P.L.U.M.'s 15th Anniversary
2004 - 2019
I received so many warm greetings and well wishes from you when I retired! I will always remember them with affection and gratitude for all of you. One card, in particular, contained a message that has spoken to me regularly as I've adjusted to this new life called "retirement"! The card came from Jean Brannan, a member at Trinity, Mt. Oliver. She shared a prayer that she found in her mother's Bible after her mother's death - a prayer that she and her family have often found helpful and encouraging. She hoped that I would also find it helpful as I began retirement. Copied in her mother's own handwriting it reads: "Lord, help me find the way through the changes in my life."
Facing change has always been a factor in life, for us human beings. In fact, one of the reasons for humanity's survival has been homo sapiens' ability to adapt to changing conditions. In modern times, we often call our adaptations to change "transitions". All ages have to develop coping skills for making transitions. Toddlers have to face transitions all the time, which are often signaled by being strapped into car seats, usually under protest! Children face the annual transition of moving from one school grade to the next. Young adults transition from school life to work life, from single status to married status, from childlessness to parenthood. Adults transition from renters to home owners, from parenthood to the empty nesters. Seniors, who keep hoping that facing major transitions in their lives have ended, face significant transitions, such as retirement, downsizing, steady physical decline, death and dying. And we all face other transitions regularly such as the changing seasons.
Some changes that life brings our way are easy and some are difficult to navigate. Some are exciting and some are depressing. Some are joyful, some are gut-wrenching; some we handle well, some we don't. But they are all spelled the same: c-h-a-n-g-e! And they all require us to adapt!
When I think back over the 15 years of our life together in PLUM, I can't help but recall the way in which the Lord helped us find our way, as we sought to tackle the challenges that faced our ministries. Some analysts have said that the changes facing our society are comparable to those that rocked the western world at the reformation - and again, during the industrial revolution! All we knew back in 2004 was, with the dawn of the digital age, so much had changed and was changing, that the ground was shifting under us and our faith communities were finding that they could not continue as they always had. Some of the results of the changes going on around us were: declining attendance, declining resources, a shortage of pastors, old church buildings, unlimited competition for our people's time and energy, adoption of changes in communication of the Gospel message in the digital age - all of which contributed to the challenges of maintaining a faithful witness to Christ in our communities.
Those may not have been the exact words of our prayer, but the Lord answered our pleas for help, in the biblical tradition of providing faithful people to lead the way. The issue was whether or not we would be willing to step out in faith and trust our Lord to provide!
Who knew that Pastor Gropp's experience with a small town/rural cooperative ministry could be put to use in the urban setting of Pittsburgh? (We didn't... until we gave it a try!) Who knew whether two congregations - which still had full time pastors, but were beginning to experience the effects of demographic decline and other cultural forces - would be willing to step out, in faith, before they were in crisis and venture into an experiment in cooperative ministry to help a third congregation? (We didn't...but CLC [Christ Lutheran Church, Duquesne], SAL [St. Andrew Lutheran Church, East Carnegie] and ELLC [East Liberty Lutheran Church] did!) Who knew whether our synod's Bishop would give his approval and support for this experiment? (We didn't... but both Bishops McCoid and Kusserow did!) Who knew how many congregations would see the advantages of the cooperative model for stabilizing their ministry and maintaining the witness to and service to Christ in their communities? (We didn't... but the members of ABLC [Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Allentown], STLC [Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church of Sheraden], DBLC [Bethany Evangelical Lutheran Church, Dormont], MTLC [Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Mt. Oliver], MLC [Messiah Lutheran Church, Munhall], RLC [Resurrection Lutheran Church, Oakdale], SPLC [St. Paulís Lutheran Church, Canonsburg], ZLC [Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, Coraopolis], LCOS [Lutheran Church of Our Saviour, North Huntingdon], and BBLC [Bethany Lutheran Church, Bethel Park] would!) Who knew if there would be others willing to serve on a pastoral ministry team, ministering in as many as twelve congregations? (We didn't... but Pr. Paul, Vicar/Pr. Melba, Pr. Jocelyn, Pr. Dona, Pr. Liz, Pr. Martin, Interns Karyn, Brenda, Mandy, and Susan were!) Who knew what it would be like to have pastors and lay leaders working together to share ideas and insights on how best to reach out to the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ? (We didn't.... but the PLUM Board and their congregations found out!) Who knew?
As the pastor who made that initial phone call to Pastor John, in the hopes of picking his brain about how we pastors of the congregations of Christ Lutheran and St. Andrew Lutheran could assist the ministry at East Liberty Lutheran, I certainly didn't know! But we began with the expectation that, if we stepped out in faith, trusting that our Lord would show us the way through these changes in the life of the Church, we would see and learn exactly how our Lord would provide for us. And, 15 years later, we may not have all the answers to the questions being raised by the challenges facing our congregations, but there is one thing the last 15 years has taught us: There is no change that challenges us, which we cannot face with confidence, because we know and trust that the Lord will help us find the way!
Because of your faithfulness in PLUM, a Methodist cluster has used our example and formed a cooperative of churches on the southwest corner of Pittsburgh, Lutheran congregations used our experience to form a cooperative of congregations in the Mon Valley, our venture has spurred creative discussions among congregations all over our synod, news of our ministry together has spread, so that we've received inquiries from as far away as Florida and New England and, recently, I've been asked to advise congregations in the Erie area on how to go about forming a cooperative, as they struggle to find pastoral leadership to assist them in stabilizing and moving forward their ministries.
On this the 15th Anniversary of our ministry together as PLUM, I give thanks for all of you and the faithfulness you have demonstrated over these last 15 years. You've done what many congregations have not and will not do - step out in faith and creatively take on the challenge of these changing times, by adapting how we do things for the sake of our ministry in Jesus' name. PLUM is 15 years young because of your trust in our Lord Jesus Christ to help you find the way! AMEN!
Congratulations on 15 years of faithful ministry!
Grace and peace,
Pittsburgh Lutheran United Ministries (PLUM), 405 Kennedy Avenue, Duquesne, PA 15110 412-466-7773