission. Despite the growth and increased youthfulness of our congregation, the building has sometimes felt a bit unwieldy in recent years. But this is an opportunity to do real ministry with the physical resources we’ve inherited. Please join the session and me in making our new friends feel welcome at Bower Hill Church.
Yours in Christ, ~Brian