The Powers of Place
This week’s eNewsletter
feature story is written by
Jim Teague, FPCE communications coordinator
My son attends college “back east” in Pittsburgh (even though my friends from Boston think Pittsburgh is in the Midwest). Multiple times a year, I drive the eight-hour journey there, with pretty much the full width of Indiana and Ohio to cross in between.
I grew up in Pittsburgh, and each time I make the drive the Interstate takes me past a soccer complex near Cleveland where I experienced a particularly stinging defeat one summer. That was over 35 years ago, and yet I still wince with disappointment each time the field where it took place comes into view.
Every time I drive by, I have to kind of laugh at myself, amazed that the power of that place is still quite real. But make no mistake, place has power.
One of the leaders from Tree of Life/Or L’Simcha recently posted a blog post about what it has been like worshipping and having their offices in a different building. She shared a brief but powerful perspective on what “home” really means.
Last month I was back in Pittsburgh to help my son move from one dormitory to another. It was a multi-day project, so we had the opportunity to go out to dinner a couple of times and, in the process, drive around my old hometown together.
One of the places we drove past was the Tree of Life/Or L’Simcha Synagogue in Squirrel Hill. This was the site of the horrific anti-Semitic attack on October 27, 2018, during which 11 people were killed and six were wounded. It is, to say the least, a somber place. There is fencing around the perimeter, signs of support on the doors, and a small grassy area where people still leave flowers, drawings, and notes to honor those who were lost and comfort the survivors.
As we drove by, we were silent. Neither of us knows anyone from the three congregations which used to meet at the synagogue, but the emotion of the place was still very real.
Place has power.
Today, June 6, 2019, is the 75th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy in World War II – D-Day. My grandfather came ashore there a week after the first troops hit the beaches. He said that bodies were still stacked everywhere as he came in. About a month later, he was wounded in action in France and sent home to recuperate. He visited France decades later and returned to the sites of the battles he had fought in. But it was Normandy, with all its memorials and gravesites, that had the most profound emotional impact on him.
This week, a group of 27 folks from FPCE – including Senior Pastor Ray Hylton and his wife Judith – left on a trip to visit the Holy Land. Some will stay longer than others, but the general itinerary includes Bethlehem (including Nativity Church), Jerusalem (with visits to the Mount of Olives, Gethsemane, and the Via Dolorosa, the Temple Mount, and the pool of Siloam), Masada, Capernaum, and Caesarea.
I can only imagine what the visit to some of those places will be like.
They are, most assuredly, sacred places for those of us who put our hope in Jesus and in the Biblical texts which teach of God’s love expressed through the history of the people of Israel.
Equally true, however, is that these are tourist attractions and places of great historical importance. Whether or not one is a Christian, the significance of these places can’t be overstated. I suspect those on the trip will encounter crowds which include people from all over the world and from many different faith traditions. I’ve seen video from some of the spots and at times the crowds can become unruly. For many visiting these sites, it is a trip of a lifetime, and the desire to see everything (even touch everything) likely intensifies the emotions there.
I suspect that when the folks on the trip return to FPCE, the power of the Holy Land will come back with them. We should all tap into that power.
In the meantime, if you want to tap into some of what they are experiencing, visit the blog that has been set up (the first posts from Bethlehem are already there!):
This Sunday, we have a guest preacher in our pulpit, though it’s really more like having an old friend returning for a visit. Rev. Doug Bradshaw, a former FPCE staff member, will speak at our 10 a.m. Sunday Worship Service. Rev. Bradshaw has served for the last 4 years as executive director for Facing Forward to End Homelessness, a nonprofit organization that empowers and equips individuals and families who are experiencing extended homelessness. Rev. Bradshaw served as associate pastor of River Glen Presbyterian Church in Naperville for 12 years, and prior to that he served on staff here at FPCE for 11 years as director of Jr. High Ministries and First Focus.
It is a powerful pleasure to welcome Doug back home to OUR place.
Please join us for worship, for our first Lemonade on the Lawn after the service, and for our International Potluck at 11:30 a.m. on the second floor.
Blessings and peace!
FPCE Communications Coordinator