The Spire - September 2020
A monthly column by Senior
Minister J. Douglas Patterson
From the Archives
The Story of Smithfield, Part 10
by Donn Neal
From the President's Pen
by Jon Colburn
I hope and pray that you are well! These are trying times in so many ways, and all of us are striving to make the necessary adaptations in our personal, professional, educational and spiritual lives. I encourage you to keep pressing forward with hope for better days! There are several things I want to bring your way:
We do not have a scheduled date to begin “in house” corporate worship at this time. We are committed to making certain that all precautionary measures for health and welfare can, and will be taken. When that takes place to our satisfaction we will worship together again. You will be given advance notification. Until that time comes please worship with us virtually on our YouTube and Facebook channels.
The ministries and outreach of our church are continuing and thriving. However, your financial support is greatly needed! If you have the means to do so, please consider giving generously. And, above all, please know that the life of our congregation depends upon your regular contributions.
Our staff members are working hard to maintain and improve our administrative functions and building concerns. Extensive physical renovations are underway in our shelter, looking forward to serving the needs of the homeless come winter. And coordinated ministries with sister downtown congregations are being developed.
Remember our social hours following worship on Sundays? They were times of friendship building and laughter. Well, we’re going to do that virtually on Wednesday, September 16, at 7:00 pm via Zoom. It will be an informal time for catching up and seeing each other’s faces. No business, no agenda, just plain old fun. The Zoom invitation will be sent out through our Virtual Smithfield network, and will be available through the church office. This will not be publicized on our Facebook or YouTube channels. Put it on your calendar and plan to join us!
We are covenant people! We love, support, encourage and care for one another! We continue to be the church! May the peace of Christ be with you all!
Rev. J. Douglas Patterson
Meanwhile, our church moved forward by building – for $18,000 – fifteen new commercial buildings on what is now Smithfield Street and Strawberry Way. They joined the first two buildings that had been placed there during the 1850s. These investments, Ruoff points out, made it impossible for Smithfield to build the new German school it had hoped to create but did allow other improvements, one of them an impressive organ for Smithfield’s own building. Ruoff also takes note of one very sad event: the suicide of the church’s teacher, Jacob Geszlin, who shot himself because of an incurable illness.
Smithfield’s next leader was also a man named Carl: he was Carl Weil, a young and vigorous pastor who was chosen from a numerous group of candidates by a large majority on August 17, 1868. Weil, a native of the Palatinate in southwest Germany, had only recently arrived in America. Two years into his pastorate, Weil learned of an unfortunate scandal in which the church’s long-standing treasurer had secretly directed monies of about $11,000 into his own pocket. The church deemed it a matter of honor to restore the full amounts that the treasurer had stolen, along with interest, and it did so. The times were good, and Smithfield would recover from this financial embarrassment, thanks in part to the gains that had come from a healthy economy – and the civil war that had accompanied it.
Indeed, Smithfield once again began to think about a larger and more beautiful sanctuary – and school – than its existing structure, which was just over forty years old but was, according to Ruoff’s kind assessment, “somewhat in the state of decay.” A membership meeting in June 1873 was unanimous – Pastor Weil included – in its opinion that Smithfield should go forward and build a new place to worship. The last worship service in the old church was held in January 1875, after which the old building was torn down to afford enough space for the new and larger structure. Ruoff describes the sadness this brought to those who in their lifetimes had known only this revered church building that dated back to 1833.
While the new structure was rising, during nearly two years, Smithfielders rented and used for evening services the English Baptist Church at the corner of Grant Street and Sixth Avenue. Ruoff cites the very large turnout of Pittsburghers of German descent who came to observe Smithfield’s new church structure receive its cornerstone, an event delayed by problems attributed to the original contractors. Finally, however, after an expenditure of an additional $135,000, the completed new church building was declared delivered and then was formally dedicated on November 25, 1877.
Two years later, Pastor Weil informed the church council of his impending resignation, which, he said, was the result of “an obligation concerning the cause of Protestantism in the old fatherland that would require him to give up his position as preacher at Smithfield.” Ruoff writes that Weil’s resignation was unanimously accepted, after which Ruoff himself was elected by a large margin to fill the vacant position of Smithfield’s pastor beginning on September 4, 1879. And here Ruoff’s monumental service to all of those interested in Smithfield and its history comes to an end.
This Synopsis is Dedicated with Thanks and Affection to Friedrich Ruoff, whose skills and energy made it possible.
— DCN 6/29/19
I wrote this for the April Spire, but alas, other things came up and we all rearranged our schedules. Even prior to the lock down, I had planned to plant a large garden. David and I had no big travel plans for this year so we though a garden would be nice. As I was writing in March about Jesus the Master Gardener, I had window sills full of seedlings; Cherokee Purple, Roma, and Better Boy tomatoes, banana peppers, as well as flower seedlings.
At planting time, I used the Four Sisters method of planting corn, beans, squash, and amaranth together in mounds. I also tried straw bale planting, just to try something new.
Now, in mid August, we are enjoying the fruits of our labors. This has been a terrific tomato season. We are canning and freezing as well as eating fresh ones with most every meal. Our sweet corn has been great. Not such good luck with the potatoes. Squash and beans are coming in as well as cucumbers and peppers. And the flowers have been beautiful.
I followed my own advice, I turned a new bed. I filled a new pot. I planted things I have never planted before. I used both tried and true methods as well as methods new to me. I got my hands dirty. What do I have to show for it? A full larder and an abundance to share with neighbors. God is good.
Here we are at Easter, this year April 12. You know how that works, right? First Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal equinox (for Orthodox Easter throw in after Passover.) Now that we have figured out the date, we can struggle with keeping Easter relevant in our lives.
I’ll skip over the chocolate bunnies and eggs part and get right to my favorite part of the Easter story. It is the Gospel reading for Easter Sunday this year: Mary Magdalene has gone to the tomb where Jesus’ body had been placed. The stone is rolled away and the body is gone.
“...Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener…” — John 20:11-15.
I love this, Mary thought Jesus was the gardener! It fits so well. While many go with the Jesus the good shepherd theme, I like Jesus the Master Gardener. From what we think we know, Jesus was a; a) carpenter b) stone mason c) builder, depending on translation. But we do not have a stained glass window portraying Jesus the good carpenter, stone mason, builder. In so far as the Good Shepherd, the Gospel of John, Jesus states "I am the good shepherd" in two verses, John 10:11 and 10:14.
There are several other shepherd references (and we do have a Jesus the good shepherd window). But as a Gardener: Jesus understands soil types (Mark 4: 3-9), when to throw manure (Luke 13:6–9), the need for planning for growth (Matthew 13:31–32), weed control (Matthew 13:24-30), and perhaps most importantly, proper pruning techniques (Matthew 13:24-30). Jesus uses gardening imagery in at least 7 of the parables. Gardening resonated with his audience. Gardening resonates with me.
I could go into What sort of seed have you sown? or What good fruits have produced?, but I won't. Rather, I'll go with: turn a new bed, fill a new pot, plant something you have never planted before, go get your hands dirty!