First Church Notes for Feb. 26, 2023

News regarding the life and ministry of our wonderfully diverse and energized faith community

Welcome to First Notes!

If you have items for our notes, we ask that they be submitted to the office by email no later than Wednesdays at 9:00 AM.

COVID-19 Update on Levels for Allegheny County

As of today, the aggregate level for Allegheny County is marked LOW. One factor within that designation is transmission rate. The transmission rate as of today in Allegheny County is LOW.

Because of the overall LOW designation, masking will be optional in the church building this coming Sunday. As always, we encourage one and all to make sure you are updated with the latest vaccine booster that is available right now.

If you are showing any symptoms of sickness at all we ask that you heartily consider staying home and testing. If you are at a higher risk level you are encouraged to mask inside the building. We will continue to have masks available.

Fellowship Hour

Members of the Preachers’ Aid Committee will be hosting fellowship time after worship on Feb. 26th.

Widening the Circle of Discernment

First United Methodist Church of Pittsburgh invites you to join us for another meeting with our consultant Dr. Sharon Higginbothan, as we continue to work towards becoming an Anti-Racist Church.

On Thursday, March 2nd at 6:00 PM we will gather virtually and start using the framework of Appreciative Inquiry (AI) as our strategy for intentional change. From the best of “What is,” we want to pursue “What could be”. Together, we want to identify the strengths, passions, and live-giving forces that hold the potential for inspired and positive change. We are looking for our Positive Core in a process of discovery that leads to imagination and innovation.

We envision this as a process similar to the one that led us to our Living Stones displayed in the sanctuary. This time, however, we will focus specifically on the Affirmative Topic of becoming an Anti-Racist Church.

Questions of Discovery we will be asking one another in the safe space of small groups…

  • Describe a time in the life of FUMC that you consider a highpoint experience, a time where you were most engaged and felt alive and vibrant.
  • Tell me what it is that you most value about yourself, your work, and the church.
  • What are the core factors that give life to the church when it is at its best?
  • Imagine FUMC ten years from now, when everything is just as you wished it would be.
    What is different? How have you contributed to the dream of this church?

If you cannot be present for this event, you may also make your voice heard by sending your thoughts on these questions to Pastor Tracy (

Here is the link to the Zoom event on March 2nd at 6:00 PM:

Meeting ID: 850 4955 3775                                   
Passcode: 769301

Reparations: An Invitation for Conversation

Reparations Conversation Postponed

Due to the many First Church opportunities for involvement over the next few weeks, we are postponing the reparations conversation, scheduled for Feb. 27.  Please stay tuned for a new date.

Book Study: Banished from Johnstown

Did you know that September 2023 will be the 100th anniversary of the banishment from Johnstown, PA, of all Black and Mexican people who had been living there for less than seven years? This was done in response to the fatal shooting of two police officers and the critical wounding of four others when they attempted to arrest a Black man in a Black neighborhood of Johnstown. This kind of racist action has happened in many other places but since Johnstown is in “our backyard,” the Wrestling with Racism group from First Church, Warren UMC, and other faith-based groups has decided to study the book about this event.

You are invited to join us at Warren United Methodist Church for a discussion of the first half of the book titled Banished from Johnstown: Racist Backlash in Pennsylvania by Cody McDevitt (with foreword by Tony Norman). That’s 97 pages, through the chapter titled “The Order.” We will meet on Monday, March 6th at 6:00 PM. The discussion of the second half of the book will occur on Monday, April 3rd—same time, same place. The book can be found at the Carnegie Library or purchased at Barnes and Noble or on Amazon.

Foundations of Racism

Racism is an issue we are constantly reminded of as we watch the news, but it is a topic many of us are hesitant to discuss for fear of upsetting or offending others.  Join the Pittsburgh District Anti-Racism Team (Pittsburgh ART) for Foundations of Anti-Racism, a discussion based study on how racism impacts our daily lives and what we can do to promote equity in our communities.  

Three sessions are being offered during March: Mondays, March 6, 13, 20 and 27 at Baldwin Community UMC (5001 Baptist Rd, Pittsburgh); Tuesdays, March 7, 14, 21 and 28 at South Avenue UMC (733 South Ave, Pittsburgh); and Thursdays, March 9, 16, 23 and 30 via Zoom.  All sessions will run from 7 – 8:30 pm.  Please register here for the session of your choice by February 27.  Contact the church office with any questions.

I Go On Singing: Paul Robeson’s Life in His Words and Songs

Where: Warren UMC, 2606 Centre Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Sunday, April 23, 2023 3:00 PM

The story of this American hero, Paul Robeson, who struggled and triumphed comes alive in a rousing 90-minute song-filled presentation performed by Pittsburgh native and gifted American baritone and international ambassador of peace, Anthony Brown.  “I Go On Singing” brings music and history alive with equal parts documentary and live concert experience.  Musical numbers range from spirituals to Broadway, and include Robeson’s original arrangements of favorites like “Wade in the Water,”  “Ol’ Man River,” “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” “Water Boy,” and many others.  Robeson’s musical colleague, the legendary folk singer Pete Seeger, makes three video appearances discussing his friendship with Robeson, the music they shared, and the turbulent times in which they lived.  “Once in a lifetime a human being comes along who stands head and shoulders above the rest.  Paul Robeson was such a man.”  A freewill offering will be accepted. Tony Brown is an active member of the Wrestling with Racism Team!

Hands-On Mission

Our next Hands On Mission opportunity will be on March 19, which is also UMCOR Sunday.

There is now a donation box on top of the Aiken Avenue Caring Cupboard.  Look for the hearts!  Miscellaneous donations (toiletries, snacks and other small items) can be left in the box.  We’ll empty the box regularly and move items to the inside of the cupboard or wherever they are most needed.

If you have any questions, contact the church office.

Exciting News about the Sound and Media Upgrades

Thanks to the generosity of many in the congregation, the fundraising for the Sound & Media Upgrades project is now getting close to our goal of raising $45,000. While we are now past the 80% mark with $38,000 raised, there is still the opportunity to make a contribution to this significant investment into enhancing creativity, connection, and outreach for the mission of First Church. The upgrades will be a critical tool for promoting our values and message and for re-imagining how we define community. Some of the goals of this project are:

·         To provide accessible, high-quality experiences for all participants – in-person and on-line

·         To unify, as much as possible, the community of in-person and on-line participants

·         To maintain creativity and intimacy for staff and for participants that is authentic to our identity as a community

A milestone has been reached also for the project itself. This week, all the equipment has arrived and technicians from the vendor are starting the process of installation. While this will take a while, and we cannot expect the systems to be operational for some time yet, keep an eye out for the visual changes in the sanctuary.

Thank you again for your generosity.

Black Lives Matter Prayer Vigils

Please consider joining the vigil at 6 pm on the first and second Wednesdays of each month!

Our Prayer Vigils for Social Justice, at the corner of Centre and South Aiken, where we hold Black Lives Matter signs and, during the winter season, candles that glowi in the dark, are a very important, loving witness to the people of the community who pass First Church! These vigils are held now on the first two Wednesdays of each month, at 6:00 PM, for about 30 minutes. It is important to demonstrate our stand on the questions of social justice on this busy street corner while we reflect on how we can become Living Stones that act against the racism that still pervades our society. Numbers matter, so we encourage you to prayerfully consider your participation. Please also prayerfully consider how you can lead one of these vigils, sharing from your own personal journey to become an anti-racist. Please contact the church office if you need more information or would like to contribute to this witness as a leader. You can also sign up to lead via this Doodle poll:

FUMC Sunday Cast for Congregation and the World

Most of you by now have seen or heard of our weekly worship experiences we are posting on YouTube. We hope they have been meaningful to all of you. We invite you to share the experience with friends and family far and wide. If you search for “fumcpitt” on YouTube it will take you to our church page where you can find all past videos and also the live SundayCast. An email will still be sent out to the FUMC email list each week by early Sunday morning with a link for each “live” experience. We are grateful to be able to connect in this way.

Lenten Devotional

The theme for Lent this year is “Bless the Lent we already have.” We will be exploring the dualities of light and darkness. The weekly themes will be a twist on the beatitudes and will be focal points for this year’s devotional.  The themes consist of 1) Blessed are the perfect and imperfect (Mathew 4:1-11); 2) Blessed are the curious and the certain (John 3:1-17); 3) Blessed are those who suffer and those who thrive (Romans 5:1-11); 4) Blessed are those who feel alone and those who gather (Psalm 23); 5) Blessed are those who mourn and those who give birth to something new (John 11:1-45); and 6) Blessed are the rejected and the accepted (Mathew 21:1-11).  As you think about these themes consider being a part of the project through the following opportunities.

A)      Create a video ~3-5 minutes long discussing your thoughts about one of the topics. Through the video, you can share the story of your faith and provide a piece of the church’s tapestry for our Lenten season. 

B)      As you ponder the dualities of the topics, it may bring to mind images or pictures that represent the themes to you.  Please submit a picture or image to share and include a sentence of what it brings to mind.  Like the beautiful stained-glass creation that was made from our “5th at 1st Sunday discussions,” a collage will be made of the pictures and posted for meditation as part of the devotional.

C)      Read the scripture for the week’s theme.

Please feel free to be creative in your submissions—as the video provides many opportunities for sharing who you are in your faith at this moment in time.  If you are interested in doing a video please sign-up on the google spreadsheet where you can submit your contact information and pick a theme:  

Please sign up before Ash Wed. 2/22/23 and you will be sent instructions on how to submit the video.  If you have never submitted to the Lenten devotionals in past years please consider it.  If you are new to our church body either in-person or online we greatly welcome your voice to our story. 

Looking forward to creating a deep and meaningful story together of our Faith and Journey in Christ.  Any questions contact the church office.

Spiritual Formation Opportunities During Lent

Lent: A Time to Follow the Spirit

Sundays, February 26 – April 2

9:45 am, in the Nursery

This small group experience will use a newly released resource to explore issues of diversity, equity, inclusion and faith. Together we will learn and practice Lectio Divina, a peaceful practice of listening, reflecting and discussing a reading from the Bible. Each class will include:

  • Welcome and check in
  • Scripture reading
  • Lectio Divina
  • Reflection and discussion

This new group is open to anyone who wants to deepen their connection to the Spirit during the six weeks of Lent. There is no homework and there are no prerequisites; just a real opportunity to connect and reflect with others in our church community. The group will be co-led by Sharon McCarthy and Donna Anderson.

Open and Relational Theology

Sundays: Feb 26, March 5, 19, 26, April 2, 16, 23

9:45 am, in the Parlor

Facilitated by Joe Smith, the Seeker’s class will study the book Open and Relational Theology, by Thomas Jay Oord. This accessible, non-technical book presents a radical vision of the world and human suffering that matches our deepest intuition about the character of God. In one session (April 2), Dr. Oord will join us by zoom for Q&R. Reading the book is not a requirement to join the discussion, but if you would like a copy, please contact Joe:   

Buddhism for Lent

Fridays: Feb 24, March 3, 17, 24, 31

1:00-2:30 pm, in the Parlor

This down-to-earth introduction will explore both Buddhist philosophy and practice. We’ll compare Buddhist philosophy with Christian theology and consider how Buddhist practice might be incorporated into Christian spirituality. Facilitated by RoBEAR Wilson and Joe Smith.

Films of Faith

In line with the duality of Lent messages given in worship, that FUMC is continuing to wrestle with racism and taking steps to learning about what it means to be anti-racist, the movies shown this year will promote conversations concerning where is God in race relations. These films are adult in nature, except for Zootopia, the last movie shown which will be a family movie time shown after church with pizza for lunch. There will be intentional questions asked that may challenge the understanding of our theology.

All movies have met the 2-hour maximum show time. Each movie will be shown on a different day and time. Last year Sunday evening was not a great night for folks to come back to church.  Perhaps we can find a good night and day.  Popcorn will be provided at all showings!

  • Monday, Feb 27, 4:00 pm: “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”

1967: Sidney Poitier, Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, Katharine Houghton

A couple’s attitudes are challenged when their daughter introduces them to her African-American fiancé.

  • Tuesday, March 7, 6:00 pm: “Gran Torino”

2008: Clint Eastwood, Bee Vang Thao, Christopher Carley, Ahney Her

Disgruntled Korean War veteran Walt Kowalski sets out to reform his neighbor, Thao Lor, a Hmong teenager who tried to steal Kowalski’s prized possession: a 1972 Gran Torino.

  • Wednesday, March 15, 6:30 pm (Immediately after Prayer Vigil): “Brian’s Song”

1971 (made for TV): James Caan, Billy Dee Williams, Jack Warden, Bernie Casey

Based on the real-life relationship between teammates Brian Piccolo and Gale Sayers and the bond established when Piccolo discovers he is dying.

  • Thursday, March 23, 2:00 pm: “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas”

2008: Asa Butterfield, David Thewlis, Rupert Friend, Zac Mattoon

Through the innocent eyes of Bruno, the eight-year-old son of the commandant at a German concentration camp, s forbidden friendship with a Jewish boy on the other side of camp fence has startling and unexpected consequences.

  • Sunday, March 26, 12:45 pm: “Zootopia” (Family day with pizza lunch!)

2016: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, Bonnie Hunt

In a city of anthropomorphic animals, a rookie bunny cop and a cynical con artist fox must work together to uncover a conspiracy.

Sunday School at 9:45 AM

The Seekers is facilitated by one of our former pastors, Rev. David Keller. The Seekers discuss various topics related to the Bible, spirituality, justice, and personal growth. We meet each Sunday 9:40-10:40, in the Parlor. Note: Contact the church office if you would like to participate in the class via phone or Zoom.

On February 26 Joe Smith will begin leading a series of weeks with us.

Coffee & Chat is a more organic conversation in that takes place in the church library (off of the Gathering Space). Just pour a cup of coffee or tea and pull up a chair.

Children and Youth

Miss Helen and Miss Becky have a special series of Godly Play stories starting on February 19 and continuing through Lent. Our youngest children will be learning about the “Bee – Attitudes” starting with Bee Reverent. And we’ll learn some things about bees and their importance to our planet.

Older children and youth are invited Joe and Rudeene in the courtyard or Fellowship Hall (depending on the weather) for games and discussion.

The nursery (just outside the sanctuary) is staffed by our loving and nurturing childcare professional, Emily Burke 9:30 – 12:30 each Sunday.

A Prayerful Quote

In a time of destruction, create something: a poem, a parade, a community, a school, a vow, a moral principle; one peaceful moment.

–Maxine Hong Kingston

Church Staff

Tracy Cox
DeaconAnais Hussian
Director of Music and Community Tim Coles
Director of Spiritual Formation Joe Smith
Office Administrator Gwendolen Jackson
Office Assistant Sherrie Kaiser
Building Maintenance Manager Nelson Viola
Custodians Tacoma Woods
Freddie Griffin
Digital Tech Engagement SpecialistMichael Dodin
Youth & Community InternRudeene Jackson