Silent sanctuary?

Five years ago, the Dormont Community Presbyterian Church, once a thriving congregation in the South Hills of Pittsburgh, closed. The property was acquired by North Way Christian Community. North Way is an evangelical congregation in the North Hills of Pittsburgh, 25 miles away. Today, the former Dormont church is a thriving North Way campus. (What once was the Dormont United Methodist Church is now a Buddhist Temple.)

A couple years ago, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette did a photo essay on two dozen churches in Allegheny county that had closed, with many of the buildings falling into decay. Dormont was one of the few to find new purpose.

(To see the photo essay, Google “Post-Gazette Silent Sanctuaries.”)

What happened? In every case, the neighborhood changed.

The mill closed and the workers moved away; a tight-knit immigrant community dispersed over time; the white middle class moved to the suburbs. Then people with different ethnic, racial, or economic backgrounds moved in.

The church was no longer ministering to its neighbors.

A stalwart generation kept the church going as long as it could, but then a big bill came due; the roof needed to be replaced; and that was that. The Rev. Dr. Sheldon Sorge, general minister for the Pittsburgh Presbytery, said the [Dormont] Presbyterian church reached a similar point as many congregations in changing neighborhoods. “They’re good people; they just didn’t have the energy to reach into a new community.”

Well, our church just got a report from a roof consulting company. Our roof, which was built to last 125 years, is 113 years old. But parts are in bad shape. We’ve only got five years of roof left, and its going to cost a million dollars to fix.

Is it curtains for us?

Well, our neighborhood is booming. $8.5 billion has been invested here in the last ten years. We still have money in our own investments to perhaps seed a rebirth.

Promising. Hopeful.

Here’s the rub. The people moving into our neighborhood are changing, too. Most no longer go to church.

If we hope to reach them, we have to make a difference, and be known for making a difference, in things that matter to them. We have to provide ways to welcome them, get them involved, let them see us making a difference.

Will we have the energy to do those things?

Will we have the courage to change the good things we’ve been doing to reach them?

I pray we will.

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