Regarding Recent Events in Pittsburgh

It’s been a long week. It’s been a long week for our city, and it’s been an especially long week for the clergy of the city. Most of us are pretty sad, shocked, frustrated, and tired. There are people in both Emsworth UPC and St. Andrew’s (the other church I serve) who knew victims of the shooting on Saturday, first responders who were involved, or members of the congregations at Tree of Life who were not injured. We’re all feeling it. This whole city is angry and tired and hurting.

You can view my official statement from Sunday regarding Saturday’s massacre below.

For those who have not seen or heard, a former EUPC pastor was filmed on the news in a very raw and upset moment. Unfortunately, this unfiltered moment has drawn some negative attention to the church. While the previous minister has been harassed and threatened because of this moment, there have been no threats made against me or the congregation at EUPC. I have been getting emails and calls asking me to fire this pastor, but nothing more nefarious than that.

Please know that while there is no indication of any threat to the church, the members, or the leadership at EUPC, we have taken the following precautions to end this harassment and ensure that it does not escalate.

  • The Ohio Township Police are aware of the harassment and will be making their presence apparent on Sunday morning before and during our worship hour, as well as extra patrol in the neighborhood. Another local church has also been bothered by the same sorts of online bullying and the police will be keeping an eye on them as well. I am in communication with the Chief of Police, who does not believe that there is a threat to our congregation at this time, but we’ll all feel better knowing that they are right there beside us.
  • I have temporarily disabled the church facebook page and the website contact forms, which are where most of the harassment was coming from. This is by the advice of the police. I will re-enable them when it seems safe and appropriate to do so. In the meantime, prayer requests should be phoned in or emailed directly to our prayer team or myself. If you need to get in touch with me, please email me or call me directly, rather than trying to use the church website.

I understand that some are upset by the way in which this pastor expressed her anger and frustration last night. We pastors are people too and sometimes we get angry and frustrated and wound up and our filters shut down. Sometimes, we do or say things that hurt people, just like everyone does from time to time. Whether you agree with her sentiment or not regarding the president’s visit to Pittsburgh, it’s important that we extend her grace and compassion at a very shocking and un-navigable time.

Dear ones, I have your back. I love you. I know that you have my back and love me as well. And that means the world to me. This too shall pass. We will get through this rotten time in Pittsburgh’s history together. Please don’t hesitate to call me if you’d like to decompress/vent/chat. I’m here for you.

Love and blessings to you all,
Pastor Charissa

Sanctuary: a response to the violence in a local congregation

Yesterday, Pittsburgh was rocked by a terrible and violent terrorist act. At around 10 am, a man entered the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill and opened fire on the worshiping community on their sabbath day. Even as he was apprehended by police and the FBI, he was uttering anti-semitic hate speech.

 

11 worshipers died.

 

6 people, including four responding officers, were seriously injured.

 

In a place of worship.

 

In their sanctuary.

 

The word sanctuary means “A place of refuge or safety.” That’s where the word for the space in which a community worships got its name. It’s our place of refuge and safety. For one local congregation yesterday, that sanctuary was horrifically violated.

 

Those of us who gather in our sanctuaries today to pray must remember that we gather as a people of peace in a place that is meant for peace. When fear knocks on the door, we cannot allow it to seep in. When hate barges in, we must shower it with messages and actions of love. Because as Martin Luther King Jr said: Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love…  

 

To all those who are afraid, all those who feel beaten down, pushed to the edges, dropped through the cracks, and just plain hurt, let me be among those who sincerely say:

 

I am sorry. This is not God’s intention for the world. And those of us who have watched this sort of behavior happen without speaking out boldly in truth and love and working together to change the script are part of the problem. I am sorry.

 

Jewish, Muslim, Presbyterian, Catholic, atheist, black, white, young, old, gay, straight, whoever you are, you are welcome here. You are welcome to seek peace and rest with us in this sanctuary. Come here for refuge and safety in a troubled time.

 

Each week for a few weeks now, we have sung the same song at the beginning of every worship service.

 

Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary,

 

pure and holy,

 

tried and true.

 

With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living

 

sanctuary

 

For you.

 

To those who are in a position of privilege and safety, those who are not on the margins but have lots of space on the page, I challenge you to go to your sanctuaries this morning. Seek that peace for your own troubled soul, but when you go out, go forth as a living sanctuary. BE the place of refuge and safety for those around you.

 

Be the sanctuary our world needs right now.

 

Pittsburgh: I know you. You are so full of love. Now is the time to make that more real and apparent than it’s ever been.

 

Be the sanctuary.

 

May God bless you and keep you.

May God be kind and gracious to you.

May God look upon you with favor and give you peace. Amen.

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