From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Pittsburgh offers homeless and addicted a 'shepherd's heart'

Date Thu, 6 Dec 2001 14:47:24 -0500 (EST)


Pittsburgh offers homeless and addicted a 'shepherd's heart'

by Ronda Carman

     (ENS) Clergy and delegates attending the 136th convention of the Diocese of 
Pittsburgh witnessed an unusual sight on opening day November 2, 2001. A 
processional marking the admission of the diocese's newest parish, Shepherd's 
Heart Fellowship, passed through the convention ballroom. What was truly 
exceptional about the processional, however, was the makeup of its members. The 
group composed of homeless, recovering addicts, clergy and laity represented the 
uniqueness of this congregation.

     Shepherd's Heart, a ministry for the homeless and addicted, began in the 
summer of 1993 as a missionary outpost without a parish home. The Rev. Mike 
Wurschmidt, then a seminarian at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, began 
walking the streets of Pittsburgh's Oakland district in search of the homeless 
and needy, bringing along food, coffee, blankets and clothing. "As we continued 
to visit and pray with the homeless they began asking about coming to a church 
service," commented Wurschmidt. It was then that Wurschmidt realized it was time 
to expand the ministry and find a place to meet for public worship. 

     In August of 1995, the first Sunday night service took place in a local 
storefront. "We knew that many of our members would not be able to wake up in 
time for a traditional Sunday morning service, so God led us to begin Sunday 
night services," said Wurschmidt, now the rector of Shepherd's Heart. 
Additionally, with many feeding programs closed on Sundays, Shepherd's Heart 
decided to offer a hot meal following the service.

     The initial congregation of seven quickly grew, as word spread of a service 
being held in the evening, accessible to homeless and addicted that served a free 
meal after worship. "Our Sunday evening attendance now averages 100 or more 
people," said Wurschmidt. Worship is informal, with Holy Eucharist being 
celebrated once a month. "Many of our members have been addicts for so long that 
they can't process a lengthy sermon or liturgy. We sing contemporary worship 
songs and deliver a very simple message telling them of God's love and salvation 
in Jesus Christ." 

     In 1999 Shepherd's Heart moved to its current location, a former Roman 
Catholic church. With the growth has come the growth of the leadership team. The 
parish offers training opportunities in urban theology and ministry for both lay 
people and clergy. "They are a paradigmatic 21st century church," said 
Pittsburgh's Bishop Robert Duncan. Although Shepherd's Heart continues to send 
ministry teams to the streets, the church is finding there are fewer homeless in 
the area.

     "I've seen a huge difference these past five years," says senior warden Jim 
Chester, also a University of Pittsburgh police lieutenant. "There just aren't 
the panhandlers in Oakland there were before. I believe it has been prayer and 
this ministry that has brought this change."

     What is Shepherd's Heart's response to the last eight years? The parish 
vision sums it up: "To share the heart of Jesus our Shepherd in the streets of 
Oakland and to the ends of the earth."

--Ronda Carman is the director of communications for the Episcopal Diocese of 
Pittsburgh and the editor of TRINITY. 

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