Archive

In a time of church closings, Pittsburgh pastor hopes to open one | TribLIVE.com
Allegheny

In a time of church closings, Pittsburgh pastor hopes to open one

Bob Bauder
ptrlogchurch0728171
Bob Bauder | Tribune-Review
Assistant pastor Sam Linton and the Rev. Mike Gestrich (right) of The Log Church at the site of their new church building on Chapel Avenue overlooking Banksville Road.
ptrlogchurch072817
Bob Bauder | Tribune-Review
An architectural rendering of The Log Church overlooking Banksville Road. The $10 million plans call for hundreds of pine trees in the wooded setting with a waterfall in front.

The Rev. Mike Gestrich said he had a “God’s moment” in the first week of July 1982.

He and his wife, Carol, left Virginia with two young children in tow and got lost searching for a place to start a church in Pittsburgh. They wound up at a dead end on top of a wooded hill in Banksville.

“Wow, there’s something about this place,” Gestrich told his wife as he exited a U-Haul truck. “I really believed that God wanted me to start a Bible-based church in Pittsburgh.”

Ten years later, he took his nondenominational ministry back to the spot and built The Log Church. Gestrich plans to expand with a new $10 million building overlooking Banksville Road.

With churches closing across the region, Gestrich is bucking odds. He’s used to it.

Pittsburgh officials believe it would mark the first church constructed in the city since 2006 when the Hill District’s Ebenezer Baptist reopened following a 2004 fire that killed two firefighters.

“When I first came out here and told people what I wanted to do, they laughed at me,” Gestrich said. “I was just fresh out of college, a young guy, married and I just turned 23. We had two little kids. We started on this journey and nobody believed we could do it.”

The Pittsburgh Planning Commission this week approved plans for the new building on Chappel Avenue in Banksville.

Lori Marabello, president of the Banksville Civic Association and a staffer for Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith, D-Westwood, said residents have complained for years about a blind spot while pulling from Chappel onto busy Banksville Road. “This will absolutely improve the visibility for getting onto Banksville Road,” Marabello said. “We do approve and support this construction.”

Gestrich, who started his ministry in the small Banksville Baptist Church with about 20 members, has about 1,200 in The Log Church congregation. The current church holds about 175, forcing him and assistant pastor Sam Linton to hold three services on Sunday and one on Saturday. The services are simulcast at the same time as the services to members at a cafe on the church grounds.

The new sanctuary will seat around 550 people.

Plans call for the new church to mirror the old one with log siding and paneling inside. Gestrich said the building would include an outdoor fireplace and a waterfall fronting Banksville Road. He intends to plant hundreds of pine trees on the grounds.

Kevin Acklin, Mayor Bill Peduto’s chief of staff, said the Mayor’s Office typically deals with church closures.

“It is a welcome opportunity to see a congregation building a new house of worship in our city and evidence of growth in the local faith community,” he said.

Gestrich chose the wooden log decor because it evokes the history of churches in America, he said.

“I always tell people the church has to get back to basics,” he said. “In America, the first churches were log churches.”

The church has raised about half the money it needs for the new building through donations, Gestrich said. Students from the Pittsburgh Job Corps Center are doing the excavations for free.

“We plan to open in two years,” Gestrich said. “We still have millions to raise, but we’re going to jump off the cliff and start. God can stop us if he wants.”

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312, [email protected] or @bobbauder.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.