Everyone is welcome

The Corner is located across the street from Friendship Community Church on Robinson Street in a building once occupied by Breach Menders Ministries. When that organization closed a little more than 10 years ago, the church bought the building in order to provide social and safety net programming centered on the arts, social justice advocacy and education.

“The purpose was to provide a space outside of the home, outside of church, outside of your job, where you could get together, get to know your neighbors, connect over a cup of coffee and also access community resources,” says Nadine Masagara-Taylor, executive director of The Corner.

Arts programming has become an essential part of The Corner’s mission, the carrot on a stick to bring in casual worshipers or those in the community who might not attend services. Jazz shows and poetry and spoken word readings are among the biggest draws. While The Corner is connected to the church, no one is turned away.

“We strive to be a welcoming safe space for all residents of West Oakland, Oak Hill the Hill District and the Greater Pittsburgh area,” Masagara-Taylor says. “It’s just a space for people of all backgrounds and nationalities to come together and connect with one another through conversation.”

To help with this work, Friendship Community Church received a Small and Mighty grant of almost $12,000 from The Pittsburgh Foundation earlier this year. The grant is part of the Foundation’s 100 Percent Pittsburgh organizing principle which seeks to ensure that those living at or near the poverty line have access to opportunities in the region’s revitalized economy.

Students and their tutors in Friendship Community Church’s tutoring program. Photo courtesy of Friendship Community Church.

Growing again

Friendship Community Church was founded in 1955 in a building purchased by the Pittsburgh Presbytery from a Polish congregation whose denomination has long been forgotten. According to McLain, who became pastor in 2005, the congregation was very large during its early years. But its numbers dwindled until recently, when young couples started buying homes in the neighborhood.

Increased attendance by college students has also boosted Friendship’s numbers. These new members, predominately white, have helped the church diversify its membership and mesh with its mission to serve as a multi-cultural congregation.

“The Pittsburgh Presbytery deliberately planted it as an integrated church,” McLain says. “Terrace Village (a low-cost housing development in the Hill District) was always a multi-ethnic community, so they planted this church as a place to be available to them. That’s been in our DNA from the beginning.”

One of the challenges has been sustaining the financial health of the church in a neighborhood where the median household income in 2016 was $18,577. But as more students and young married couples move into the neighborhood, donations are increasing. Their contributions have been especially valuable as The Corner undergoes a renovation.

Along with tutoring, The Corner provides computers and internet service for people seeking jobs. It also hosts discussions on racial equality and workshops on how to purchase a home or acquire health care. And, for those who just want a place to relax, there’s always coffee and baked goods.

“We’ve been trying to build The Corner as a place where the community owns it as their own,” McLain says. “It’s really a resource for them, and that means taking it to a new level.”