Sunday, June 26, 2011

Northmont United Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Northmont United Presbyterian Church, 8169 Perry Highway, Pittsburgh, PA 15237, 412.364.0105,, Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

We were blessed to be redirected to church today, and doubly blessed to lay hands and pray for dear friends being commissioned for a mission trip to Malawi, Africa.

It has been a while since we last visited Northmont, but I don’t remember such prominent signage. The signs were colorful, easy to read, and in-house signs seemed more welcoming than commercial.

The church has attended well to handicapped access with ramps and an elevator. The Sanctuary is in a T shape with an impressive wood beamed ceiling. I appreciated the large cross with white drape suspended from the ceiling as a great focal point.

The time of silent confession wasn’t near long enough for me, and I thought the Children’s Message was a little long.

The gospel solo was great and the pairing with the organ was excellent: they complemented each other and did not over-power. The organist was very good and his playing came as worship, not “hear me roar.”

The sermon spoke to me about how the ministry of the church is to prepare for mission. We try to separate ourselves from the sinful world, but the God we worship was found in the world. From that very premise of God we cannot withdraw into self, but must let Him make use of us. Jesus is the final authority and He calls us to get into the world.

My regular morning prayer time of thanksgiving starts with thanking God for one more day. Normally the next thing I give thanks for is bringing us to where we are and blessing us with His peace. It is a very comfortable place, like the church, but I think He has given us rest and time to recover and is preparing to send us out. I don’t know what or where it will be but “Here I am, Lord.”

There was mention of the Malawi Partnership being mutual, but I’m not so sure…so much of what we give (especially money) is given from our excess, but what they share with us is Jesus Christ. It seems pretty lop-sided.

I was pleased to lift the pastors and congregation of this church in prayer. I was once told the best the church could be was empty because we were all out doing mission work.

Jan’s thoughts:

Sometimes it’s remarkable how God gets us to the church He wants us to attend. We had heard through the grapevine that this was the morning Bill and Nancy Paul would be commissioned to take part in the Presbytery trip to Malawi this week, and we wanted to be there to see our friends off on this journey. However I had forgotten, and planned to attend another church until this morning the Spirit reminded me and I knew He wanted us here instead.

We have visited this church twice before, and I believe it has become even friendlier than it was previously, as witnessed by one member who greeted us before we even entered the building.

The directional signage was exceedingly helpful and the signs that protrude from the wall are the best. Display boards were everywhere detailing numerous and varied mission involvement. This seems like one of the most mission-oriented churches we’ve attended.

The organist was a joy to hear, and the solo, a spiritual, was beautifully done, the kind of music that feeds the soul.

The sermon entitled “Why Are You Looking Up?” originated in John 17:6-19 and Acts 1:6-14 and was delivered by Rev. Dr. Hetz Marsh. In the midst of hearing this message I realized it was a large part of the reason God wanted us at this church today. He spoke to the issue of being IN the world but not OF it, but also engaging a world comprised of people whom God loved enough to have sent His only Son to give His life to save. Instead of separating ourselves from the world we need to go out into it and expect to find God there…we must risk living completely in the real world because it is through a life given away to the world that we experience the full joy of Christ. (“Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” Luke 9:24)

This sermon was one more “heads-up” message that God may soon change the focus of our personal efforts. I don’t know how long it will be, but change is coming.

I felt so grateful to be present for the Service of Commissioning for Bill and Nancy Paul as they return to Malawi. This is a milestone for the Partnership, and Malawi still holds a special place in my heart as well as for so many others from Pittsburgh and Blantyre both. I was enormously privileged to take part in the laying on of hands and prayer. Those present promised to pray for the pilgrims, and if you are reading this and are inclined to pray, I would urge you to do so. It’s the best gift you can give in these (or any) circumstances, and you’ll be blessed as well!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Oakmont Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Oakmont Presbyterian Church, 415 Pennsylvania Avenue, Oakmont, PA 15139, 412.828.5770,, Rev. Dr. Stephen Wilson, Senior Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

The church was limited to street parking, but we found room a few blocks away. I was impressed that there was signage at the entry stair. We chose the downstairs restrooms and found a light switch and the ladies without too much difficulty, but the men’s was way better hidden.

We were warmly welcomed, unusual for a church that has two services. The Sanctuary is very pleasant, impressive woodwork and beautiful windows.

The choir was a highlight: this was a truly enjoyable worship experience by a choir. The voices blended well through the full range, but most importantly the passion and joy were apparent. The choir did not have to compete with the organ as they complemented each other. It reinforced the importance of music in worship.

On this Trinity Sunday Christ used the Pastor to deliver a message I found thought-provoking and convicting. Like the Trinity we are relational beings, but we build walls to exclude those different from us. Isolation is easy and we keep ourselves from connection. As relational beings in Christ we are called to build bridges and break the Pittsburgh Rule – we really can get there from here.

The sermon was well-developed and held the congregation’s interest, and I wonder how many like me will rethink their isolationism.

I felt Christ’s presence in this church, and it was a joy to lift the pastors and congregation in prayer.

Jan’s thoughts:

The only issue with a church being set in a lovely residential area is parking, and if parking is an issue, the church has been blessed. At this church, finding a parking space was tricky, but it was a beautiful day for a little walk so I’m not complaining.

The building is handicapped accessible via a ramp leading to a spacious Narthex and into the Sanctuary.

Immediately upon entering the building we noticed a sign listing the rooms found on each floor, so we opted to use the downstairs restrooms. Following worship we located the ones on the Sanctuary floor, and they were very easily found due to the signs protruding from the walls above the doors…those are always most helpful.

The bulletin consisted of two 11x17” sheets folded and stapled, making them as easy to use as they were informative. When I was a Church Secretary and creating bulletins weekly I always thought some graphics made the many announcements easier on the eyes, but I easily followed these announcements without graphics. And I appreciated the blank space for note taking.

The Sanctuary has white walls accented by lots of dark wood and sort of watercolor stained glass. It looked like it was possible to expand the size of the Sanctuary by opening some doors on the side into what could also be used as a carpeted Fellowship Hall.

The people were extremely friendly, greeting us cordially and even inviting us to sit with them, which is unusual.

One of several things that made this church outstanding was the music. The enthusiasm of the Organist was apparent, and the choir was equally as passionate. The large size of the group was certainly part of it, but their worship of God was obvious in their music. The choir – all the music – was just excellent.

I appreciated hearing the Prayer for Illumination prior to the Scripture reading.

The Sermon was entitled “The Example of the Trinity” and was rooted in 2 Corinthians 13:11-13. This was one of the most personally convicting sermons I’ve heard a quite a long while. He spoke of relationships and how we’re all connected, how walls don’t work and what we really need are bridges to help us focus more on connecting through relationships.

He shared that he was reading a most interesting book of poetry by Lorna Dee Cervantes, who holds that “A poem is a song for people with bad voices.” (I resemble that!) His point was that although his first thought was how different she is from him, he was able to find points of connection that allowed him to more deeply appreciate her poetry.

His last bit of advice was to “have a holy unrest with the walls; you really can get there from here.”

What I’ve learned about walls is this: yes, they work to keep people away, but eventually they become a prison because they also keep out people you love. I’ve learned that protecting oneself can be costly and lonely, and even if I get hurt, I’ll live. I’ve worked hard to bring down some of those walls of self-protection, and I’m learning a whole new way to live. At least now I feel like I AM living, because living behind walls made me feel like I may as well be dead.

If it sounds like I took this sermon to heart, you’re absolutely right. For me, this sermon was divine guidance.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


Today we worshiped at home.

We had a busy weekend. Two of our granddaughters brought their parents for a visit and a new grandson was in Children’s Hospital. (He is fine now and will be discharged Monday, thank God – and we have.)

We had some special time with the babies while Mom and Dad packed for the trip home, so we opted to listen to some sermons online from one of our favorite pastor friends. He seemed quite comfortable in our living room, and Bob appreciated the air conditioning and the recliner (admittedly a bit over the top).

Although we prefer to worship in a church with other believers, God finds us wherever we are and speaks to us in ways we understand.

He is an excellent fisherman and knows exactly what bait to use.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Parkwood United Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Parkwood United Presbyterian Church, 4289 Mount Royal Boulevard, Allison Park, PA 15101, 412.486.9220,, Rev. Jeffrey J. Potter, Senior Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

We worshiped in a beautiful church today with some incredibly vibrant stained glass. I have no idea how sunlight could be streaming through the front and rear windows at the same time, but it was a beautiful effect.

Most of the doors were identified, but there was little directional signage. There were enough crosses to satisfy even me, including a handsome large wood cross and rustic cross in the corner. There is an interesting mix of woodwork including many carved pieces on the walls.

The effect from raising the large screen and exposing the stained glass it obscured was like the view of Pittsburgh upon exiting the Fort Pitt Tunnel. From the rear of the Sanctuary I could see the joy radiating from the choir, and upon meeting the director I suspect a lot of it started with him.

The quiet time for personal confession could have been longer.

The sermon wove around our striving for meaning and direction in our lives and, for me, how God intercedes in our craziness and busyness to get our attention. With us it was the loss of our son…we will never again be who we were. Prayer does change us and those around us; we need the experience of prayer.

There were a couple responsive readings added to what we normally experience for Communion. It was by intinction and the elements were offered verbally. Those who couldn’t come forward were served and the Pastors served each other. Well done.

The Pastor seemed comfortable with the congregation and I was impressed with how at ease the Assistant Pastor appeared.

Jan’s thoughts:

I remembered that someone from this church had participated in one of my trips to Malawi but I couldn’t quite recollect who it was, so it was helpful that he was presenting the Minute for Mission today and his name was in the bulletin. I had seen him a few times since our trip in 2003, but it had been quite a while and it was great to see him again. The hospitality shown by even one person makes a difference, although the members we encountered before, during and after worship were very friendly and welcoming.

The area is bucolic with a charming Prayer Garden. I’m sure it’s not easy to keep an area this size looking so well tended.

The building is white brick with a green roof and matching accents. We walked directly into the Welcome Center which seemed to act as a fine social and informational area. Everything was very well labeled, but there was a lack of directional signage. We hoped to find directional signs pointing toward restrooms, but managed to locate the restrooms even without the signage.

Parkwood is in partnership with several nearby churches, some members of which were present today. This is part of the reason I believe this church has had some experience greeting visitors and is not afraid of them.

We observed much evidence of mission activity along with a strong emphasis on prayer.

The Sanctuary contains lots of well-blended wood and neutral tones which cause the windows to really stand out. The rear walls of the Chancel and Sanctuary and a very large side wall boasted large, bright stained glass in mosaic designs that created vague pictures. The bright colors were mood-enhancers, and the windows were exquisite works of art. The wooden plaques lining the side walls, along with the two on the rear Chancel wall, were depictions of various Christian symbols.

The choir was excellent, as was the piano and organ. Some church musicians have a way of playing the music that seems to draw attention to themselves, but I sensed the purpose of this music was to point to God.

The bulletin is user friendly (e.g., the outer page contains the Order of Worship and I can fold it and place the inserts inside during worship).

The Sacrament of Communion is somehow more meaningful when accompanied by a verbal reminder of its meaning, so I was delighted that that was the case today.

The Message, entitled “A Heart for Prayer,” was centered on John 17:1-11, Christ’s prayer for the Church. The pastor began by referring to “The Gospel According to Peanuts” in talking about our common search for meaning in life and our attempts to deal with the various challenges with which we’re faced. He pointed out that if a life of prayer was essential for Jesus, we need to know it is also central for us, and that if Christ found it necessary to be attached to the Source of life during His time on this earth, we should realize the same is necessary for us.

I appreciated the reminder, and the opportunity to be present today.