Sunday, October 25, 2009

Churches of Clairton

100 Years

Time goes by: We spoke earlier of the 50th anniversary of the Clairton First Presbyterian Church. The church originally stood across the street from the high school, on the corner of Fifth Street and Large Avenue. When the parishioners decided to build a new edifice a few blocks away at the corner of Fifth and Mitchell, the old church was sold to the Serbian Orthodox congregation and moved to its current location on Reed Street. The new Presbyterian Church congregation celebrated the 50th anniversary in 1953, as discussed in last week’s blog, and the 100th anniversary celebration in 2003.

The City of Prayer: Clairton’s motto is apt. The Clairton Silver Anniversary book published in 1947 lists, in no particular order, the following houses of worship in a city of some 10,000 souls: Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, St. Paulinus Roman Catholic Church, First Presbyterian Church, First Methodist Church, United Free Gospel Mission, First African Methodist Episcopal Church, Wilson Presbyterian Church, Clairton Christian Church, St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church, Morning Star Baptist Church, Pine Run Methodist Church, The First Slavish Roman Catholic Greek Rite Church, St. Clare's Roman Catholic Church, Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration, Christian Missionary Alliance, Mount Oliver Baptist Church, Church of God in Christ, Greek Church, Serbian Orthodox Church, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Many prominent Clairton families attended each of the above churches. The Crilley family was among them. They were all active in the Presbyterian Church and Robert was called to the ministry. It was he who gave the sermon on the occasion of the 100th anniversary. His words have been edited for brevity but I’ve attempted to keep the spirit of Rev. Crilley’s words as originally spoken. The first part of his sermon follows:

“Thank you for inviting me to be your preacher today. It is a great, great honor in my life. This beloved building happened to be located on the route I took home from high school. Many, many afternoons I’d come in here, pause and pray. I felt God’s presence so very powerfully. But sometimes I’d come up to the Pulpit, open the Bible, and pretend I was a minister preaching to a packed Sanctuary. Remember: this was the early fifties. Packed Sanctuaries were the norm! This church back then had a membership of almost a thousand.

And then a time came in my senior year in high school when I wanted to be a minister more than anything in the world. At that time this church had an energetic Youth Minister by the name of the Rev. James D. Cole. We called him “Jimmy“. He was the coolest associate pastor you would ever want to meet. He was the best dresser in Clairton.

This man was truly an exceptional minister. He drove me up to Waynesburg College, introduced me to all the important people there who made the decisions about incoming students.

And then, during my Seminary days at Princeton, he arranged for me a position on the staff of the Westfield Presbyterian church, where he was the minister to youth. He let me stay with him in his apartment on weekends. Free. He woke me up on Sunday mornings with the Mormon Tabernacle choir singing The Hallelujah Chorus!

To kind of get in the mood for our celebration today, I did some research. When this church was organized, the rivets were barely cool on a brand new steel mill that had just been erected on the banks of the Monongahela---just two years earlier.

Where we are today, this building, back then was a part of a cow pasture that belonged to a fellow by the name of Edward Moore. His house was where the Bekavac Funeral home sits today---two blocks to the north of us. But Moore’s place wouldn’t be farm land for very long. Because of the new steel mill, this whole area quickly filled with houses.

1903 was quite a year.

The Wright brothers, over at Kitty Hawk, N.C. managed to get a heavier-than-air machine to achieve flight for the first time ever. It stayed in the air 12 seconds, went 120 feet. But they got better as the day went on. Their third and final flight was 852 feet and it stayed in the air 59 seconds.

1903 was the year Marie Curie and her husband won the Nobel Prize in Physics for their work in radiation.

And it was the year that Mr. Henry Ford released to the world the first Model-A automobile.

Not to be outdone, the Harley-Davidson people put a motor on a bicycle and the first hog was born.

A guy by the name of Gillette in 1903 found a way for men to get the whiskers off their faces and a fellow by the name of George Eastman devised a way to put a camera into the hands of the common man.

Crayons were invented in 1903, but the zipper wouldn‘t appear for another ten years. And the world would have to wait twenty-seven years for the first chocolate-chip cookie.

A lot of changes in buying power happened in a hundred years.

That Model A Ford cost $850.00. But the average salary of a steel worker was only $300 a year, so it wasn‘t exactly within easy reach of the common man.

For gentlemen who were looking for something snazzy to wear to church, they could get an all wool blazer suit, complete with matching vest for $2.98. The lady of the house could buy a fine, fine dress for $2.50.

Life expectancy was 47 and the number one cause of death in the country was pneumonia.

Only 14% of homes had a bathtub in 1903. And 96% of all births took place at home.

Finally, I discovered an interesting fact about 1903. The nation’s sixth worst stock market crash began in June of 1901 and ended in December 1903.

In other words, men and women our forebears launched this church at the height of a very dark time in this country’s history.

This church has a hundred year reputation for doing the best of things, the most hopeful of things, in the worst of times.

100 years. Much can happen in a church in that period of time. Think about that as far as this church is concerned.

5,200 Sundays have come and gone; over four hundred communion services. A river of money has flowed through the offering plates---more than a couple of million dollars, according to my calculations.

But think of all the pew battles that have taken place over the years in this place, folks wrestling with temptation or having to make critical decisions in their lives. Think of all the anxious hours spent here waiting for lab reports, or getting spiritually ready for a dreaded operation.

Think how many babies have been baptized here---infants who grew up to confess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior?

Think how many times the Lord’s body has been broken, his blood shared, as the plates moved up and down these aisles nourishing souls to eternal life.

How many brides and grooms have stood beneath these wooden beams and made life commitments to one another?

How many caskets with their precious cargo have rolled down this aisle as the Pastor intoned, 'I am the Resurrection and the Life. The one who believes in me, even though they die, yet shall they live. And whoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.'

I was a little boy here during World War II. Folks were putting gold stars in their windows for sons, brothers, husbands.”

We will continue the sermon in next week’s post.

A little blogging music Maestro… The Mormon Tabernacle choir singing The Hallelujah Chorus.

Dr. Forgot

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