The Allegheny Valley Association of Churches was forty-one churches strong when it gathered Sunday evening for the 2005 Festival of Faith with the theme "Christianity Without Borders." The Holy Martyrs Roman Catholic Church in Tarentum hosted the annual event this year. The visually striking worship space spoke to me about the love of God that embraces both the continuities and discontinuities of human existence.
Choirs from a broad spectrum of Christian churches across the Alle-Kiski Valley led the ecumenical congregation in exuberant singing. Churches who provided special music included: Janes United Methodist Church of Creighton, Holy Martyrs Roman Catholic Church of Tarentum, Natrona Heights Church of the Brethren, Center United Methodist Church of Natrona Heights, Blessed Sacrament Roman Catholic Church of Natrona Heights, Bull Creek Presbyterian Church, Trinity United Christian Church of Lower Burrell, and the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church of Tarentum.
The Rev. Dr. James Legge, President of the Allegheny Valley Association of Churches offered remarks about the many ministries of AVAC that are taking place because of the support of the churches in the Valley -- ministries that in some cases began when the economy was a lot better, but which the churches have continued to carry out even when there has not been as much money to go around. Mrs. Karen Snair, Executive Director of the AVAC introduced the preacher of the evening, the Rev. Dr. Dan Merry, Associate Pastor to the Pittsburgh Presbytery.
Dan Merry and his family had recently returned from a year as missionaries in Malawi. He preached an inspiring message on Mark 6:30-44, the story of the feeding of five thousand men. Each time I hear Dan preach this sermon the math comes out different. He points out that the Biblical writers only record the count of how many adult males were present, and then asks the congregation how many women and how many children they think were present. If he preaches this sermon in your congregation, remember that he'll try to trick you by seeing if you remember to add thirteen (for the twelve disciples and Jesus) to the grossly rounded estimates of the number who were fed. Tonight the total came to 30,013 people.
In the story of this miracle there is a difference between the solution the disciples offer ("send them away") and the solution Jesus directs ("you give them something to eat"). Dan reminds us that our resources together with God's power are sufficient.
The offering taken this evening will support the many important ministries of the AVAC. Its outreach has grown a lot over the last year, with 150 more clients for the food bank.
Following the service Father Aaron Kriss, the pastor of the host church, invited the whole congregation downstairs for a time of fellowship and refreshments. It looked like most of them stayed.
This was another successful celebration for the Allegheny Valley Association of Churches, and a time when Christians joined together, ignoring denominational and sectarian divisions to worship and serve the Risen Lord together.