New church 'planted' in Squirrel Hill

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Pittsburgh Allderdice High School in Squirrel Hill will begin a new role this weekend.

On Sunday, the school's auditorium on Shady Avenue will be transformed into a worship center and sanctuary for the grand opening of CityReach Church Pittsburgh-East. The service starts at 9 a.m., with bagels and coffee afterward.

Pastor Dan O'Neil and his wife, Linda, of Baldwin Borough began planning the church nearly a year ago with the help of Pastor Brian Bolt, who is lead pastor of CityReach Church on Perrysville Avenue, North Side, and founder of the CityReach Network.

CityReach Network exists to start churches and Hope Homes across America. The church in Allderdice is one of nine new churches being "planted" by the network this year in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Funding for the church in Allderdice comes from the CityReach Network and its sister organization, Network of Hope, which receives money from corporate, individual and church sponsors. Money also was raised at the local level through various outreaches.

Church planting is a process to establish a new church rather than develop an already established congregation. One of the first steps in planting, Pastor O'Neil said, is knowing and actively responding to the needs of the community where it will be established.

To do this, he said, he and his team spent the past year delivering meals, teaching, reading and conducting healing services at churches and civic gatherings for residents of Squirrel Hill.

"I think people really see you as something that is God's touch," he said. "If you're giving a good hot meal to somebody who is barely able to make ends meet, they'll really believe that God can use you."

The team also surveyed community members and found what they said was an overwhelming desire to connect with people from different ethnic, racial and religious backgrounds. In response, the church has incorporated elements from both the Messianic Jewish and African-American traditions, including bringing on board a Messianic rabbi as the music minister, which Pastor O'Neil said will give a Jewish flavor to the worship.

Pastor O'Neil said he chose the area after being highly influenced by two "spiritual dads" who were of African-American and Jewish descent and had their roots in the eastern part of the city. He said he knew he wanted "to plant" in the vicinity of Squirrel Hill.

"God made it all happen and we just opened the right doors," he said. "We earnestly want to see people come out feeling as if God spoke to them, that God healed something, and that they were touched in such a way that their life problem is no longer going to be a life problem."


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Shannon M. Nass, freelance writer:


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