Paid in full

In 1810, the situation in the church seemed hopeless. The revival sweeping the country seemed to have passed over First Presbyterian Church.

The lack of spiritual vitality led some members to break away and form a Second Church. A new church building was under construction, but workers and creditors weren’t getting paid. A lottery, with a first prize of $800 was held to pay off the debts. When the lottery failed to raise enough money, a second one was held. It failed as well, and “No correct account of the amount of tickets sold was ever rendered.”  

Members were withholding their pledged pew rents and the trustees threatened to sue them.

The congregation’s debt was $3900.

Early in the morning of March 22, 1810, a house fire broke out on Wood Street. First Church’s minister, Robert Steele, caught a cold carrying water from the river. The cold turned into pneumonia, and Steele died on March 31, 1810. The congregation directed it’s few financial resources to Steele’s widow and five children.

It took months before the church could bring itself to begin thinking about calling a new minister.

Then in the fall, a thirty-seven-year-old minister named Francis Herron came to town to visit his sister. He was invited to preach at First Church, and invited back the following week.

A meeting was held, and a call extended.

Herron found the church morally, spiritually, and financially bankrupt.

But the sheriff of Allegheny County had put the church building and property up for sale to pay its debts. With the concurrence of the trustees, Herron attended the sale and bought the whole property back in his own name for $2819.

Herron then sold a small portion of the property to the Pittsburgh Bank for $3000.

The debt was paid, and the profit went to the church.

The church had been born again.

The Apostle Paul told the church in Corinth, “You were bought at a price.” (1 Corinthians 7:23). He was talking, of course, about how Jesus Christ redeemed us from spiritual bankruptcy, even death itself, with his own blood. 

Do you see what you’re worth to him?

Do you see him paying your debt in full?

Do you see that you were bought at a price?


From: Roger ____
Sent: Thursday, April 25, 2019 9:27 PM
To: Tom Hall <>
Subject: Some thoughts from the Duquesne Club

Dear Pastor Hall and the people of First Presbyterian Church,

It is one thing to hear a sermon. It is quite another to encounter one without a word spoken.

In Mathew we read the words of Jesus who declares “you are my witnesses.” There is not a lot of optionality in that declaration. The choice to be made is about the quality rather than the reality of our witness.

This week your church lived up to and into its calling as witness. Your open doors provided me with a quiet refuge from the city to think and pray, I saw the safe haven on your steps that you provided for those who live on the margins, your literature unashamedly proclaimed the Gospel of the Risen One. All without speaking a word.

Thank you for serving me this week. I pray that God will grant all and each of you courage, wisdom, mercy, and grace in required portions as you continue to live lives of faithful stewardship.

He is risen indeed.

Roger _____

British Columbia, Canada V5H 4M2


From: Tom Hall <THall@fpcp.
Sent: Monday, April 29, 2019 8:11 PM
To: Roger
RE: Some thoughts from the Duquesne Club

Dear Roger – Thank you so much for sending this along. It is very encouraging. Yes, the Risen Jesus is on the loose here. 

It is not easy to keep church doors open, for lots of reasons that you probably know. And when the doors are open, we become vulnerable. The folks who hang out on the front steps provide lots of challenges, and opportunities to be witnesses.

I’m so glad you found us on your travels. Many folks tell us that the church is a “thin place.”

Blessings on your work and travels. He is risen indeed!



From: Roger _____
Sent: Monday, April 29, 2019 10:49 PM
To: Tom Hall <>
Subject: RE: Some thoughts from the Duquesne Club

Dear Pastor Tom,

The day after I sent this note I returned to your beautiful sanctuary to pray. To my right snored a man who may not have known exactly where he was, but I suspect he felt warm and safe. As I left, I met a lady who lives on the ragged edge. She spoke words not found in the lectionary. Yet she stopped at the door, bowed her head and made the sign of the cross as she entered. Perhaps in that place she heard the faint echo of a time when she sang of a Jesus who loved her or was led to that place by a faithful person of prayer whose heart is broken for her.

I get the risks of an urban church. My dad was a pastor of such a church. We had our share of drunks in the back row. They took their place with the better dressed but equally needy tax dodgers, adulterers, gossips, and greedy all assembled to hear the shockingly good news of a God who loves them in the midst of their sin.

I was reminded of the scandal of the Gospel through your church last week and will pray for the protection of those who serve in dangerous surroundings. I will pray that those who find refuge will honor it as a holy place, built for sinners, inhabited by a gracious God who calls us all to come and find rest.



(Last name and email address deleted to respect the sender’s privacy.)