Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

6/9 2017

An Unusual Church Planting Journey

Dave Lettrich, Mdiv and church planting program student I’ll be 47 years old in July. Like most second career seminarians I’ve met, I had little if any idea why I was there, and to be honest, I had little idea of what seminary was supposed to be. My life to that point had been driven by a lot of things, none of which were God. I grew up 30 miles east of the city in a small town at the foothills of the Laurel Mountains, where I continue to live. I have an undergraduate degree in business and an MBA. Most of my life, and my identity, were wrapped up in my entrepreneurial endeavors. My new found focus on God came only after the destruction of everything I thought I knew about my life and what it was supposed to be. Three years ago when I first toured the Seminary, I found myself wandering through the halls of PTS with Director of Enrollment Derek Davenport and I clearly remember meeting then Church Planting Director Chris Brown that day. When Derek introduced Chris as the director of the Church Planting Initiative that was the first time I heard the words “church” and “planting” used together. For all I knew it might as well have been an initiative intended to restore the landscaping around aging church buildings.

Fast forward a few years and the creative, entrepreneurial spirit found in church planting and innovative ministry has been the easiest transition for me from self-driven endeavors to a God-driven life. I should think most everyone who knows me even a little would say it’s hard to see me in traditional church leadership/pastor rolls. Systems theorists might say I’m self-differentiated to an extreme, almost detrimental degree (extreme, almost detrimental is my default setting in life). As I have followed God through this strange blurry trip they call discernment, I’ve found myself most drawn to atypical pastoral leaders—community starters like PTS alums Chris Brown, Keith Kaufold, and Jeff Eddings[1]. I’ve been encouraged by their determination to follow God on the terms they hear God calling, regardless of the established church world around them.

Ministry on the streets of Pittsburgh

church planting on the streetsThrough this discernment process, I have heard God call me to the streets, to minister to Pittsburgh’s homeless population. Almost by accident, I found myself building deep personal relationships with people from the street. I’m drawn to those struggling with addiction and mental illness, those who reject society first, out of fear that given the chance society would reject them. It is in these heavy circumstances that I hear Christ calling me to those who have lost him, or those who have yet to know him. They are drawn to me, and I to them, so I minister to them on their terms and their turf, under the bridges, along the tracks, in the middle of the street. As I do, I’ve recognized how hard it is to convince someone that there is hope in a God greater than anything in this world, when their world view is constricted by the eminent need to survive the next day, the next hour, the next minute.

Bridge to the Mountains

church planters Dave Lettrich and Keith KauffoldTwo years ago, Keith Kaufold and I were rafting down the whitewater of the lower Youghiogheny River with 20 teenage summer campers when I turned to Keith and said, “can you imagine what it would be like to bring people from streets here?” That was the seed that eventually would grow into Bridge to the Mountains.  It started with a few trips bringing a few homeless individuals at a time up to the mountains to ride bikes along the river trail, ride the natural water slides, and just enjoy God’s wonder for a few hours. Eventually I raised some money and brought a group of 20 homeless, and homeless care providers white water rafting. That was a year ago. Today Bridge to the Mountains is a Pennsylvania nonprofit corporation, and we are awaiting our 501 (C)(3) status. We are a Pittsburgh based Christian faith mission dedicated to developing relationships with, and providing a bridge of hope, to those experiencing homelessness, addiction, mental illness, and otherwise challenging life situations. By combining street outreach and the coordination of services with other providers throughout the city with mountain excursions of hiking, whitewater rafting, trail biking, rock climbing, and adventure courses, we believe we can create the best environment to allow an inbreaking of Christ’s peace and hope to those who so desperately need it.

For more information on our ministry visit our website at http://www.bridgetothemountains.org/ or find us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/bridgetothemountains.

Dave Lettrich is a senior Master of Divinity student at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary who is also pursuing his graduate certificate in church planting through the Seminary’s Church Planting Initiative.

[1] The Rev Chris Brown (PC USA) is the former head of the Church Planting Initiative at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and a founding co-pastor of the Upper Room Church Community in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh. The Rev Keith Kaufold (UMC) created Eighth Avenue Place in Homestead, Pa. And the Rev Jeff Eddings (PC USA) is a founding co-pastor of Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community in Pittsburgh’s South Side neighborhood.

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1/18 2017

What is Epiphany?

what is epiphanyWhat is Epiphany? Epiphany is a celebration in the Christian liturgical year occurring Jan. 6.

Every year, Christians celebrate the “A-Team” church holidays—Christmas and Easter. Nothing is on par with those two.[1]

Then there are the sort of “B-Team” holidays. Some churches get excited about Pentecost, Ash Wednesday, or the events of Holy Week, and some have mixed feelings about less liturgical (or non-liturgical) events like Thanksgiving or Halloween.

Finally, there are the “C-Squad” events—the holidays people aren’t really that sure about. Christ the King Sunday. Trinity Sunday. Redemption Sunday. All Saint’s Day. Ascension Day. These holidays are so minor to most of us might not have noticed which one of them I just made up.

Epiphany, for many Christians, is on the C-squad. Despite vibrant celebrations in some traditions, to others, Epiphany is more of a mystery than anything else.

Over the last few years, Pittsburgh Seminary has gathered some resources to help de-mystify Epiphany, so I wanted to take a moment to gather them all in one place as you consider the question, “What is Epiphany?”

What is Epiphany? The Festival of Theophany

In some traditions, Eastern traditions in particular, the festival that occurs at the same time as Epiphany is actually referred to as Theophany, and is a celebration of the Trinity. This approach often focuses on the Baptism of Christ. New Testament professor Edith Humphrey considers this celebration from her experience in the Orthodox tradition in her reflection “Worship of the Trinity was Made Manifest.”

What is Epiphany? The Visit of the Magi

For many of us, the celebration of Epiphany is most closely linked with the three wise men. This is an ancient tradition with deep roots in the arts. Dr. Karen Bowden-Cooper, former curator of the Kelso Museum, traces the development of artistic portrayals of the wise men in her e-book A Journey with the Magi.

PTS produced its own artistic take on this celebration in the form of a short video combining visual art with ancient legends. Watch the “The Story of the Magi” on the Seminary’s YouTube channel. 

If you’re the kind of person who prefers to read the book instead of see the movie, you can skip the audio and just read the text of the Legend of the Magi. There’s also an Epiphany lesson plan to accompany the video if you’d like to use it with a Bible study or class.

What is Epiphany? A Bridge from Christmas to Ordinary Time

After Advent, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day, it can be tough to transition back to ordinary life. Some people use it as a marker to take down the Christmas decorations or to start up normal routines again.

Dr. John Burgess, professor of theology at PTS, discusses this transition in his sermon “Light of Light.” He looks at a passage from Ephesians and considers the significance of Christmas lights in particular.

Kendra Smith, the Seminary’s worship coordinator, also reflects on the transition back to ordinary life in her sermon “Epiphany Experience.”

What is Epiphany? A Time to be Creative

Let’s face it. People have specific expectations from their preacher during the month of December – more so than just about any other time during the year. But January is a different story.

For Epiphany, people are pretty open to different passages or ideas. Even if your church has strong traditions, people may be open to discussing the different ways other churches observe the holiday.

I had some fun preaching on Epiphany at Pittsburgh Seminary by exploring some strange legends and mysterious creatures that are connected to the Magi, if only tangentially. Check it out by reading and listening to the sermon “Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh.”

What is Epiphany? It’s lots of things!

This brief cartoon highlights several of the ways we celebrate Epiphany. It only takes a couple minutes of your time, and gives a quick, broad overview of the celebration.

If you’d like a little more depth, check out the Miller Summer Youth Institute’s Epiphany Resource Kit. It includes liturgical aids, lessons, and Bible studies about the various approaches people take to Epiphany.

 

[1]  At least in how we observe them, naturally the actual significance of various feasts, festivals, and holidays is a matter of some debate, but that’s another blog post for another day (and another author)!

The Rev. Derek Davenport ’05 is director of enrollment at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and program co-director of the Miller Summer Youth Institute. Derek is also a PTS alumnus of the Master of Divinity (MDiv) Program after which he served at a church in Orlando, Fla., for five years. Besides working with prospective students, he serves as a guest preacher in Western Pennsylvania, researches church symbolism on his website, and tweets at @DerekRDavenport.

 

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7/12 2016

Pokemon Go: Augmenting Reality, Transcendence, and Dragon Doors

Pokemon-GoChances are you’ve heard quite a bit about Pokémon Go lately. There have been safety concerns, bizarre findings, and lots of people moving around in odd ways.

So what is it?

Augmenting Reality

Pokémon Go is a game that uses a GPS signal of a smartphone, along with the camera and display to bring a video game a little closer to the reality.

By using the phone’s GPS information, users can view specific locations in the real world through the camera and display of their smartphones. The game then overlays a video game creature on the phone’s display. The result is an image that makes it appear as if the game characters are inhabiting the real world.

This is a style of gaming called “augmented reality.”

Pokémon Go isn’t the first game to use real world movement to capture new characters. Some have used real world wifi signals. Others have used simpler means like a camera that detects colors. Decades ago there were even games that created monsters from player’s CD collections.

Pokémon Go also isn’t the first game to use “augmented reality.” Years ago a video game promised to project fictional pets on living room floors. While Pokémon Go isn’t the first game to use real-world information to augment reality, it’s certainly made a big splash.

So what do we do with this information in ministry? I think there are two opposite responses worth considering.

Transcendence

First, it’s important to recognize that as humans we have a yearning for something that reaches beyond the world we experience. We always have.

Theologians call this “transcendence.” Don McKim, the author of the Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, defines “transcendent” as “that which stands beyond all limits of human experience.” He quickly adds that Christians often use this word to describe God.

As humans, we hope, we suspect, we believe that there is something deeper than the world we can see and touch and taste. We have a fascination with the strange and bizarre. There’s something deeply human and healthy about it. In fact, churches have used art in similar ways for centuries. Just consider the symbols of the four evangelists.

Pokémon Go is one way we take that deep yearning and let it out to play. It’s a way to give expression to the longing for transcendence through silliness and fun.

Perhaps, as we consider ministry in a world with Pokémon Go, it may be helpful to recognize the yearning for transcendence, and allow people to express it in deeper ways.

Dragon Doors

Second, it’s important to realize that we often fail to see how bizarre reality can be. G. K. Chesterton, with his typical penchant for quotability, mused that “A child of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of three is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door.”

His point was that in childhood, we recognize how amazing the world can be. There is no need to augment reality–reality itself is fascinating.

At its best, a game like Pokémon Go can help us recapture some of the fascination with the world around us.

The downside, of course, is that augmented reality games do put dragons behind doors. At their worst, they cause us to miss out on the excitement of reality.

 

Pokémon Go doesn’t just give church leaders something to think about; it also gives them something to do. Consider this: Pokémon Go may actually bring new people to your church since tons of churches are locations for the game. Wondering how you can reach these potential visitors? Check out the “Church Marketing Sucks” blog post on the topic.

Perhaps in a world of augmented reality, we can strive to help people to see the wonder of reality itself. We can encourage others to see the wonder of doors and trees and clouds, whether or not there are cartoon dragons behind them.

 

The Rev. Derek Davenport ’05 is director of enrollment at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and program co-director of the Miller Summer Youth Institute. Derek is also a PTS alumnus of the Master of Divinity (MDiv) Program after which he served at a church in Orlando, Fla., for five years. Besides working with prospective students, he serves as a guest preacher in Western Pennsylvania, researches church symbolism on his website, and tweets at @DerekRDavenport.

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