Many cultures united by one faith at Dormont church

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Most Sundays at Pittsburgh Baptist Church on Pioneer Avenue in Dormont find the congregation worshiping and studying the Bible separately in four languages: English, Bhutanese, Ukrainian and Vietnamese.

This Sunday, the English and Vietnamese groups will unite to celebrate the commissioning of the Rev. Dan Nguyen as pastor of Pittsburgh Vietnamese Baptist Church. The 11 a.m. service will be marked with celebratory music and a message from Rev. Phouc Bang of Chicago.

In addition, remarks will be made by representatives from Vietnamese congregations in Buffalo, N.Y., and Akron, Ohio, and leaders from the Baptist Convention of Pennsylvania-South Jersey. Ethnic food will be served following the service.

The Rev. Kim Gruester, pastor of Pittsburgh Baptist Church, said church attendance, which typically averages about 130 people during that service, will likely more than double because a large contingent of Vietnamese from a three-state region is expected for the event.

He said he believes the strong show of support is due to the high importance placed on ceremony in the Vietnamese culture and that the commissioning is as much a cultural phenomenon as anything.

The church has partnered with Rev. Nguyen's congregation and provides space for them to hold services at no cost to help establish them as a church. Rev. Gruester said such church planting is a significant ministry with more than 17 planted since the church's establishment in 1959.

The church has forged relationships with a local Bhutanese congregation that meets from 6 to 7 p.m. Sundays in the church's education building and a Ukrainian congregation, which meets from 1 to 3 p.m. Sundays. In addition, a Tamal Indian congregation meets once a month at the church for what Rev. Gruester described as a cultural gathering.

"On any given Sunday, we'll have three or four different language groups meeting at our church," he said. "We stay pretty busy."

Of the 400 churches in their denomination across Pennsylvania and South Jersey, Rev. Gruester said he believes his church is the only one that operates this way.

"It's unique and it honestly wasn't by human design," he said. "It was divinely designed."

Rev. Gruester, who will have pastored the church for six years in December, said this broad cultural mix of people began before he came on board and that it has only grown ince he started. His own congregation consists of African-American, Haitian, Filipino and South American members.

Though services are held at separate times, Rev. Gruester said the ethnic groups often intermingle for Bible study, at youth group meetings and on holidays.

"It's just such a blessing," he said. "It's a blessing not only for me as a pastor, but I think for our people as a church. It's a great opportunity."

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Shannon M. Nass, freelance writer:


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