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Pastor’s Message – January 2019

~ Former Days and Future Days ~

“Say not, ‘Why were former days better than these?’

For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.”

Dear Members and Friends,

Happy 2019 to you!  The world keeps a-turning at the same speed as ever, never slowing, never stopping, never pausing to cast a backward glance at where it’s been.  The ancient globe we call our home spins forever eastward, “while Earth rolls onward into light,” as the old evening hymn tells it.  Our world moves only forward but never arrives at anyplace new.  It’s a curious journey that only takes us where we’ve already been, at least in terms of our geophysical location in the galaxy.  We’re still no further from Mars than we were in 2018, and no closer.  And yet, one predictable trek around the same old star, the sun, has all the makings of another year—full of possibility, and promise, and hope.  Now for another loop, the same but different.

There’s been much to celebrate at Bower Hill Church in 2018, where we saw seven baptisms, ten new members, a very enthusiastic confirmation class, and several exciting new initiatives.  The First Baptist Church of Bridgeville—one of the oldest black churches in the South Hills—has been meeting in our chapel since their own building was destroyed in a June flood.  While we grieve for the trauma that our Baptist friends have endured, we rejoice over the new friendship that is developing between our congregations.  How did it take a natural disaster to bring us together?  We hope to hold a joint worship service on January 20.  Also in 2018, we hosted Unity of Voices, an outdoor sing-along for peace and unity.  About 250 people attended, and we have been asked to make it an annual affair.  How would you count the number of people we served last year, in Christ’s name, through our work in Haiti, and the Pittsburgh Project, and Family Promise, and Produce to People, and Hekima Place, and the Diaper Bank, and all the many unsung missions undertaken by members of our church?  We will never know how many souls were moved or inspired by our worship in 2018, or how many minds were urged on to new places in discipleship or wisdom by our educational events.  In what ways has your life been enriched by spending 2018 with Bower Hill Church?  We pursue our calling from year to year not just because we love our church, though we do.  We come together as a church for the sake of One whose presence we’ve known here.  Sometimes in the shared life of this community, we’ve caught a vision of the living Christ.  Sometimes in the mission work of this church, we’ve been visited with an awareness of God’s presence in the stranger.  Sometimes in the joy of song, and sacrament, and the word proclaimed, we’ve caught glimpses (however brief) of a world that’s meant to be—that kingdom for which we pray.  And it keeps us coming back, year after year, making the same annual-and-yet-eternal journey that’s different every time.

It’s common in church circles to bemoan the passing of the glory years, that churchly gilded age when pews were packed and seven baptisms might take place in a single Sunday.  It does sound like an exciting time, but really?  A polite, socially-established religion cannot be what Jesus had in mind.  The Jesus way has never been a majority movement.  Many a church has grown by parroting the values of its society.  But more faithful and more exciting by far is to speak truth into the world’s lies, hope to its despair, moderation to its greed, healing to its war and pain.  It’s better now, in the 21st century, being church in an age when faith is no longer a social expectation, but a radical life choice.  We’re living into our identity, our calling to be an utterly alternative kind of people, ruled by a different ethos, faithful to a different vision.  The call is always forward, through the darkness, into light.  Despite the anxieties of our age, 2018 was better than 2017.  And 2019 is poised to be better yet.

In Christ’s Peace,


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