The Spire - March 2020
A monthly column by Senior
Minister J. Douglas Patterson
From the Archives
The Story of Smithfield, Part 8
by Donn Neal
From the President's Pen
New Words from Old Friends
by Jon Colburn
On my workbench recently was a guitar that I had built some time ago. It had started making weird buzzing noises when played, and I wanted to know why so that it could be repaired effectively. But trying to examine the instrument proved difficult because I didn’t have enough light. I simply couldn’t see. So I gathered more light, as best I could, and focused it on the guitar. In the brilliance of that light I quickly found the problem, the result of a construction error I had made, and it was easily solved. However, in looking for the things I had done wrong, I also took notice of the things I had done right. And there were many! I gave myself a pat on the back and felt good about what I had done.
During this season of Lent we are called to examine our lives, make adjustments and strike new paths. It is unfortunate, I think, that we always do this with the intent on finding our faults. And this often causes us embarrassment and shame. My suggestion is that, in the light of our Lenten examinations, we also take notice of our good qualities and accomplishments – things that can make us proud.
You’re not as bad as you think. Give yourself some credit. God does!
J. Douglas Patterson
Our Church Family
We ask that you please keep the following people and their families in your prayers: Jimmy Harkins, Nathan Hart, Amy Maddock, Ozzie Miloykovich Rick Soroka, and Donald Thomas.
Another new pastor was called to Smithfield’s pulpit in December, 1845. He was Robert Kohler, who had received a large majority of the votes of the church’s members. As Kohler had some other obligations elsewhere until the following March, a pastor from Allegheny City named Weitershausen stood in for him until Kohler was free to join Smithfield as its next minister.
Kohler, about thirty-six years in age, was born in Zwickau in Sakony. Before coming to Smithfield he had served a small community of French-speaking Christians in Ohio. An imposing man, Kohler strove to lead the church toward becoming a Lutheran synod, even though the congregation seemed to prefer religious independence. By 1847 this issue had once again divided the Smithfield congregation into two factions. When the election of the members of the church council was held in 1849 (as it happened, again on an Easter Sunday), there was an open breach within the church. Kohler blessed before the alter only the candidates he himself favored, ignoring the others, an act that worsened the situation.
It was agreed to hold a second election, this time with tightly controlled voting. The new count showed that all of the candidates Kohler had earlier rejected had now been elected by a large majority. After receiving this open reproof from the congregation, Kohler had no course but to resign his position, which he did. This turn of events then sparked a serious disturbance in the church building that forced the city police to intervene and quell it. Kohler then ended his three years in Pittsburgh and returned to his previous position in Ohio.
Yet another new pastor for Smithfield was chosen in November 1849 from a group of many candidates. He was Johann J. Waldburger, a man about forty-eight years who had left his home in Switzerland due to family matters in order to find a new profession. Ruoff writes that Waldburger was somewhat gruff and “repugnant” (Ruoff does not elaborate on this characterization), but he also describes Waldburger as a good speaker and a conscientious pastor. As a sideline, the new pastor practiced as a medical doctor whose treatments applied cold water cures and brought “fabulous” results, according to Ruoff.
Under Waldburger’s leadership, the church’s charter was amended to describe the duties of each officer more precisely and to exclude pastors from participating not only in the management of the church’s property and income but in changes in its by-laws.
Smithfield now looked to the future. Pittsburgh’s population had continued to increase, having doubled in ten years to nearly 80,000 if the inhabitants of City of Allegheny were included in the count. Ruoff notes that the church was now nearer to the businesses of the city (actually, the businesses had crept closer to the church), and also was surrounded with houses and other buildings. A more pressing matter was that it was no longer feasible, or allowed, to inter corpses in the church’s cemetery; neither were there enough rows to separate the graves, a circumstance that had been exacerbated by the recent city-wide fire in which so many residents and firefighters who had died, after which the victims had been interred on Smithfield’s property, close to the church building itself. Thus in 1850 a committee of three Smithfield men was assigned the task of finding for Smithfield a new and larger cemetery. A suitable property on Troy Hill, across the Allegheny River, was acquired in August, 1850 for $5,500; its expanse, 47,116 or 7,116 acres; (probably the latter, but both numbers are given in Ruoff’s original text) was expected to be adequate for many more years of burials. A small parcel of the property, about an acre, was sold by the church to offset some of the cost of acquiring the large burial ground, which argues that the size of the property before being divided was most likely the smaller number Ruoff cited: 7,116 acres.
Do you have a favorite book? One that you go back to often? One that might be on the nightstand, and then the coffee table, and then at the side of your favorite chair? One that you can turn to passages that you know from memory? For me, the book is Diary of an Art Dealer: Rene’ Gimpel 1918-1939 [ISBN 0-87663-522-2]. I had to read it in college for an art appreciation class. I kind of faked my way through it, just getting enough to answer the test questions.
Fast forward to my moving to Pittsburgh, I was working at The Frick-Pittsburgh, Henry Clay Frick’s home in town, restored and expanded with the museums by his daughter Helen Frick.
Becoming familiar with the collection, I remembered the book I had read in college; Mr. Gimple was Mr. Frick’s art dealer! I reread the book with fresh eyes. The entry about Alleghany City's own Mary Cassatt wanting to paint Mr. Gimple’s children had more meaning. Gimple’s diary tells of his encounters with the great artist of the early 20th century; Cassatt, Renoir, Rubens, Monet, to drop a few names.
A favorite entry details a conversation with Claude Monet at Giverny. Monet is painting with American artist, John Singer Sargent. Sargent asks Monet to borrow some black paint. Monet says, “I never use it.” Sargent replied, “I can’t paint without it.” Two different understandings of the world.
For me, the Bible is very much the same. I have read it, again for a college class, again retaining mostly enough to pass the tests. And again, there are favorite passages that I know by heart; the 23 Psalms (God is my shepherd) or the Christmas narrative from Luke (there were shepherds keeping watch) . Then there are the parts of scripture I have learned singing pieces such as Handel's Messiah, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, or Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms. Verses pass through my head all the time, with or without an accompaniment.
Familiar verses can take on new meanings. I had studied Proverbs 31 for a Woman’s History class. It was parsed apart looking at gender roles. Its meaning changed for me when the minister read it at my mother’s funeral last July. It starts, “A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies…” I have looked at these verses with fresh eyes, the wisdom of the ages is revealed.
What are your go to passages? Have they changed over time? Have life events solidified your beliefs or changed your understanding? What are you turning to now?