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.