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This post originally appeared on the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary Blog on February 12, 2015:

A few nights ago, I found myself live-tweeting a sermon. I was so moved, I couldn’t contain my enthusiasm. But there was no one around to hear if I said, “Amen.” So I took to the Internet.

The sermon I was reading was the sermon preached by the Rev. Henry Highland Garnet to the US Congress Feb. 12, 1865. He stood before them as a 50-year-old, disabled, former slave who had become known around the nation as passionate abolitionist and pastor. He preached from Matthew 23:4, where Jesus condemns the Pharisees for tying up heavy burdens on others which they themselves won’t lift. Seamlessly, Garnet drew a parallel between the Pharisees and those who maintained the institution of slavery, placing heavy burdens on the shoulders of his brothers and sisters. Garnet’s sermon before Congress was delivered after the 13th Amendment (abolishing slavery) had been approved by Congress, but before it had been ratified by the states. Garnet was known as an accomplished (and controversial) orator, but his words that day were rooted in his life experience.

Born into slavery in Maryland in 1815, Garnet’s family escaped when he was nine years old and moved north to Bucks County, Pa. The family eventually settled in New York City. After two years at the African Free School, Garnet sailed as a cabin boy on ships to Cuba and served as a cook and steward on ships travelling between New York and Washington, DC. A traumatic leg injury in 1830 led him to return to school at the Noyes Academy in Canaan, N.H.

But the trauma only continued: the Noyes Academy was burned down by an angry mob who disapproved of educating African Americans. Garnet next enrolled in the Oneida Theological Institute, then a progressive Presbyterian school known to support black students, from which he graduated in 1839. The next year his leg was amputated due to complications from his earlier accident. But that didn’t slow Garnet down in any way. Over the next decades of his ministry, Garnet was an abolitionist, a pastor, an advocate of fair trade as an economic means to fight slavery, and a college president. The last role is what brought him to Pittsburgh.

Garnet arrived in Pittsburgh in 1868 as the newly appointed President of Avery College, on Pittsburgh’s North Side. Avery College had been founded by a Methodist abolitionist and served as a station on the Underground Railroad, and when Garnet arrived it served as a school for African Americans. While in Pittsburgh, Garnet was a bivocational church planter, working at Avery College while also organizing and laying the foundation for Grace Memorial Presbyterian Church (where Ron Peters, founding director of the Seminary’s Metro-Urban Institute, now serves). After leaving Pittsburgh, Garnet again served as a pastor in New York before being appointed as the United States ambassador to Liberia.

One-hundred and fifty years after Garnet spoke to Congress, his life still can speak volumes to us today. Our systems of racial injustice need to hear his prophetic condemnation. Our economy needs to hear his advocacy of fair-trade. And our churches need to follow his example of uniting biblical proclamation with prophetic action, especially as we pioneer new worshiping communities.

In the tradition of the Church, saints are honored and celebrated on the anniversary of their deaths. On Feb. 12, 1882, 17 years after his famous sermon to Congress and while serving as a diplomat in Liberia, Garnet passed away and entered the Promised Land of eternal freedom. May the Lord grant us the grace to honor Garnet’s legacy through our ministries this day.

To read Garnet’s sermons directly, see Lift Every Voice: African American Oratory ed. Philip S. Foner and Robert Brantham (Univ. of Alabama Press, 1997).

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I’m writing a book. It’s about the spiritual discipline of pursuing integrity and dedication to truth. In other words, it’s about becoming more and more like Jesus, who is Truth. For more on the idea behind the book and the story of how I got to this point, read this post. As promised in that post, I’ve continued writing and am ready to share what I have with our communities here in Pittsburgh.

So, starting later this month, I’m going to share one chapter per month with a group of folks (perhaps including you?) who are interested in reading each chapter and then gathering to discuss the ideas in it. Hopefully you’ll get the benefit of some interesting reading material, and I’ll get to create a better book thanks to your feedback. We’ll meet on three Sunday evenings this fall: September 30th, November 4th, and December 9th.

A week ahead of time, I’ll email out a draft of the chapter to discuss that month. Then on the appointed date, we’ll meet at my house from 6-8pm, eat a simple dinner and talk about the ideas in each chapter. While I picture this group being mostly people from Upper Room, other Pittsburgh friends are also welcome. Email me at chris@pghupperroom.com if you’re interested.

I’m really looking forward to the next few days in the life of our Church. This will be the fourth (yes, fourth!) Holy Week that The Upper Room has celebrated together since we ventured out on this journey of planting a new congregation in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Each year our worship together grows richer and deeper, and I believe that God will continue that trend this year. Here’s the full slate of services, borrowed from Upper Room’s website:

At Upper Room, we have a tradition of transitioning from Lent to Easter with a full set of Holy Week services that the Church has called the “Triduum” – a set of three services, which is actually considered one long service of worship over the course of three nights. Here’s a schedule of this year’s services, with a little bit of background on each. Each service (except for the sunrise service) will be at 5828 Forward Ave. and will last about 60 minutes.

Maundy Thursday – Thursday April 5 @ 7pm
This service is the celebration of Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples before his crucifixion. This service will include an “Agape (Love) Meal.” We ask everyone to bring a contribution of bread, fruit, cheese or veggies to share. We’ll also celebrate Communion together.

Good Friday – Friday April 6 @ Sunset (7:50pm)
This is the service remembering Jesus’ death on the cross. This service will include some extended readings of Scripture and silence at the end to meditate on Jesus’ death for our sake.

Easter Vigil (part 1) – Saturday April 7 @ sunset (7:51pm)
This service is the oldest known holiday in the Christian church, and is designed to move us to Easter by reflecting on the mystery of the resurrection and recalling God’s faithfulness to his people by reading several Old Testament stories.

Easter Sunrise Service / Easter Vigil (part 2) – Sunday April 8 @ sunrise (6:51am) in Frick Park.  Go to the Blue Slide Entrance at the corner of Beechwood and Nicholson. (weather permitting)
While many Easter Vigils actually last all night, our will be “paused” a little before 9pm and resume with our sunrise service the next day on Easter morning. This service will include the reading of the Easter story and a renewal of our baptismal vows.

Easter Day Worship – Sunday April 8 @ 11am
And of course we’ll be celebrating Easter Sunday at our normal Sunday morning time as well!