Each week 7,000 persons pass through the doors of this 2,200-member church

First in a frontier village at the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers and now in the heart of one of America’s great industrial cities, the First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh has for nearly two hundred years attempted to minister the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. From its beginning, in a log cabin, the church has taken the stance of the Apostle Paul, who was determined to “be all things to all men to win some.” Every generation has brought dramatic changes; in peace and war, in depression and in prosperity, in times of static population and of changing ethnic groups, the church has attempted to find new ways of bearing witness to God’s redeeming work in Jesus Christ.

First Church has always known that the Gospel concerns the whole man; thus it has given of itself to this city throughout the long and honorable years of its history. As far back as 1789, the first pastor of First Church, the Reverend Samuel Barr, became one of the founders of the Pittsburgh Market and one of the first trustees of Pittsburgh Academy, which met in the log church and out of which grew the University of Pittsburgh. In 1802 the Synod of Pittsburgh, meeting in First Church, declared itself to be the Western Missionary Society, which in time became our denomination’s present Board of Foreign Missions. The year 1811 marked the beginning of a great epoch in the history of First Church, for it was in that year that Dr. Francis Herron began his thirty-nine-year pastorate. Dr. Herron led his people in a deepening of their spiritual lives and then involved them in the turbulent life of a growing city, in any endeavor that was for the good of our city and the honor of Christ. One Pittsburgh paper editorialized over Dr. Herron’s ministry with these words: “There are but two things in Pittsburgh, Dr. Herron and the devil, and the devil seems to be getting the advantage.” Never intimidated, Dr. Herron and his congregation renewed their dedication to the destruction of the devil and all his works.

It is rather generally agreed in our city that practically every Protestant religious, philanthropic, and educational organization in Pittsburgh can say of the First Presbyterian Church, “All my springs are in thee.” This remarkable relationship of one church with the busy life of a modern metropolis continues today.

It is my observation that the basic orientation and motivation of this church has been obedience to Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour and a confidence that the Scriptures are the Word of God written wherein all things needed for salvation and the abundant life are clearly revealed. In 1902, Dr. Maitland Alexander, the eighth pastor of this church, dedicated the preaching pulpit with these words:

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It makes a great difference what any pulpit stands for in a Church, and I venture to say a word concerning what I hope and pray it may always show forth in this Church, until it crumbles under the decay of time, or until Christ comes again to vindicate his own claims in judgment.
We dedicate this pulpit to the preaching of the Bible in its integrity and authority as the Word of God and only infallible rule of faith and life, and the telling of the old, old story in its cumulative and ever-increasing sweetness and power; to the preaching of righteousness without fear or favor to strong and weak, rich and poor alike; to the uplifting of a Christ who is God, able to save by His precious blood all who believe and accept Him; to the preaching of the comforts of the grace of God, that the weak may be strong, that the anxious and burdened may be made to see the Burden-bearer, that the sorrowful may be comforted, and that struggling men and women may learn to know the companionship of the Friend of sinners.
I charge you, the members of this Church, to see to it that when my work has been finished in this Church, that no man shall ever stand here as its minister who does not believe in and preach an inspired and infallible Bible, a living Christ who is God, and the Cross and shed Blood, the only way of everlasting life. Let no graces of speech, executive ability or power, charm of diction or literary equipment obscure the paramount qualification for a minister of this Church, namely that he shall be true to the Bible, to all the standards of the Presbyterian Church, to the Deity of God’s only Begotten Son, and Salvation through His Precious Blood alone.
We dedicate this pulpit to the conversion of men, that thereby our God may be glorified, and let us pray that it may be an altar where the richest gifts of mind, of study, of faith and of consecration may be laid, that the fire of God may descend upon him who shall preach from this place of commanding influence, and those who shall hear him as a sign of God’s acceptance of the ministry of this Church and of its people in the great work committed to their hands.

This same man laid the foundation for what has become a unique and creative ministry to the “Golden Triangle,” the business and financial district of downtown Pittsburgh. Dr. Alexander was years ahead of his time when he echoed the concern of Dr. George T. Purves, who served First Church from 1886 to 1892: “The progress of this city, the change in the population surrounding the church, the new forceful application of the fundamental truths of the gospel, had to be faced by the church, and the problems presented by them solved.”

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To solve these problems by involving the resources of men—their minds, their financial and spiritual strength—was the goal of Dr. Alexander. His ministry of thirty-two years laid the foundations for our present program and outreach.

But a church cannot live on its heritage, though the glory of it be great. Today it must match itself against the complexities of 1966 if it is to prove worthy of its past and its Lord. All the outreach of First Church has been shaped by the theological convictions that have always characterized its pulpit. Standing in the heart of Reformed theology, believing the mission of the Church is so to present Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour that men and women will be converted and equipped by the Holy Spirit for every good work, First Church faces the City of Pittsburgh and offers her ministry.

We are absolutely convinced that a man or people must stand in Christ and minister to the world, not—as is so popular in theological circles today—stand in the world, listen for what the world has to say, and then bear witness to Jesus Christ. This understanding is of the utmost importance. We believe that God has spoken fully in Jesus Christ and that he is the answer to life’s problems and privileges. First Church has a twofold ministry in this tri-state area: A ministry that draws an average of 7,000 people each week into our facilities and program; a ministry that sends them out to be deeply and creatively involved with people at the places where decisions are made.

First Church with its 2,200 communicant members, is a cross section of the pulsating life of Pittsburgh. Millionaires and reliefers, Ph.D’s and the unlearned, white and non-white, corporation executives and union organizers—all worship in this old church. More than two hundred of our families live on the edge of poverty. In all these forces and facts that tend to separate and divide, our people are bound together in faith to the Lord Jesus Christ and in love for one another. There is laughter and good humor, deep heart-searching and open sharing, all within the forgiving, constraining love of Christ. Our people fill the church to overflowing, our Sunday school is growing, our giving will top $600,000 this year, and more than forty of our young people are preparing for or are now in Christian service. There seems to be a deep sense of expectancy for the will of God as well as a sincere searching of the Word of God for the leading of the Lord in our generation.

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There are clubs for boys and girls that draw hundreds each week from the slums and the suburbs, from white and non-white families. Special courses are offered to assist those who are having difficulty in a school; there are also courses in such things as German, book reviews, physical conditioning, fencing, woodwork, jewelry-making and dress-making, current events, Bible study, baby-sitting, needlework, and ceramics. Whenever interest in a possible course is shown by a few young people, a Christian teacher is found and the course is offered. These programs are built on the small-group principle, with Bible study and worship the foundation on which all else is built.

More than 2,500 men are members of our regular Tuesday Noon Club for Businessmen. Here from 12:25 to 12:50 a hymn sing is conducted, a glee club sings, and the minister speaks for ten minutes; lunch is served before and after the service in our cafeteria. Average attendance runs from 800 to 1,000 men week after week, month after month. At last count, 700 of these have no normal church connections. The opportunity for evangelism, personal witness, and counseling is unlimited.

The same kind of service is offered on Thursday for businesswomen. More than 1,200 women are members of the Thursday Noon Club. On Thursday evening, some 400 women meet for dinner for a professional women’s Thursday Night Club. Many of these women work in the offices and stores of downtown Pittsburgh. As in most of the other clubs, a great variety of programs is offered, ranging from travelogues, book reviews, and information on household financing to a study of neo-orthodoxy.

On Wednesday a Mothers’ Club with a membership of more than 500 women meets for a service in which all aspects of family life and interpersonal relations are presented from the Christian point of view. This meeting is the outgrowth of our former clinic and visiting-nurse program and touches the homes of many low-income families who are struggling for the reality of love in their very limited environment.


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A vision wakens on my inner mind;

my spirit, wakened by the vision, sings.

The God who spread the golden sand of suns

upon the measureless black beach of night

has made the sand I feel warm in my hand.

The Lord of cosmic mystery and might

is also Lord of all the little things.


In addition to the more structured programs, many more groups, large and small, use our facilities and are part of our congregation’s desire to serve. A local of the hotel workers’ union holds its business meetings in our fellowship hall. Recovery Incorporated, a group of men and women who are recovering from mental illness, finds welcome and support in First Church. “Theo,” an organization interested in providing understanding and opportunities for adjustments to those recently widowed, offers an excellent program. Our men are part of the effort of Employment Anonymous, which seeks to find new employment for those who have lost theirs because of physical, emotional, or mental shortcomings.

All these activities make possible a sharing of friendship and faith and provide for staff and laymen alike unlimited opportunities for counseling. Those men and women who have taken training courses in this field are alerted not to go beyond their own depth but to refer those in need to our staff, who in turn seek appropriate agencies and individuals willing to assist. In addition to the agencies that every large city provides, we have doctors, surgeons, physical therapists, psychologists, lawyers, judges, and social workers who are always willing to cooperate.

This, then, is a brief description of some of the opportunities that First Church provides for Pittsburgh people regardless of race, color, creed, age, or social condition. Still, we realize that thousands of Pittsburghers care nothing about the First Presbyterian Church. Therefore, our people are taught and urged to share life as fully as possible on all levels of the city and surrounding communities. First Church people can be found serving with most of the organizations that attempt to enrich community life, such as neighborhood houses, the YMCA and YWCA, and hospitals. Some serve as hospital volunteers, entertainers, and orderlies in mental institutions, old people’s homes, and rescue missions. School boards, community chest, special committees appointed by the mayor, public fund drives, tutoring services, political action groups—all know something of the witness of our people.

Some of our men are deeply involved in Youth Guidance, a group based on the belief that the heart of the juvenile delinquent problem is the heart of the delinquent. This new organization, which has the encouragement of city officials and the police force, is linking up teen-agers who are on probation with specially trained men of Christian maturity who work with these boys as fathers or elder brothers. One of our young men, saved through our young people’s work, has recently graduated from seminary and has a new type of ministry out on the streets, getting to know the gangs and their leaders and sharing the Gospel of Christ’s love in every imaginable way.

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A very real and growing part of our outreach centers in our camps and conferences at Ligonier. We begin our fifty-first year of “Camping with a Christian Purpose” this season. Hundreds of young people have found Christ through this summer ministry. Since fewer than one-third of those who participate are from First Church, this witness spreads to other congregations and into many non-Christian homes. We are expecting to make our facilities adequate for winter use and develop a year-round ministry of recreation, conferences, and retreats for all ages from junior high youth to senior citizens. We have discovered that many can be touched for Christ through our ski weekends.

As downtown Pittsburgh begins to develop a complex of apartment homes and new hotels, we have already planned our approach to these new homes in the sky. A number of our couples are moving into the new apartments in order that we may have an entree; a person-to-person witness has begun which we believe will grow into small groups of committed Christians in every hotel and apartment in the inner city.

In all of this and so much more, our people are not only personally sharing in the endeavors but also undergirding the work with their daily prayer. We know that we have often failed, but we know also that God has used our witness in his purpose for our day. We are not planning to abandon the center city, because we are convinced that, as the cities go, so goes our nation. Thus we count it all joy and no sacrifice to attempt to be part of the answer to the question, “How do people who love Christ bear witness in the heart of a great city?”

Therefore, to maintain the great centralities of New Testament Christianity, to retain a truly representative membership, to fail in no opportunity to bear witness to the Gospel of God’s redemption in Christ for all men, is the motive that runs through the varied programs of First Church with the very enthusiasm expressed in William Blake’s lines;

Bring me my bow of burning gold,

Bring me my arrows of desire;

Bring me my spear—O clouds unfold,

Bring me my chariot of fire!

I will not cease from mental fight,

Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,

Till I have built Jerusalem.

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