Presbyterian church looks to start storefront congregation Downtown

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After almost 20 years guiding the New Hope Presbyterian Church in community activism in Marshall-Shadeland on the North Side, the Rev. Rodger Woodworth has planted a new church Downtown.

The goal is to join with a coffeehouse or other retail partner to establish a storefront congregation.

New City Church began forming a year ago and has been holding monthly services in a rented room at the Wyndham Grand hotel this summer. Weekly services will be held at 6 p.m. Sundays, beginning Sept. 9.

The mission of the church is to create a Downtown community by sharing the gospel in a setting that would attract people who may not be comfortable in a traditional one, where college students in particular are a missing demographic. The mission is synergistic with the place-sharing movement of self-employed people who pay low monthly rent in the same work space.

Coffeehouses were the pioneer in this movement and are often the "third places" where, after home and work, people go to share community.

"We've envisioned a partnership with a business that is large and serves as a third place," Rev. Woodworth said. "The business would run Monday through Saturday, and we would worship there on Sunday. We have started talking with some businesses.

"I'm not against the traditional church; I'm a churchman," Rev. Woodworth said. "But it doesn't connect with everybody. To reach more people, we want to do things differently."

Like at New Hope Church in the neighborhood where Rev. Woodworth still lives, this congregation would be intentionally multicultural, multiracial and multigenerational.

With a core of 40 to 50 adults, the church has the support of the Presbytery of the Alleghenies, the Coalition for Christian Outreach -- a campus ministry organization -- and Memorial Park Presbyterian Church in Allison Park, which ran a capital campaign to help launch it. The partner organizations have raised $300,000 to support New City Church for four years, Rev. Woodworth said.

Lisa Slayton, vice president of Serving Leaders, a leadership support organization, is a member of the founding core. She and her husband had been considering being part of a new church plant Downtown and met with some other friends to discuss the idea.

One of the friends knew Rev. Woodworth and brought him into the discussion "to do a church that would be very different, very focused on seven days a week equipping people to be centered in the gospel."

Michael Thornhill is New City Church's campus minister. He's a 23-year-old graduate in communications from Slippery Rock University and will establish an outreach presence at Point Park University and the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.

"I'll probably spend two days [each week] this semester where I am visible and available," he said. "I want to be a mentor to help them discover that their community has value and is bigger" than their college world.

It will be a challenge to convince many students that Sunday morning would best be spent in worship, Mr. Thornhill admitted. So, what's in it for a 19- or 20-year-old?

"Relationships," he said. "Relationships that lead to the greatest relationship in life: love of God."

His passions include salsa dancing, which he teaches, and diversity.

"Diversity is not a black and white paradigm," he said. "It's diversity, not bi-versity. The core value of this church is to become cross-cultural, not for the sake of diversity but for what it represents, God's community."

Among Downtown churches, the 240-year-old First Presbyterian Church is the closest option to New City Church for Evangelical Presbyterians, and it has a student outreach of its own, senior pastor Tom Hall said.

But the New City Church does not represent competition, he said. "Oh no way. The potential flock is infinite. I say good for them.

"If you're intimidated by a grand cathedral, we're not going to attract you. We're a generation or two away from Sunday morning meaning that you went to church. It's now wide open for all kinds of activities."

A coffeehouse with Sunday church services is "the idea of meeting people where they are," Mr. Hall said. "That's what Jesus did."

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Diana Nelson Jones: or 412-263-1626.


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