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Bethany: A House of Refuge

A couple weeks ago I got a call that my Aunt Helen from Oil City had fallen and was being rushed to UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh. She had bleeding in her brain that could take her life. Her son- my cousin, Guy- was on his way. In the next several days Melany and I visited Aunt Helen and we also offered our home to Cousin Guy. Pretty quickly the bleeding receded and Aunt Helen recovered from her fall- physically. However, with her increasing dementia and her disorientation it was a constant battle to keep her calm and settled.

Meanwhile, Guy commuted from our house in Scott Township to be with his mother through the day. He would eat breakfast with us, drive to the hospital, spend the day with his mother, and then return “home” to our house for a late dinner and rest for the night. We would reflect together on the day and his mother’s progress, and we would close the day with prayer. Later in the week Guy had to return to his work and home in Connecticut and his brother and my cousin, Bruce, arrived. We offered him the same “bed and breakfast” plan at our house which he gladly accepted. Oh yes, part of our plan was non-stop entertainment from our 3 year old grandson, Jamie, who is part of our household. During that week our house was hopping – with little privacy for Melany and me and less “discretionary time”. Exactly what we prayed for.

…Well, not exactly.

We came to the south hills of Pittsburgh as empty nesters for the first time since we got married. No kids in the house. We wanted our house here to be a place of grace for those who would come to see us, a house of refuge and rest in which they would experience God’s love. We knew that the house was not our own but belonged to the bank…I mean, God. We dedicated it to God, prayed for each room and anointed each door with oil as a symbol of God’s blessing and presence. Some of you even helped us prepare the house as you painted walls, cleared and cleaned rooms, put up shelves, cleared and hauled away brush from the yard.

We waited. Who would God bring to us? How could our house be a home, a place of grace? In time, friends came to visit, family, too. I took them on my infamous Pittsburgh hills tour, cooked them pierogies, fed them at Primanti Brothers, walked them through the Strip District, and proudly introduced them to Bethany Church- you!

Then two years ago, while our son who lives in Germany was visiting us, a tumor was discovered in his brain, emergency surgery was performed to save his life and his brain functions. He needed to spend weeks recovering before he could travel back to Germany. His devoted girlfriend flew over and also stayed with us. There he would sit in our sun room, reading and resting…recovering in body and spirit. That Easter as we gathered at the dinner table, “resurrection” took on a new and deeper meaning for us. We had seen it firsthand.

Last summer we travelled back to Illinois to pick up our daughter and her son so they would have a place to stay, a place of safety and security. You can see them on a Sunday morning at Bethany, and you have heard lots of stories about our 3 year old grandson, Jamie. When we moved in, we prepared a room for Jamie to visit. Never did we imagine that he would come to live! God had other plans.

Then…our cousins as they and we tended to their mother.

We may have imagined who might come but never why they would come and how they would stay. Never would we have wished the circumstances for their visits, but, oh, how glad and honored we were to offer them a place of grace, of refuge and rest.

By the way, that is the meaning – or one of the meanings- of the Hebrew word, Bethany- a place or house of refuge. And it was to the village of Bethany that Jesus went for refuge from the storm and rest for his body and soul. We read in the Gospel of John, “Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus” ( and Mary and Martha). Bethany…our house of worship and service, our heritage and history, our people and mission, our very name…is to be a place of grace, a place of refuge and restoration for all who enter. Are we living up to our name? Are we alert to the needs and the people around us? Are we aware that this church called Bethany is not our own but is entrusted to us from our Creator as a tool for his kingdom work? Are we loving with the heart of Jesus in and beyond the walls of our church home?

How are you doing in helping this church be a “Bethany”? How can you – we – do better?

See you on Sunday…at a place called Bethany.

John Hamilton

Some notes:

  • Remember – this Sunday (March 10th) is daylight savings time.
  • The sermon is drawn from chapter six in the John Ortberg book.
  • A correction in the most recent newsletter – contact person for the young adult trip Pastor Robbie.
  • Sunday’s sermon is “Stumbling Block”.
  • Palm Sunday is March 24, with the Children’s Palm Processional at the 10:45 service. The Lenten Brunch will be served by the men in the Great Room following both services.
  • Maundy Thursday service at 7PM on Thursday, March 28.
  • Good Frday Service at 7pm on 3/29. There is no nursery available at this service.
  • Easter morning services on 3/31 – Sunrise at Melrose Cemetery at 6:30am, and services at Bethany at 9AM and 11AM. There will be no Sunday School or Children’s Worship and Wonder on Easter morning.

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