The Story of South Side Anglican Church
By The Rev. Sean Norris (MDiv 2011)
“If you want to make the Lord laugh make plans.” That’s what Archbishop Duncan told my fellow ordinands and me as we prepared for our futures in ministry. Well, church planting was not something my wife, Kate, and I had planned to do. In fact, I would say that we actively tried to avoid it over the years. Yet, our path of planting has proved the Archbishop right in more ways than one. We had no plans to do this, and most of our plans on how it would look and develop ended up looking completely different.
We talked and prayed about starting some kind of ministry (not a church!) back in 2010, but that changed when we got pregnant. “Surely the Lord wouldn’t call us into something as unpredictable as starting a new ministry when we were brand new parents,” we thought. So we put any kind of planting business on the shelf and looked for more sensible ministry positions. Thinking back on it I can almost hear God laughing. Two months after our daughter Rhyan was born in 2011 we found ourselves trying to build a church plant team to go with us into the South Side of Pittsburgh. The Lord certainly has a sense of humor.
Everything from our founding team to the make-up of our church has been somewhat of a surprise, but God has been consistently faithful to his call on us. There were six of us on the initial team and to say it was a diverse group is an understatement. There were personality differences, theological differences, worship style differences, and more. Despite all their differences, they were the ones that had their hearts stirred when we shared our vision of being messengers of God’s radical grace to the skeptic and wounded, and that would be the driving force for us: the message. It had to be. We didn’t have anything else on which to build that would unite us, but each of us understood what it meant to be a skeptic and to be wounded—to need the grace of Jesus in those dark places in us—and that turned out to be the most important thing.
Through various forms of outreach that often simply began with something that we were interested in and grew into something bigger we began to connect with folks in the neighborhood. Art exhibits dealing with tattoos enabled us to ask people about their lives in a very easy and disarming way. We hosted open mics in the park and in coffee shops and invited people to share their music and poetry. We had Bible studies in coffee shops. We handed out Valentine’s to all of the women who worked in the shops on Carson Street. We held Good Friday services in a congregant’s tattoo shop and had conversations on life, death, and art.
For the first two years we worshipped in our living room on Sundays and through various connections people started to come. Our team was vulnerable with their lives and provided a safe space for people to be right where they were, and that seemed to be the most effective thing. It began to feel like home to people, and they began to invite friends. It has continued into our public worship space in an old grocery store front on Carson Street.
Over the past four and a half years we’ve probably said goodbye to people almost as often as we have said hello. The city is a very transient place after all. We went through some of the normal church plant growth stages where after two to three years your team completely changes. No one has ever left on bad terms, thank God. The Lord just called them all on to different ministries and some he has called home to himself. There have been lots of growing pains, and throughout it all the Lord has been faithful. We often joke that if everyone would’ve just stayed put we’d have well over 100 people right now, but the Lord has used our time with each person in deep and profound ways. We hear back from those who have left, and they tell us what an impact South Side Anglican has had on them and for that we praise God. We continue to watch him bring new people into the South Side Anglican community, and we have the awesome privilege of watching people in our church step into that role as messengers of his grace, sharing their own pain and weakness and pointing to Jesus who meets them there.
This past November we stood in front of the convention of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh being accepted and applauded as a full congregation in the diocese. We were up there with three of our young congregants, two of whom are being sponsored by our church for ordination, and I was struck by what a crazy trip it has been. The Archbishop was right, our plans had changed dramatically, and I think I may have even heard the Lord laughing again.
Sean and Kate Norris are the planters and pastors of South Side Anglican Church in Pittsburgh along with their two daughters Rhyan and Skylar. Sean is ordained and graduated from Trinity in 2011. Kate is finishing up her MDiv at Trinity and, Lord willing, will be ordained in June 2016.