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North Way Christian Community begins worship in fifth location

Sunday, May 18, 2014, 10:57 p.m.

The soaring, 91-year-old edifice that once housed Dormont Presbyterian Church echoed with sounds on Sunday morning as worshippers flocked to the North Way Christian Community's newest home.

The Gothic structure at Espy and Potomac avenues opened its doors as North Way's fifth campus after six months of renovations that blended elements of contemporary worship into the traditional space.

Greeter Rosie Milas of Whitehall, who has attended services at North Way's Wexford location for three years, smiled as she greeted worshippers at the door with hugs and words of welcome.

“I'd been praying they'd open here,” Milas said.

North Way purchased the building after the shrinking Presbyterian parish that had first located in the community more than a century earlier determined it no longer could maintain the facility and voted to worship with a parish in Green Tree. North Way purchased the church for $500,000 and promptly began renovations.

Sandy Weiss, campus director of North Way's Dormont location, said volunteers from North Way painted the sanctuary while workers installed carpet. The building seats about 500 worshippers and has assorted classrooms, offices and gathering spaces scattered throughout various additions constructed over the years.

“Over 1,000 volunteer hours went into this,” Weiss said as she greeted volunteers, preparing for the church's official opening.

Dark pews with red seat cushions still line the main floor of the church, bathed in the reflections from stained-glass windows. But the pulpit and the pipe organ that once dominated the front of the church sanctuary are gone.

Instead, a praise band, complete with guitars, a violin, drums and vocalists faces the congregation offering contemporary Christian rock, while lyrics display across screens mounted high on the walls on either side of the stage.

John Reilly, North Way's Dormont campus pastor, offered live teaching from the stage. But that won't always be the case, so North Way has installed a pull-down screen above the stained-glass windows for services in which pastors offer lessons from remote locations.

As Catholic and mainline Protestant parishes in the region battle declining numbers, North Way has experienced exponential growth in the 33 years since it began as a basement Bible study in the North Hills.

Founded in 1981 by Pastor Jay Passavant, the interdenominational church that includes campuses in Wexford, East Liberty, Oakland and Sewickley Valley boasts approximately 4,000 members and is projecting that will grow with its Dormont campus.

North Way member Bob Speed of Mt. Lebanon said many people speculated that the building that once held one of the region's largest Presbyterian congregations would be renovated into a bar or condos.

“At least 15 people came up to me and told me, ‘We're glad it's still going to be a church,' ” Speed said. “There's a lot of change going on here, and God's work needs done here.”

Debra Erdley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7996 or




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