A Lenten Message from Rev. Shelley

God’s Beloved Dust

The season of Lent begins with a necessary but unpleasant reminder: “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” As a pastor, I feel deep empathy for the people who approach me, awaiting this reminder along with the imposition of ashes on their foreheads. Sometimes the words catch in my throat as I say them, because the people who receive these ancient words are congregants whom I have been called to love.

Most of us who will hear this reminder of our mortality at the beginning of Lent are ordinary human beings living ordinary lives. And yet we believe that all people are treasured and held by the God who has created all things from the dust — galaxies strewn with stars, a biosphere of plant life, the fish of the sea, the birds of air, the beasts of the field, and us.

During the forty days of Lent, we prepare for the coming Easter season by taking time to reflect. We consider our lives and our relationships, our connection to all of creation, and our responsibility for a planet entrusted to our care. Some Christians choose to give up a creature comfort or two in order to be intentional about focusing on their relationship with God during this time. Others choose to take up a practice instead — giving weekly to a food bank or shelter, setting aside a specific time to pray or read Scripture, volunteering time at a school, or donating blood.

Lent is an invitation to be increasingly mindful of the commandments to love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Join us in person or online at Shadyside Presbyterian Church as we journey through this season which mirrors the forty days Jesus spent fasting and praying in the wilderness. Because, while it is true that we are dust and to dust we shall return, the lives we live in between matter — and we believe that you and I and all of us together are God’s beloved dust.

The Reverend Austin Crenshaw Shelley
Senior Pastor and Head of Staff

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A Christmas Message from Rev. Shelley

Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ, the One whose birth we await during this holy season of Advent.

The Church marks time slightly differently than does most of the world. Though Advent falls at the end of the calendar year, it represents the beginning of a new year in the Church. Advent simply means “coming,” so, in these days leading up to Christmas, we prepare our hearts once more for the inbreaking of God into human history. We rehearse the story of the birth of Christ in Bethlehem once more, and we also hope for our attention to become more and more attuned to the many ways God enters into our lives today and every day to come.

As humans, we tend to make sense of our lives through the telling and retelling of stories. Over time, the stories we tell about our families, our friends, and ourselves take on lives of their own, reminding us who we are and what it is in our history, both good and bad, that compels us to live with integrity and intentionality.

The story of Jesus’ birth in a stable in Bethlehem of Judea remains captivating more than two thousand years later, in part because it tells the story of God’s coming into the world in an utterly surprising way — not as a military hero who would rescue Israel from Roman oppression as many had hoped, but rather as a vulnerable Infant of refugee parents. This helpless Child would become the Messiah, the Savior of the world, not through power wrought by violence, but rather through the power won through love, justice, freedom, and peace.

There is a Kenyan proverb that says, “When you pray, remember to move your feet.” During Advent, we pray that God’s love will continue to break into a violent world that longs for God’s peace, into a despairing world that longs for God’s hope, into a broken world that longs for God’s healing. And, as we pray, we move our feet. We wait for God’s coming by feeding the hungry, tending the sick, encouraging the downtrodden, and freeing those who are captive to oppressive powers that threaten to render them anything less than the beloved children of God that they are.

In the act of reaching out to a world in need, we believe we encounter and embody the love of Christ, who came that all might have life, and have it abundantly. If you have ever had the sneaking suspicion that the holiday season compels us into a deeper longing than all the marketers of consumer goods would have us believe, join us in prayer and worship at Shadyside Presbyterian Church, either in person or online. And while you pray, remember to move your feet. Together, we can do something that will bring a glimpse of unexpected kindness and mercy into the world. And if we do, we believe the story of Christmas — with its astonishing angels, lowly shepherds, guiding star, and dingy stable — will once again take on a life of its own.

To you, to the ones whom you love, and to the ones whom only God loves, we wish a blessed Advent season and a Merry Christmas.

The Reverend Austin Crenshaw Shelley
Senior Pastor and Head of Staff

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Pastoral Message from Rev. Shelley

Blessings in Our Broken Bread

With joy and thanksgiving, I greet you, the people of God who are the Shadyside Presbyterian Church! Thank you for the hospitality you have extended to me and to my family as we have begun to settle into our new surroundings in Pittsburgh. Your kindness has woven its way into our hearts and seamlessly knit us into the fabric of your life together. For this gift of grace, we give thanks to God.

Though your warm welcome has stretched over the waning summer months and into the crisp days of fall, our first official Sunday is October 3, which is also World Communion Sunday. As you surely remember, and as the medallion embedded in the center of our chancel floor attests, World Communion Sunday began here at Shadyside in 1933, when the Reverend Dr. Hugh Thomson Kerr served as pastor. That my first Sunday as your senior pastor coincides with such a historically significant celebration in the life of this congregation is both intentional and meaningful.

It is intentional because I pray that our ministry together in this place will be characterized by an appreciation of those who have gone before us who have served God with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love. The Reverend Dr. Kerr and many of my predecessors, staff, and lay people alike prayerfully and faithfully discerned the ways in which God was calling them to love their neighbors in their particular time in this place. We stand on the shoulders of giants.

World Communion Sunday’s overlap with my first opportunity to lead worship in your midst is also meaningful. It not only reflects my appreciation of your worship life which is well-rooted in tradition and beauty, but also affirms our shared sense that God is calling us to a future we cannot yet imagine—one that depends on those deep, established roots to nourish our ability to notice new ways God is at work among us, fostering new growth that compels us to go out into the world to join in God’s transformation of the entire landscape.

World Communion Sunday holds a special place in our history, but its significance is not relegated to the past; nor is it contained by our gorgeous stone walls, intricate carvings and mosaics, or historical slate roof. Like the sacrament of Communion itself, this day transcends time and space. When we celebrate World Communion, we proclaim the good news that Christ is among us, present to us in the bread and the cup—and not to us alone, but to every soul throughout time and space who has ever longed to be fed by the living God.

I was recently introduced to an Argentinian blessing that is a fitting prayer as we begin this new chapter in Shadyside’s mission and ministry:

God bless to us our bread
And give bread to all those who are hungry
And hunger for justice to those who are fed
God bless to us our bread

This blessing echoes the Lord’s Prayer in that it asks God for our bread. Not my bread, but rather, our bread—bread that belongs to all of us, nourishes all of us, sends all of us out with the help of the Holy Spirit to continue the work of feeding those who hunger. This blessing acknowledges the truth that our well-being is bound up in the well-being of every other child of God on the planet. And it tells the truth, too—that our hunger for the goodness of the Lord will inevitably lead us to remember our oneness with the refugee fleeing Afghanistan, with the victim of rising flood waters or threatening wildfires, with everyone who has ever heard and will ever hear God’s answer to our prayers for bread: Take, eat. This is my Body, broken for you.

Grace and peace,

The Reverend Austin Crenshaw Shelley
Senior Pastor and Head of Staff

Note: This pastoral message first appeared in the October 2021 issue of The Church Mouse newsletter.

About Rev. Shelley

Read more about Rev. Shelley.

Watch a brief video introducing Rev. Shelley.