“During the past 10 or 15 years, a growing condition and a growing problem have confronted this church. From being a church situated in the center of the resident portion of the city, it became a church situated in the business portion of the city. Its environment, instead of being the abodes of wealth and social influence, has become the abodes of the poor, and in many instances, of the vicious.”
Any guesses where those words came from?
They were said in our church on Palm Sunday, April 16, 1905, by then 38-year-old Maitland Alexander, as First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh dedicated its grand new building. In his sermon, Alexander described the unique legacy of a city’s first church, and how its history informed its mission.
Alexander was realistic about the challenges, too. He said there were, “Thousands of unshepherded children and thousands of nominal Christians, whose real religious vitality is at a low ebb.” It would be, “The aim of this church to get these under its influence and help.”
He had the audacity to expect members to come back to a downtown that had grown dirty, choked with soot from steel mills, trains, and steamboats, driving residents to the suburbs.
In the same Monday, April 17, 1905 issue of the Pittsburgh Gazette that covered the dedication (all the Monday papers included Alexander’s sermon verbatim), there was a story of how police had raided eight “speakeasys” downtown.
We sometimes forget that the drug that devastated cities a hundred years ago was alcohol.
The word that Alexander used to describe the church’s neighborhood was “vicious.”
Surprisingly, Alexander said little about his preaching text, 1 Kings 8:54-56, Solomon’s words at the dedication of the temple in Jerusalem.
Maybe Alexander didn’t need to add anything.
Sometimes God’s word needs no exposition.
“Blessed be the LORD…,” Solomon said, “There hath not failed one word of all his good promise, which he promised by the hand of Moses his servant.”
The neighborhood will change.
Sometimes it might seem “vicious.”
But God’s word never fails.