Sunday, January 07, 2007

A Pastoral Relationship: Trinity Cathedral and Shepherd's Heart Fellowship

The first Sunday after the Feast of the Epiphany marked the launch of a new pastoral ministry for the congregation of Pittsburgh’s Trinity Cathedral, as we embarked upon a partnership ministry with Shepherd’s Heart Fellowship in the city’s Uptown District. Shepherd’s Heart [1] remains one of the more innovative ministry arrangements to come out of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. Begun in 1993, as a ministry of pastoral care (both material and spiritual) to the homeless residents of Oakland (home of the University of Pittsburgh), it moved to its current location, just blocks from Pittsburgh’s Mercy Hospital, in 2006. Regular worship takes place on Sunday evenings at 5:15 PM, followed by a meal supplied in rotation by different congregations. Although many of its members are only nominally on the rolls, the ratio of average Sunday attendance to membership is one of the highest in the Diocese, and its members, though some of the poorest, contribute liberally from what they have.

Until now, Shepherd’s Heart has been open as a place of rest and refreshment from 8:00 AM to 12:00 PM on weekdays. Under the new partnership with Trinity Cathedral, it will now be open on Sunday mornings. The impetus for Trinity’s involvement was spurred by our recognition that many of those using cold weather shelters come to be with us on Sunday mornings because we are one of the few downtown churches willing to admit them during regular worship hours. Our dilemma has been that most (though by no means all) are looking for a safe environment (and shelters frequently cannot be so characterized) where they can obtain a few hours of slumber and do not wish to participate in regular congregational worship. Lacking a secure environment of our own, we wished to provide an atmosphere better suited to rest and food more nourishing than that commonly available at coffee hour. Shepherd’s Heart was willing to open its doors for this purpose provided we could supply volunteers.

While hoping for the best, I will admit that, as Outreach Committee chair, I prepared for the worst in the days leading up to January 7. I was to be pleasantly surprised. The only fly in the ointment came in the late morning when the temporarily rented van bringing Trinity visitors to Shepherd’s Heart (about three-quarters of a mile away) died without warning, requiring a call to AAA. Together with another Trinity parishioner and one of the assistant priests from Shepherd’s Heart, we hosted a gathering that peaked at around ten guests (I suspect that once word gets onto the street, attendance will increase). We offered food and coffee, distributed numerous items of clothing, talked with some of our guests and together read Morning Prayer. Pastor Jim Morehead led us in an interactive homily, during which one of our attendees proved to be remarkably well-informed in Holy Scripture. There are always moments in pastoral ministry that stay with you: mine came when one parishioner knelt to tie the laces of the shoes of a guest afflicted with arthritis. In that moment, the deeper meaning of the foot washing rite of Maundy Thursday became more than usually evident.

Life at Trinity frequently seems far removed from that of Uptown, and yet it is the neighborhood closest to the Cathedral. In the faces of those whom we served today, I saw men and women who, like me, have been saved by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Knowing how much “we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” [2] we as a congregation should indeed be grateful that we have been given this opportunity to serve. When we pray with St. John “that we all may be one,” [3] we tend to think, especially in these troubled times, of our unity as Christians, and yet the message of today’s epistle [4] is that in Christ “there is no partiality” between the churched and the unchurched. Our ministry at Shepherd’s Heart bears the same message, the same search for healing and unity in Christ, the same redemption by grace through faith that is proclaimed at Trinity Cathedral. All that we do in the one place must inform what we do in the other.

Notes

[1] http://shepheart.com/luke

[2] Romans, 3:23.

[3] John 17:20.

[4] Acts 10: 34-35.

1 comment:

Ed said...

Nice work, Jeremy. I'm looking forward to seeing it first hand.