St. Andrew's, Highland Park, Pittsburgh
The year was 1837. Andrew Jackson had just completed his second term, and in March of that year his Vice President Martin Van Buren would succeed him. “Old Kinderhook.”
Here in Pittsburgh things were going like gangbusters. What had been a relatively small agricultural and commercial center was expanding rapidly with mining, coal, lumber, glass, new industry, a center for factories, and for transportation, shipping, and the beginnings of a regional railroad system. The jumping off point for the westward movement from the Eastern seaboard, and a center for new immigration from western Europe, and especially Ireland and Germany.
The population of Pittsburgh tripled between 1810 and 1830, and it would triple again between 1830 and 1850.
It was I’m sure, it must have been, an incredibly exciting time and place to live, and perhaps we can catch a glimpse of that in the memory of that small group of families who in 1837 made the decision to move out of their Church home at old Trinity Church and to found a second Episcopal Church in the City of Pittsburgh.
It was a new season of expansion for the Episcopal Church as well. For a generation or so after the Revolution the Church had been in a convalescent mode. Weakened by the loss of many clergy, who had gone to Canada or back to England, not helped by a lingering association with England in the popular feelings of the day. But by the 1830’s a new generation of missionary leaders, bishops, clergy, lay people in a time of renewal, expansion, rebuilding the Church in the east and moving west into new territory.
In 1837 that was all here, for the new congregation of St. Andrew’s Church. Meeting at first in an auditorium on Penn Avenue. They were building something new, something really exciting. Inspired by the opportunity of mission, building up the Church and making new disciples and sharing Christian witness in this wild and energetic city. Of course they were helping to build a Church for themselves and for their families. But they were investing themselves, their lives and their resources, to be a part of a future that was just beginning to unfold.
There was of course, a great deal that they couldn’t possibly know. Generations of growth for this community as an industrial powerhouse, waves of immigration, new patterns of life. Wars. Booms and depressions.
Certainly they wouldn’t have pictured in 1837 the move that would take place just 65 years later, St. Andrew’s Church, from the center of the City to the rapidly growing East End. Pretty much just farms and orchards out here in 1837.
But for all that, I don’t think they would have been surprised. Because they knew that God had great plans for their lives. And I think that in the far distance, all the way back in 1837, they had a glimpse of us. I think they’d be excited to see who we are, what great things God is doing here in our day, and I think they’d be proud to know that their efforts and investments all those years ago, their hopes and dreams and risk-taking and hard work, had built the foundation for who we are, for what we are able to do, here at St. Andrew’s today.