The Corner Where You Are:
A Sesquicentennial History of
Sixth Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh.
by David W. Miller
with research assistance from
Barbara Koedel and Craig Koedel
From its very beginnings Sixth Presbyterian has been an urban church. To understand how it has developed over time we need to imagine how its members conducted their lives in space -- urban space. When Sixth was founded in 1850 most Pittsburghers got around by walking; between 1860 and 1900 a system of horsedrawn and then electrified streetcars was developed; by 1934 approximately half of the families in Allegheny County owned automobiles. Much of the story of Sixth Church has to do with its successes and failures in ministering to a city divided by ethnicity and social class through the transitions from the walking city to the streetcar city and then to the automobile city.
In 1835 Pittsburgh was undergoing one of those waves of revivalism which had become common in American Protestantism over the previous several decades. While few Protestant clergy opposed this “Second Great Awakening,” many Presbyterians preferred their revivals to be carried out decently and in order. The epicenter of the Pittsburgh revival was the newly established Third Presbyterian Church, where a Rev. James Gallaher from Cincinnati “preached enough of truth” according to a subsequent First Church minister, “to produce real genuine conversion, and enough of error to awaken enthusiastic extravagancies.” One of the converts, Robert Curling, seems to have been in the former category. Curling, who had emigrated from England in 1806, had become a very successful glass manufacturer. Early in life he had been influenced by Rowland Hill, a celebrated London evangelical preacher, and in Pittsburgh he attended the Episcopal church until the marriage of one of his daughters to George Albree, an active participant in First Presbyterian Church’s program of providing Sunday schools for poor children. Curling began attending First Church and then, after its foundation in 1833, Third Church. During the revival “he made a public profession of religion and took upon him covenant vows”. This would have been no casual undertaking, for the Third Church Session required new members to assent to a unusually verbose covenant which stressed evangelical doctrines and avoidance of “conformity with the world and fashionable amusements”. Apparently in response to his conversion experience, Curling designated part of a warehouse on the grounds of his glass factory “for the purposes of a Prayer‑meeting and a Sunday School,” of which his son‑in‑law becamethe first superintendent. This “Fort Pitt Sunday School” which was organized in 1836 was to evolve into Sixth Presbyterian Church over the next fourteen years.
Curling's glass factory
The association of the foundation of a Sunday School with a revival is very much in keeping with broader trends in American Protestantism. Sunday Schools had originated in England late in the previous century as a means for providing basic literacy to children who worked in factories and could only attend school on Sunday. In America from the 1820s, however, leadership of the Sunday School movement was increasingly committed to the “vital religion” of the revivals. These individuals tended to see literacy as primarily a means for salvation of the unchurched, but the target audience was still poor children, not church members’ own children. Curling’s glass factory, located just east of where Chatham Center now stands, was a propitious site for such an enterprise. In Pittsburgh, the walking city, social classes were distributed very differently from today. The wealthy tended to live at the center of town ‑ Penn Avenue was lined with the homes of Pittsburgh’s established families ‑ and the newest arrivals had to find housing on the outskirts of town, which is exactly where Curling’s factory was.
In truth, however, the Sunday school as the primary agency for imparting literacy was becoming an anachronism. First Presbyterian’s network of Sunday schools began to decline about the same time that the Fort Pitt Sunday School was founded.  Throughout the northern states free weekday public schools were coming into existence in the 1830s and 1840s. The Fort Pitt school had the advantage that one superintendent who served all but four of the years from 1838 to 1853, Laureston R. Livingston, was also deeply engaged in the formation of the Sixth Ward public school. In 1847, Presbytery appointed a committee to oversee such institutions as the Fort Pitt school, and that committee reorganized the school, under Livingston’s superintendency. A worship service for adults as well as the pupils was added to the Sunday routine, a Rev. James Smith was retained to preach, and at some point the operation moved into the Sixth Ward public school building, about two blocks east of the glass factory. By April 1850 attendance by non‑pupils had risen to thirty, and steps were taken to erect this preaching‑station into the Sixth Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh.
How are we to assess the events leading to the founding of our congregation? Some of us might find the unaffected evangelical enthusiasm of our founders a bit embarrassing. Most of us would probably be troubled by the blurring of the line between church and state in Livingston’s appropriation of a public school building for religious purposes. It is important, however, to see these folk in the context of their own time. What we are witnessing is the close link between revivalism and social reform in the antebellum North. Our perspective is shaped by what historian George Marsden calls the “Great Reversal” in American Protestantism in the early twentieth century, when evangelicals generally shifted from political liberalism to political conservatism. In the mid‑nineteenth century, however, a great range of reform movements, from abolitionism to public education to prison reform, were led by what we today call “born‑again” Christians? Some historians have seen reformers in such areas as education as essentially motivated by a desire to exercise “social control” over their social inferiors. I think that an appreciation of the religious dimension of the lives of reformers makes it harder to view their activities as quite so crassly manipulative. Nevertheless, in the modern world social class is an ineluctable component of religious experience, and we have not seen the last of it in this story.
On the 22nd of August 1850 sixteen charter members signed a declaration consenting “to be enrolled & organized, by the Presbytery of Ohio, as a separate & particular church, to be denominated ‘The Sixth Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh,’ & to remain forever an integral part of ‘the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America,’ commonly distinguished as the ‘Old School’ Assembly.” Perhaps that clause calls for a bit of exegesis. First, the Presbytery of Ohio was not in Ohio; it was, confusingly, the local judicatory within the Synod of Pittsburgh which contained the city of Pittsburgh (but not the city of Allegheny, which we now call “the North Side”), Think of it as being named for the river, not the state.
The founding of Sixth Presbyterian Church, 1850
Why “Sixth” Presbyterian Church? Those reformed churches in Europe which became official established churches as a result of the Reformation and subsequent religious conflicts ‑ e.g. the Church of Scotland inherited church buildings in a landscape full of parishes and other places whose names were associated with saints as well as shrines both Christian and pre‑Christian. However, when Presbyterians and other reformed Protestants colonized new territory ‑ e.g. the North of Ireland and North America they faced the problem of naming the new churches they founded. Usually a settlement acquired a placename before the settlers got around to establishing a church, but when a settlement grew large enough to have a second congregation of the same denomination the most obvious option from prior Christian experience ‑ a saint’s name ‑ was excluded by association with the Roman Catholic past. A very common solution, and the one adopted in Pittsburgh, was to number the churches in the order of their formation. Sixth Church was simply the next Presbyterian Church organized within the city boundaries after the fifth one. What the practice tells us is that our forebears were determined not to sacralize the landscape, a tendency whose consequences we shall see.
In 1837 the Presbyterian General Assembly had split into two Assemblies known as the Old School and the New School. The dispute arose out of the Plan of Union which had been adopted in 1801 by the two principal reformed churches of British origin in the United States Congregationalist descendants of the English Puritans who were most numerous in New England, New York and Ohio, and Presbyterian descendants of the Scots and Scotch‑Irish whose strength lay in the other Mid‑Atlantic states and in parts of the South. To avoid competition on the frontier between two denominations which shared the Calvinist heritage, the Plan made it possible for Congregationalist ministers to serve in Presbyterian pulpits without formal subscription to the seventeenth‑century Westminster standards of doctrine and polity which Presbyterianism required of its clergy.
In general New School ministers were more comfortable with the revivalist tendency to downplay denominational differences within Protestantism; for Old School men the distinctive characteristics of Presbyterianism still had a higher priority than efficiency in the pursuit of conversions. For the most part New England migrants to the West were bypassing Western Pennsylvania, where Presbyterianism remained solidly Scotch‑Irish and unsullied by New England apostacy. Nearly all of Western Pennsylvania Presbyterianism opted for the Old School. One of the very few exceptions was Third Church, which had already come under suspicion for its highly unpresbyterian decision to install an organ in its impressive new church building. As we have already seen, revivalism was closely linked to reform, and the fact that the southern Presbyteries predominantly adhered to the Old School no doubt sharpened New School advocacy of the most crucial reform cause of the era: opposition to slavery. At the time of the division, however, the slavery and sectional issues were subordinate to the issues of doctrine and polity which cut along lines which we would today call ethnic, between those of English and Scottish descent within the North.
Sixth Presbyterian Church, Erected 1851
A mere sixteen members constituted a somewhat risky basis for undertaking a church building program. However Presbytery regarded the sixth ward as an important mission field, and other churches were encouraged to contribute financially. By the fall of 1851 the little congregation was able to occupy quite a handsome building costing $11,000 on a $5500 lot at the corner of Franklin and Townsend Streets (near the southern edge of the present Civic Arena parking lot). About half the cost seems to have been raised by Presbytery, but the remaining debt of almost $9000 was more than the congregation could service. Despite the fact that the congregation admitted another 184 members by March of 1858, Presbytery found itself frequently addressing Sixth’s financial problems throughout the 1850s. Three different ministers served during the decade, Daniel McKinley, December 1850 to April 1852, Thomas B. Wilson, October 1852 to April 1855, and Samuel Findlay, May 1857 to June 1861. Wilson’s stated reason for leaving “insufficiency of support” reflected a chronic problem throughout the decade.
Financial pressures probably contributed to the serious internal conflicts which became public in August 1860 when, following a congregational meeting at which there was controversy over Rev. Findlay some members of Sixth asked Presbytery to “redress certain evils existing in the said Church.” What exactly these “evils” were is unclear. A number of members, including several elders, left the congregation, and in June of 1861 (two months after the outbreak of the Civil War) Findlay requested dissolution of the pastoral relationship, leaving a congregation of only 40 members. In concurring with his request, Session resolved that “... our prayers shall go up ... that he may never again have to encounter such troubles and vexations from any People wherever his lot may be cast, as he has had to do from a few of those whom he is now about to leave.”
Rev. Samuel J. Wilson, a young professor in Western Theological Seminary (one of the antecedents of the present Pittsburgh Seminary) and brother of the Thomas Wilson who was briefly minister of Sixth in the early 1850s, agreed to serve as supply pastor. He made stirring public addresses in favor of the Union cause in 1862 and 1863, in the latter case offering an eloquent denunciation of slavery (albeit after the Emancipation Proclamation). In 1866 the congregation called him to the pulpit, and he continued as pastor until 1876 when a seminary policy against faculty holding pastorates forced him to resign. In 1874 he served as moderator of the General Assembly. There are a number of indications that Wilson was a remarkably charismatic figure who continued to be revered by the congregation long after he left Sixth, and indeed after his untimely death in 1883. During his 15 years at Sixth (including five years as supply pastor) the membership increased from 40 to 431.
Rev. Samuel J. Wilson October 1866 ‑ December 1876
In a sense Wilson embodied the key emphases of both the Old School and the New School, which were reunited in 1869 (although southern Presbyterianism, which had withdrawn from the Old School at the start of the Civil War, remained a separate denomination until 1983). He was deeply devoted to both Presbyterian distinctiveness and revivalist spirituality. Appropriately, he was entrusted by the General Assembly with the diplomatically sensitive task of delivering an address on the history of American Presbyterianism during the first century of American independence. We learn from his farewell sermon at Sixth that he cherished the lists of new members admitted at each of the 62 communion services at which he had officiated, and that he especially valued admissions by confession of faith (as opposed to transfers from other congregations). “The growth of the church under his ministry was in the main steady and uniform,” writes his biographer, “There were two seasons of special religious interest followed by unusual accessions, ... but with this exception the ordinary conditions of spiritual husbandry seem to have prevailed.” Decoded, this means that Wilson was genuinely committed to vital religion, but rejected the theatricality of much contemporary revivalism.
To understand how Wilson’s pastoral style contributed to resolving the crisis which he inherited in 1861 it is instructive to read the Session minutes. During the years immediately before his ministry, Session seems continually occupied with disciplinary cases ‑ passing judgment on church members accused of fornication, drunkenness and other sins. The hearing of such cases declined during Wilson’s ministry. After 1868 there seem to have been only two disciplinary cases ‑ one in 1876 (the last year of Wilson’s ministry) and one in 1883 which was terminated after a Session committee visited the alleged offenders and received a “satisfactory answer.” In general, better off churchgoers, such as those who dominated the downtown Pittsburgh congregations, had long found it easier evade the potential embarrassments of traditional church discipline. By this time Pittsburgh had expanded further and Sixth Church’s neighborhood was no longer the entrepôt for the latest migrants, but Sixth was no doubt a much more socially diverse congregation than some of the congregations with lower numbers. The persistence of church discipline in a such a diverse congregation may well have contributed to the contentions which marked Findlay’s tenure. Wilson’s pastoral genius seems to have lain in his ability to adjust the balance between justice and mercy in reformed theology to suit the particular vulnerabilities of his flock.
Wilson was no doubt a hard act to follow, but his successor Rev, Harlan G. Mendenhall (1878‑80) was up to the challenge. During his three‑year ministry, Mendenhall became widely known for his sermons and lectures on social and moral conditions in Pittsburgh slum housing, some of which, he reminded the congregation “you can see in places not ten minutes walk from this church.” The sermons address not only middle class members of Sixth, but a wider range of Pittsburgh opinion-makers. Due to a throat condition which was exacerbated by Pittsburgh’s air pollution, he left Sixth in late 1880 and accepted a pastorate in Mercersburg. He went on to a distinguished career in the New York area, and served as moderator of New York Presbytery from 1916 to 1922 and stated clerk from then until 1932, a period during which that presbytery led the modernist side in the climactic phase of the fundamentalist‑modernist conflict in the General Assembly. The successive ministries of Wilson and Mendenhall reflect a turning point in American Presbyterian history. Wilson’s intellectual world was that of the Old School/New School division and his task the reconciliation of evangelicalism with confessionalism. Mendenhall points us forward to the social gospel and the modernist theological outlook, in reaction to which evangelicalism would harden into fundamentalism and jettison the social reforming heritage of nineteenth‑century evangelicalism in favor of political and economic conservatism.
Three ministers at Sixth: Dr. Harlan G. Mendenhal,l January 1878 ‑ December 1880; Dr Henry T. McClelland, March 1881 ‑ September 1886; Dr John F. Patterson, November 1886 ‑January 1894.
Over the next two decades Sixth’s location increasingly became an issue. During the pastorate of Rev. Henry T. McClelland (1881‑86) the effects of migration to the streetcar suburbs began to be noticed, though both he and his successor, Rev. John F. Patterson (1886‑94), managed to sustain modest growth in membership following some losses which had probably resulted from the departure of Wilson. When Patterson left to accept a call to Orange, N.J. (and a career which included a directorship at Princeton Seminary and membership on the Board of Foreign Missions), McClelland, who had become a faculty member at Western Seminary seems to have made a strategic decision. He set out to persuade the congregation of Sixth to call a recent seminary graduate ‑ quite a comedown for a pulpit which only twenty years earlier had been held by a moderator of General Assembly. The young man he had in mind, J. Shane Nicholls, made a good impression and received a call. Before he accepted it he spoke with Patterson and asked “Do you think this church can be held together and kept efficient for five years?” to which he received a guardedly affirmative reply. Nicholls asked the question, he recalled three decades later, “because I had a sneaking notion that by the end of that time the way might be opened for removing the church to some more promising field.” It is not exactly clear when his “sneaking notion” became a settled plan, but in 1900 he shrewdly used the semicentennial celebrations to build support for disposing of the Franklin and Townsend building and moving to the streetcar suburbs.
Evening rush hour in 1879, on upper Fifth Avenue. Below in the haze is J&L's Second Avenue mill. On the horse‑car's inaugural run August 6, 1859, the "Gazette" was pleased to observe interior straps which a passenger could grasp and 'ride as pleasantly as though he were sitting.' The first cable car, in 1889, cut the horse's traveling time, downtown‑to‑East End, from as many as 100 minutes to a half hour But the cables could not switch from main to branch lines and soon were supplanted by electric trolleys. Photo: Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.
The problem, as Nicholls defined it, was that “the Italian, the Russian Jew, and the Negro ... were then beginning to appear in considerable numbers,” so that by 1914, when he reflected on the decision to move, “A walk through the old parish of the Sixth church to‑day, is very like a walk through a foreign city.” There is no reason to doubt Nicholls’ assertion that “six years of earnest work ... on the part of pastor and people” failed to arrest the congregation’s decline in membership. The adding of 300 members in those six years left the church with a net loss of 100. However, when he notes that “At that time there were only a few families of the substantial part of the membership living in the immediate region of the church building,” he does not mention what happened to the less “substantial” members. Of course, there would have been few if any recruits to a Presbyterian church from an Italian and Jewish population. Furthermore, although Sixth had had a small number of African‑American members in in its early years, the decision of Samuel Wilson to foster the establishment in 1868 of a “First Colored” Presbyterian Church (now Grace Memorial Church) tacitly recognized that the “interesting” spirituality of AfricanAmericans was very different from mainstream Prebyterian practice. If Sixth had not followed Nicholls’ advice to move, it would, at best, have reverted to the status of a mission church dependent on Presbytery for financial solvency. One reflects on the decision not to suggest an alternative, but to contemplate how captive Presbyterianism was becoming to ethnicity and class. Our building’s presence for fifty years in the Lower Hill had not sacralized that landscape; it had become “foreign.”
Dr. Shane Nicholls February 1894 ‑ September 1918
In 1901 the building was sold to the Beth Jacob Jewish congregation. Various locations in the East End of Pittsburgh were considered; the present site at Forbes and Murray, strategically located on a streetcar line through open fields, was chosen despite the fact that not a single family of active members was then living in Squirrel Hill. The Mount Olive Presbyterian Church, a struggling country congregation whose building was located on the present site of Colfax School (Beechwood Blvd. between Phillips and Douglas), was merged with Sixth. When it emerged that Asbury Methodist Church was about to acquire the lot across Murray from Sixth Church’s new property an unsuccessful effort was made to dissuade them. Sixth worshipped in temporary quarters on Wylie Avenue for two years before dedicating its new building on 4 October 1903. Nicholls had been relentless in soliciting funds not only from members but from others as well, and he managed the remarkable feat of financing the building without diverting Sixth’s mission giving. From a business standpoint the relocation was a unqualified success. Middle‑class families, some of them exceptionally affluent began pouring into Squirrel Hill, Sixth was the fashionable choice for church shoppers, and within nine years the $42,000 mortgage was burned.
Architect’s conception of Sixth Church building. Completed 1903.
Social class, of course, is more than material condition; it is a collective identity which members of a group who share common material circumstances construct for themselves in a particular time and space. In twentieth century urban America, to be middle class means, in part, being receptive to the findings of modern science; it means not being a rube. So it was that as northern Presbyterianism became increasingly a middle‑class religion in the late nineteenth century, the issue which shaped its theological discussion was whether, and if so how, to accommodate scientific thinking. In the 1920s that discussion came to a head in a series of annual General Assembly meetings dominated by conflict between fundamentalists and modernists. It should not surprise us that the modernists won, for we understand that the role of arch‑rube which Presbyterian elder William Jennings Bryan played in the Scopes trial did not represent the direction Presbyterianism was headed. The outcome was not so clear in advance, however, to contemporaries.
Dr. Nicholls left Sixth Church in 1918 to accept a call to a church in Cincinnati. It is interesting that one of the candidates seriously considered by the pastoral nominating committee to fill the vacancy was Rev. Clarence Macartney of Arch Street Church, Philadelphia. A few years later Macartney would emerge as one of the most outspoken leaders of the fundamentalist side in the Assembly. In 1918, however, he was known principally for his success in building an active congregation in a rundown neighborhood. In soliciting information on candidates the Sixth Church nominating committee used a questionnaire which explicitly asked “Is he progressive or conservative?” but the answers it received on Macartney were contradictory. What seems to have ruled him out was a report from three people in Philadelphia who went to hear him preach at the request of Charles Ridinger of Sixth Church: “Full of theology and cold and fails to hold his audience or stir up any degree of enthusiasm.”
The candidate chosen for the vacancy was Rev. Benjamin F. Farber of Detroit. When he left in 1926 to accept a call to Fourth Presbyterian Church in New York, he was replaced by Rev. Henry H. Forsyth of St. Louis who served until his retirement in 1933. The few surviving sermons by these two ministers contain evidence that both these ministers paid serious attention to science and the issues it raised for believers. One of Farber’s sermons, on the text “He hangeth the earth upon nothing” (Job 26:7) demonstrates familiarity with at least popular scientific literature and an ability to link scientific thinking intelligently with theological speculation‑ A sermon by Forsyth on the text “I believe: help thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9:24) deals with the relationship between faith and doubt in a way which, while less subtle than the classic treatment of the same issue by the great modern theologian Paul Tillich, reflects a clear determination to connect with folks for whom belief itself is increasingly difficult.
Two ministers at Sixth: Dr Benjamin F. Farber, February 1919‑ March 1926; Dr Henry H. Forsyth November 1926 ‑ September 1933
Another component of the transformation of Presbyterianism from an eighteenth‑century ethnic religion to a twentieth‑century middle‑class religion was development toward more “respectable” modes of celebrating communion. The outdoor Scottish festal communion service which had evolved into the revivalist camp meeting had largely been abandoned by the time Sixth was founded. We still possess most of the original Sixth Presbyterian communion service, which seems to have consisted of four silverplate chalices and matching plates. The inscription on the chalices reflects an engaging frugality: “Sixth P. Church.” A more elaborate silverplate pitcher appears to have been acquired separately. Ordinary wine was used until 1895, when Session decided to switch to unfermented wine. We do not know whether communicants came forward to a communion table or were served individually in the pews at the Franklin and Townsend site, but the use of common cups is strongly indicated by the multiple chalices. Of course the new sanctuary itself was a much more fashionable space for worship than the austere Franklin and Townsend “lecture room,” and the topic of “the individual Communion service” was discussed at length in one of the last Session meetings before the Squirrel Hill building was completed, and in 1906 Session decided to obtain such a service.
The choir in 1866
We know that a choir existed as early as 1866; we have a splendid photograph of the singers who performed at the thirtieth anniversary of the Sunday School. In the 1890s about $600 per annum seems to have been expended to retain an choirmaster! organist, one professional singer, and an “organ pumper,” though a financial crisis in 1899 prompted the Trustees to lay off “the Soprano.” Nevertheless, twenty‑one voices, apparently all volunteers, remained. By 1906 the music budget was $2500, though the detailed application of those funds is not clear. At least from 1915 when a new organ was dedicated, however (presumably ending the need for an organ pumper), a paid quartet of vocalists seems to have been maintained until the mid‑1970s. Another step to more formality was the decision, also in 1915, that the choir (and minister) should wear robes. The extent to which nonprofessional singers participated with the paid quartet is not clear until 1933 when a volunteer choir under the name of “The Sixth Church Singers” began singing one Sunday a month and on special occasions. The configuration of the present chancel, a 1938 memorial gift from a member, reflects this distinction between professional and volunteer singers, as do the different style of vestments worn by the two groups in period photographs.
Undated photo (c. 1934) of choir, with paid singers in center of front row.
Photographs of the Church boards in this period remind us that one feature of Presbyterianism was not changing: men were still in charge. Women had, however, created for themselves within the congregation’s life a distinct sphere of advocacy and support for mission causes, especially those which entailed female agency. The Women’s Missionary Society, organized in 1873 “to help sustain female missionaries to be Bible readers and teachers serving among heathen women and children.” In 1894 eleven young women organized the Margaret McCandless Missionary Society (named for the only living charter member of Sixth), initially to support “a Bible‑woman in India.” In 1922 another group of young women formed the Sarah A. Bryant Missionary Society, which met in the evening since many of its members were employed during the day. Remarkably, each of these generationally defined groups was still active at the time of the centennial celebrations in 1950. In 1954 they were merged into a single Women’s Association which sustained a lively sense of autonomy from the male sphere of Session, Trustees and Diaconate, as the present writer discovered in the late 1970s when, as Clerk of Session, he incautiously sought financial details from the Association to complete a General Assembly questionnaire.
A Sunday School photo, c. 1912.
The Women’s Guild, organized in 1903 as a continuation of an Aid Society which had functioned in the original church building, carried out sewing projects such as making surgical dressings for the Red Cross and Presbyterian Hospital. (One reads with disappointment that another of their functions was to “prepare the dinners for the Men’s Brotherhood.”) The Guild joined with the Missionary Societies for what is perhaps the most interesting female initiative of the period, a group of women organized by Mrs. Nicholls in 1908 as the Greenfield Mission Committee to become involved in one of Presbytery’s initiatives, a mission to aid recent immigrant steel workers and their families which was part of “settlement house movement” in various part of urban America. This project took more concrete form in 1927 with the erection of a building known as Hope House. Sixth Church’s involvement in the mission seems to have ended in 1950 when Hope House was razed to make way for construction of the Parkway East.
The first cars passed through the Squirrel Hill Tunnel in 1953. Photo: Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh
The demolition of a mission facility to make way for a freeway was only one small consequence of the automobile for Sixth Church, but the year 1950 can be viewed as a major turning point in the congregation’s history. Although most member families no doubt had owned automobiles since at least the early 1930s, the depression, the war, and continued dependence on streets built for horse carriages and laced with streetcar tracks meant that the full impact of the new technology awaited the construction of freeways. At the end of Forsyth’s ministry the membership had stood at 1082, and during the first half of the ministry of his successor, Dr. Joseph Morledge, the Church continued to prosper, with membership peaking at 1216 in 1945. Centennial festivity in 1950, however, was tempered by the realization that many members were moving from the former streetcar suburb to the new automobile suburbs.
Dr. Joseph S. Morledge October 1934 ‑April 1966
By the late 1950s the congregational leadership began seriously considering measures to address its problem of declining membership. In 1957, perhaps prompted by the pending merger of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., with the separate United Presbyterian Church in North America, Sixth began merger discussions with the Third United Presbyterian Church, located on the site of what is now the Children’s Institute (Northumberland Street between Shady Avenue and Dennison Street.). Both congregations, however, voted to defer the matter, and Sixth moved toward an alternative policy of retrenchment in its physical plant. In the 1920s a substantial Christian Education facility, the Dunbar Building, had been erected, facing Forbes, on the lot adjacent to the Church building. An aging membership meant fewer and fewer children in Sunday School, and in 1961 the apse was remodelled into the present Celtic Cross chapel and upstairs Sunday School rooms. The Dunbar Building was demolished and the land on which it stood was (appropriately) turned into a parking lot.
Dr. Morledge retired in 1966 at the end of the longest ministry in Sixth’s history. His considerable pastoral gifts were attested by the intense devotion of his substantially diminished flock. For many he had been their shepherd through their entire adult lives ‑ the depression, a world war, and then bewildering changes in the neighborhood in which they had grown up and which had become the center of the Pittsburgh Jewish community over the preceding generation. A few may have, quite wrongly, read into his steadfast support for them in their anxious moments the message that nothing had to change. It was a very difficult situation for his successor, Dr. Carl E. Ericson, an energetic and socially‑conscious former journalist who had recently made a mid‑life career change. The opposition which he encountered was perhaps typified in a session resolution countermanding his decision to include a printed prayer of confession as a regular component of the Sunday morning worship service. In the spring of 1969 Ericson announced his decision to accept a call to a church in Illinois.
Dr Carl E. Ericson January 1967‑June 1969
During the interim following Ericson’s departure Sixth was offered the opportunity to purchase the adjoining house and lot on Murray Avenue. Despite the quite favorable price, the decision to take advantage of this opportunity virtually eliminated the church’s remaining cash reserves. The house was named the Morledge Center, and Rev. John McCall who was installed in January, 1970, following service as Assistant Minister at Third Church, led the congregation to a decision to make it available to a Community Mental Health Team for use in work with youth of the neighborhood. This decision, along with a more modest earlier initiative under Dr. Ericson’s leadership to establish a Friday evening coffee‑house ministry (The Hobbit Hutch) to neighborhood youth were important steps toward engagement with our neighbors. Alas, on 16 March 1971 the Morledge Center was destroyed by fire.
Although McCall’s ministry was beginning to attract younger members, overall numbers continued to fall. In the absence of significant endowment funds, the maintenance of a 70‑year‑old building designed to accommodate a much larger congregation seemed likely to absorb all available financial and human resources, to the exclusion of mission initiatives and benevolent causes. In 1972 the congregation initiated a planning process which led to seed funding from Presbytery and, in 1975, a detailed proposal for the future use of the Church’s property, including the corner lot and the two adjacent lots on which the Dunbar Building and the Morledge Center had stood. The proposal called for razing the Church building and erecting a new high‑rise structure which would contain subsidized housing for the elderly, a new church facility, and commercial space.
The concept seemed to resolve the Church’s dilemma by using the commercial potential of the corner lot, together with public funding then available for such initiatives, to achieve the two objects which had been in competition for the Church’s resources: (1) a socially useful mission (in particular, affordable housing for the elderly of the neighborhood) and (2) a viable, low maintenance, facility for worship and other internal church functions. Reaction to the proposal beyond the congregation was mixed. Opinion among Squirrel Hill community leaders was strongly positive; the Church had attained a kind of solidarity with the larger community in addressing social problems which would have been hard to imagine a decade earlier. On the other hand, reaction from some immediate residential neighbors of the Church unwilling to accept any significant zoning change and distrustful of assurances that the housing would be occupied only by elderly (as opposed to poor) tenants was extremely hostile. Funding commitments were obtained from both federal and state agencies, and zoning approvals were granted by the City of Pittsburgh. However, opponents of the proposal managed to tie the project up in litigation until public funding allocations were revoked.
Rev. John S. Mc Call January 1970‑ present (Photo by Jonas)
During the late 1970s several less ambitious ideas for redeveloping the Church’s property were discussed. By the early 1980s members of Session began reluctantly to conclude that Sixth lacked not only financial, but also human and political, resources to implement such plans. Instead, steps were taken to find a buyer for the vacant portion of the property with a view to creating an endowment fund to maintain the existing building. A real estate developer willing to take an option on the property was found, and although the actual sale did not occur until 1990, option payments during the 1980s made it possible to carry out a number of deferred maintenance projects while refocusing congregational efforts on mission. Nearly another decade elapsed before the buyer resold the vacant land to another developer who, in return for Sixth’s cooperation on certain zoning issues, agreed to clean and point the exterior stone of the Church building and make a significant financial contribution which, fittingly, Session decided to apply toward the goal of promoting affordable housing. A process for deciding how exactly to apply these resources, under the leadership of the Church and Community Committee, is part of the same sesquicentennial observances that have occasioned this essay.
Because the cleaning of the pollution‑encrusted stonework during the past year is such a visible and obvious candidate to symbolize the congregation’s recovery, there is a danger of jumping to the conclusion that the process of solving the property problem recounted in the previous section completely explains its renewal. While it is true that the availability of funds to maintain the building has made it easier during the past decade and a half for congregational leaders to focus on issues other than the latest structural calamity, solvency in itself was no guarantee that that opportunity would be used creatively.
We get an interesting picture of the congregation in 1980 from an ethnographic study of Sixth conducted a Japanese graduate student in anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh, Izumi Sato. She discerned very clearly that the congregation was divided into two social groupings: an older generation whose members had joined before 1950 and a younger generation which had joined since the mid‑1960s. Although the two groups were easily distinguishable not only by age but by their different patterns of involvement in church activities, she found very little conflict between them. On the contrary, one of her informants from the older generation went so far as to credit “the Professors and their children” for rescuing the Church from decline. Older members perhaps understood the importance of the younger group (who included a good deal more than just “professors”) more clearly than the latter understood the importance of the older generation (until a few years later when some generous bequests began to come in). Although Sato found some traces of opposition to the property proposal among older members, in general she saw that initiative as a source of “revitalization” in the congregation despite the fact that by the time she wrote the project itself had collapsed. On balance the initiative probably did strengthen bonds across generations if only because it was an effort by the younger generation to “do something” where their older counterparts had felt powerless for so long.
The credit for this cross-generational comity must go to John McCall. Clearly McCall’s progressive theological and social message appealed more to new members than to old ones. Throughout his ministry he has displayed, however, an ability to balance the prophetic with the pastoral, ensuring that even in times of great stress the congregation never became destructively polarized. At the same time Sixth has steadily developed a distinctive character by the recruitment of new members who share McCall’s passion for social justice, or his quest for an intellectually honest faith, or both. Increasingly a recognized leader among the Squirrel Hill clergy, McCall has played an important role in relations between the Christian and Jewish communities; those attracted by his ministry have tended to find the diversity of the neighborhood enriching rather than troubling. Once Sixth had put behind it the trauma of seeing so many of its members driving away to suburbia, the automobile culture became an asset for the congregation: a number of the newer members drive past several Presbyterian churches on Sunday to reach one whose ministry they perceive as addressing their individual needs and values. Another reflection of automobile-based religious geography was the use of our building from 1966 to 1989 by the Pittsburgh Korean Church, whose members’ residences were scattered throughout Allegheny County. Under McCall’s leadership Sixth moved toward a less formal and more participatory style of worship. The termination of the paid quartet in the mid-1970s (like the replacement of the 1915 organ with an electronic organ a few years later) was driven by financial constraint, but in fact it opened up new possibilities for the congregation. There was essentially no volunteer choir at that point, and the process of building one was not a treat for the auditory nerves of the congregation. In the long run, however, a reasonably skilled and very enthusiastic choir has been developed, and it plays an important role in building the congregation’s sense of community.
Sixth Presbyterian Church congregational photo, September 2000
Perhaps the most visible change in congregational life during McCall’s ministry has involved the role of women. To be sure, one of the first two women to graduate, in 1938, from Western Seminary was a member of Sixth, Kathryn Rendleman. She did manage to fill the Sixth pulpit on at least one occasion, but a career as a Presbyterian parish minister was not an option for her under denominational rules at that time. As late as 1965 the minutes of a congregational meeting at Sixth record that “a majority of those present were against the idea” of “our Church having women officers”. At the end of Dr. Ericson’s first year, however, two women were elected to Session. By the 1980s, when congregational nominating committees talked about “gender balance” they were usually referring to the difficulty of finding enough male nominees to balance the women on the Church boards. It was a striking change from the time when women worked to carve out an autonomous role for themselves in one aspect of the Church’s business (mission) while the Church’s business in general was conducted exclusively by men.
Once women were able to participate fully in governance at all levels, the nature of what used to be called “Women’s Work” in the Church was bound to change. Significantly, the most dynamic woman’s organization during the past decade or so has been the Women’s Weekend group, which differs from the old women’s missionary societies in focusing on the spirituality of the members themselves and on efforts to minister collectively to one another’s needs. Early in McCall’s ministry Session decided to create a student assistant minister position, and from the early 1970s to the early 1990s that position was more often filled by a female than a male seminarian. In 1992 a crisis in John McCall’s health prompted Session to ask Helen Nablo, a Vanderbilt Seminary graduate who had been attending Sixth, to substitute for him on a temporary basis. While McCall recovered from his illness, considerable support emerged for continuing a twoperson, two‑gender ministry. Although the specific personnel arrangements have varied, such a ministry has indeed been maintained, with Nablo being succeeded by Rev. Deb Gausmann; following Gausmann’s decision to change career direction the position was held temporarily by len Fox and is now held by Bethany Rainey. Clearly gender will be a significant issue when the time comes to replace McCall.
No satisfactory catchphrase comparable to “Old School/New School” or “Fundamentalist/Modernist” has yet emerged to describe the divisions over gender and sexuality which have wracked the denomination for the past two decades, but Sixth is more directly engaged in this controversy than it was in either of the preceding two. General Assembly’s action in 1967 of substituting a collection of (sometimes contradictory) credal statements for the Westminster Confession alone as a doctrinal standard for the denomination seemed a clear break from the confessionalism of the Old School. Similarly, the Assembly’s Confession of 1967 which was included in the collection, could be read as a decisive break from the biblical literalism with which the denomination had grappled in the early decades of the century. In an important sense there was indeed such a break with the past; “the sanctity of (heterosexual) marriage” is not included in the Five Points of Calvinism for which the Old School contended nor in the Five Points of Fundamentalism which were disputed in the 1920s. However, the merger of the denomination with the (southern) Presbyterian Church, U.S., in 1983 did significantly strengthen conservative forces on many issues.
During the 1980s McCall’s chairmanship of a Presbytery committee on ministry to homosexuals helped to create awareness that Sixth was a congregation which would welcome gays and lesbians, although no explicit policy to that effect existed. By the mid‑ 1990s it was evident that to be honest with ourselves we needed to confront this issue openly. Following extensive discussions in the congregation, Session decided to affiliate Sixth with the More Light Network, an action which signalled the Church’s active dissent from denominational policy against the ordination of sexually active gays and lesbians to be church officers. Sixth’s policy of inclusiveness is displayed each Sunday in the bulletin in the following words:
“Even as the world seeks to divide us according to our economic, racial and ethnic groups, ages, gender, abilities, theological position, marital status and sexual orientation, we believe that in Christ there is no such division. Our congregation is strengthened through its diversity. We welcome all to our church community and its activities. Our membership is open to anyone who confesses Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. The right and privilege to vote and hold office is extended to all active church members.”
Technological innovations which changed how our predecessors managed their lives in space posed serious challenges to Sixth Church at two periods in its history the streetcar in the late nineteenth century and the automobile in the middle of the twentieth. We live in another dizzying period of change induced by information technology, which may make the spatial constraints of the past seem antique but will surely pose new issues for Sixth Church. Even if the newest technology renders distance in space meaningless, however, its sister dimension, time, will remain. And in time we must still confront all those divisions enumerated in our inclusion statement, and perhaps some others as well. This essay has been an attempt to help us think seriously about how well or poorly our congregation met such challenges in times past and thus inform our stewardship of time to come.
 Joel A. Tarr, Transportation Innovation and Changing Spatial Patterns in Pittsburgh, 1850‑1934 (Chicago: Public Works Historical Society, 1978), pp. 2‑17, 25.
 William M. Paxton, Two Discourses upon the Life and Character of the Rev. Francis Herron, D. D. (Pittsburgh: Robert S. Davis, 1861), p. 69
 David W. McKnight, Historical Sketch of the Sabbath‑schools connected with the First Presbyterian Congregation of Pittsburgh, from A. D. 1800 to A. D. 1867 (Pittsburgh: pr. by Bakewell & Marthens, 1867), pp. 55, 71, 73, 76.
 “Historical Statement with Biographical Sketches as delivered by Rev. S. J. Wilson at Anniversary meeting Decr 2 1866,” in the manuscript volume “Records of Sixth Pres. Church Sunday School Pittsburgh Penna,” pp. 17‑21. Sixth Presbyterian Church Archives (hereafter 6PCA).
 William W. McKinney, Early Pittsburgh Presbyterianism (Pittsburgh: The Gibson Press, 1938), pp. 266‑9. Readers who have admired at the Scaife Gallery the graceful decanter set which Curling had given as a wedding gift to his daughter and son‑in‑law will be interested to know that when the Third Church covenant referred to temperance it qualified that term with the words “as now generally understood in Christian churches,” an implicit rejection of the extremists who were calling for abstention from not only spirituous liquors but from wine as well.
 “Historical Statement” p. 13.
 Anne M. Boylan, Sunday School: The Formation of an American Institution, 1790‑1880 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988), pp. 1‑21.
 McKnight, Historical Sketch, p. 83‑4.
 George Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth‑Century Evangelicalism, 1870‑1925 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), pp. 85‑93. Timothy L. Smith, Revivalism & Social Reform: American Protestantism on the Eve of the Civil War (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1957).
 For literature on this view and that of its detractors see Boylan, Sunday School, p. 172, n. 4.
 Sixth Presbyterian Church Session minute book, 1850‑1858, p. 1. 6PCA.
 There is tradition in Sixth that at the time of the congregation’s formation the Presbytery had a policy of naming churches for the wards in which they were located. It is true that the Presbytery committee that organized Sixth was specifically directed to organize a church in the Sixth Ward (Minutes of the Presbytery of Ohio, June 19, 1849. Pittsburgh Theological Seminary Library, Special Collections Department.) However in 1842, when the borough of Northern Liberties was incorporated into Pittsburgh as the Fifth Ward the Church already in existence there was renamed Fourth Presbyterian.
 Minutes of the Presbytery of Ohio, 15 Oct. 1850, 20 April 1853.
 Admissions from Sixth Presbyterian Church, Session minutes, 1850‑1858. 6PCA. Ohio Presbytery Minutes, 2 Oct. 1850, 16 Oct. 1851, 12 Jan. 1853, 18 Apr. 1855, 8 June 1858, 1 Nov. 1859.
 Obituary of Elder Joseph Kerr in Sixth P. C. Session minutes, 14 Feb. 1861, 6PCA. Ohio Presbytery Minutes, 28‑9 Aug. 1860.
 Sixth Presbyterian Session Minutes, 17 June ‑ 18 Dec. 1861. See also Jeffrey 0. Siemon, “Division within the Sixth Presbyterian Church, Pittsburgh, PA, 1850‑1862.” Pittsburgh history seminar paper collection, University Archives, Carnegie Mellon University
 “Our Country Calls ‑ A War Speech,” and “Hope for the Republic,” in Samuel J. Wilson, Occasional Addresses and Sermons, ed. Maurice E. Wilson and Calvin Dill Wilson (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1895), pp. 147‑56, 247‑70.
 Sixth Presbyterian Session Minutes, 1858‑86, p. 135. 6PCA
 “Presbyterianism in the United States from the Adoption of the Form of Government to the Present Time,” in Wilson, Occasional Addresses and Sermons, pp. 39‑91.
 “Farewell Sermon,” in Wilson, Occasional Addresses and Sermons, pp. 341‑59. W. H. Jeffers, “Memoir,” ibid., p. xxvii. The two exceptional occasions appear from Session minutes to be 13 Apr. 1867 when 32 were admitted (30 by profession) and 18 Mar. 1871 when 42 were admitted (37 by profession).
 Sixth Presbyterian Session Minutes, 1858‑86, pp. 136, 201. 6PCA
 Pittsburgh Evening Telegraph, 27 May 1879. A clipping of this and other newspaper accounts of his sermons, as well as many other interesting items are contained in scrapbook which Mendenhall apparently prepared for Sixth’s 75” anniversary celebration in 1925. 6PCA.
 Ibid. 7 Dec. 1880.
 The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, xliii (1961), pp. 292‑3.
 Semi‑Centennial. Sixth Presbyterian Church, Franklin and Townsend Streets, Pittsburg (Pittsburgh: pr. By Kurtz, Langbein & Swartz, 1900), pp. 8‑9.
 “Substance of informal remarks made by Dr. J. Shane Nicholls” [26 Oct. 1925], papers on the 75’ anniversary. 6PCA.
 Sermon by Nicholls on 20th anniversary of his pastorate, April, 1914, pp. 5‑6. 6PCA.
 Ibid., p. 4.
 “Substance of informal remarks.”
 Presbyterian Banner (Pittsburgh), 15 Jan. 1868. 3! See Bradley J. Longfield, The Presbyterian Controversy: Fundamentalists, Modernists, and Moderates (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991). Rather than following other defeated leaders of the fundamentalist side into the secessionist Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Macartney took the more comfortable course of accepting a call to First Church, Pittsburgh.
 See Bradley J. Longfield, The Presbyterian Controversy: Fundamentalist, Modernists, and Moderates (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991). Rather than following other defeated leaders of the fundamentalist side into the secessionist Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Macartney took the more comfortable course of accepting a call to First Church, Pittsburgh.
 Correspondence and documents in folder marked “1918 Search,” 6PCA.
 “He Hangeth the Earth upon Nothing” in folder marked “Farber Sermons,” 6PCA. This sermon was apparently written after Farber’s move to New York.
 “The Way to Faith,” in folder marked “Forsyth Sermons,” 6PCA.
 Leigh Eric Schmidt, Holy Fairs: Scottish Communions and American Revivals in the Early Modern Period (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989). Robert Milton Winter, “Presbyterians and the Long Tables: A History of the Development of American Presbyterian Communion Practices,” Affirmation, vi (No. 2, fall, 1993), 1‑25.
 One of the four chalices was replated and inscribed as a gift to the Korean Presbyterian Church when that congregation moved from our building in 1989 to their new church in the North Hills.
 Sixth Presbyterian Session Minutes, 2 Dec. 1895. 6PCA.
 Ibid., 25 Mar. 1903, 4 June 1906.
 Sixth Presbyterian Trustees Minutes, 1891‑1903. 6PCA. Semi‑Centennial. Sixth Presbyterian Church, p. 14.
 Sixth Presbyterian Trustees Minutes, 5 May 1906. 6PCA.
 Sixth Presbyterian Session Minutes, 1 Mar., 5 Apr 1915, Congregational meeting, 21 Apr 1915. 6PCA.
 [Mrs. W. Bryce McQuiston], One Hundred Years of the Sixth Presbyterian Church, 1850‑1950 ([Pittsburghl: 1950), pp.20‑1. [Joseph S. Morledgel, A History of the Sixth Presbyterian Church after One Hundred and Eighteen Years, 1850 to 1968 (Pittsburgh, 1968), p. 18.
 [McQuiston], One Hundred Years, p. 22.
 Ibid., pp. 23‑4.
 Ibid., p. 15.
 In its original configuration the chapel followed the “Akron Plan”; a two‑story chapel was designed for Sunday School opening exercises and on both the ground floor and a second‑storey balcony the curving rear wall was lined with small classrooms. A leaded glass skylight which illuminated the chapel is still in place in the attic.
 Sixth Presbyterian Session Minutes, 19 Jan. 1969. 6PCA
 Izumi Sato, “The Sixth Presbyterian Church in Squirrel Hill,” p. 13. 6PCA.
 Ibid., pp. 20‑5.
 Pittsburgh Press, 14 August 1938.
 Minutes of Congregational Meeting, 20 Jan. 1965 in Sixth Presbyterian Session Minutes for 1959.
 The Five Points of Calvinism adopted by the Synod of Dort in 1619 were 1. Total Depravity, 2. Unconditional Election, 3. Limited Atonement, 4. Irresistable Grace, and 5. the Perseverance of the Saints. The list of five “essential” doctrines adopted by the fundamentalist‑dominated 1910 General Assembly were 1. Inerrancy of Scripture, 2. Virgin Birth of Christ, 3. Substitutionary Atonement, 4. Bodily Resurrection, and 5. Authenticity of the Miracles. Fundamentalist spokesmen differed on exactly how to formulate the list (Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture, p. 117 and n. 30), but that there should be exactly five points does not seem to have been disputed, except perhaps by the digitally challenged.