Our History – Christ Church at Grove Farm

Our History

After weekly prayer for several months, our founders were led to establish a new church, temporarily called “New Church of Sewickley.” From the beginning, they were united in their belief that the primary role of the church was to share the saving Gospel with the world. Ten days later, 120 people gathered in the upper room at the Sewickley Country Inn for their first service on July 23, 1995. 

The energy and dedication of the congregation were amazing to behold. In ten days, eager volunteers rose up to provide preaching, lay readers, music, and service sheets, conduct children’s Sunday School, a youth program, and adult education, became ushers, greeters, and hostesses, and all of the other tasks needed to change a motel ballroom into a church in two hours, then change it back again.

In September 1995, with the church barely six weeks old, a sales agreement was signed to purchase the 46-acre Grove Farm from the Verland Foundation. Later that month, a service was held in a tent overlooking the lake to give thanks to God for our blessings. At that service, the congregation voted to issue a call to John Guest to become our Rector.

On his return from a preaching mission in Ukraine, John accepted the call and agreed to become our Pastor. lt was an exciting time.

The first Christmas Eve for The New Church of Sewickley was unforgettable.  The Sewickley Country Inn could not accommodate us.  There was literally “no room at the Inn”. So, plans were made to hold the services aboard the Gateway Clipper “Majestic”.  The snow began falling in the middle of the day on Christmas Eve.  By the time the Majestic was due to dock in Sewickley, several inches had fallen.  A massive effort by church volunteers cleared the way for the congregation to board.  Floating down the river, as snow filled the air, nestled in the cozy confines of the boat, singing Christmas carols and hearing Pastor John’s Christmas message was an inspiring ending to the church’s first year.

In February of 1996, Founding member Tom Allen was elected to serve as the leader of the church’s parish council.  Tom had a vision for the new church and it was his unwavering faith and dedication that, in large part, made what exists today possible.  Tom and Pastor John formed a powerful team that, through the grace of God, accomplished a lot in a short amount of time.

In June 1996, the congregation pledged $1.8 million for the construction of our new church home, and planning and construction began. 

The congregation continued to grow.  By September of 1996, we had outgrown the Sewickley Country Inn, and services were moved to the Moon High School.  In October, ground was broken for the new sanctuary on the Grove Farm property.

With work underway for the new building, in November of 1996, the congregation voted to change the name of the church to Christ Church at Grove Farm (CCGF). Once the land was cleared, the new sanctuary quickly began to take shape.  Founding member Ernie Pinyot volunteered to oversee the construction, ensuring the successful completion of the major building project.

By June 1997, the original Christ Church at Grove Farm sanctuary was completed and dedicated during a ceremony with guest preacher, the Reverend Dr. Luis Palau.  Prayers had been answered.  In just two years, the church had gone from an idea to a thriving church on a beautiful campus.

The church did not sit still.  In 1998, the congregation made a 10-year commitment to supporting the church in Uganda.  Members of the congregation and the staff made regular trips to the African nation. The church set to work: spreading Christ’s message of hope, as well as providing a market for Ugandan Gold coffee, assisting in developing freshwater sources, and supporting Ugandan pastors.

Back home, Middle School and High school programs were expanded. Small home groups were established.  New ministries were established focused on serving the needs of the growing congregation.  The staff was expanded.

A Sunday morning Cafe which had a modest start shortly after the church began services on the Grove Farm property was modernized and moved into the church’s atrium. A menu featuring light breakfasts and lunches along with plenty of Uganda Gold Coffee, juices, and soft drinks was offered.  The cafe was (and is) an all-volunteer operation. In 2005, CCGF entered into a partnership with Pastor Ed Glover’s Urban Impact Foundation (UIF).  This organization provides sports, arts, and educational programs for youths on Pittsburgh’s Northside. Proceeds from the Cafe support the many ministries of UIF.

By 2004, it was clear that CCGF was outgrowing the building.  There was standing room only for many services and many who attended services on major holidays had to sit outside the sanctuary.  In February, a major campaign was launched to provide funding for a major expansion.  Founding member Jim Hamilton directed the “Building a Legacy…one brick, one person at a time” campaign.

Meanwhile, planning for the expansion moved into high gear. The addition would include a much larger sanctuary, expanded kids and preschool space along with dedicated space for the music ministry.  Once again, Ernie Pinyot was called to oversee construction.  By spring of 2006, work was complete and the new Sanctuary was ready for worship.  A dedication service was held in April with over 1600 in attendance.

The original sanctuary was repurposed and renamed.  It became Wilson Hall, in honor of Don Wilson – the church’s first Director of Pastoral Care.  During the earliest days of the church, Don served as John Guest’s pastoral assistant and was tasked with overseeing the rapidly expanding number of church ministries as well as the day-to-day operations of CCGF. He passed away on Christmas Eve 2004.

Although the worship services at CCGF were based “on the church’s Anglican Tradition”, having been spun off From St. Stephen’s in Sewickley, many in the church felt that there should be services that were “more contemporary” and less formal.  Over the years, the church council approved some experimental services.  An informal Saturday night service that featured contemporary praise music was instituted and ran for a year in the early 2000’s.  Still, younger members of the church indicated that they wanted a contemporary service on Sunday mornings.  Beginning in Easter 2009, a “Third Service” was begun in Wilson Hall.  It was decidedly less formal and more contemporary than the Sanctuary Services across the commons.  “Third Service” was an instant success, drawing many young families and teenagers. It grew to the point that ten years later, the decision was made to move, what came to be called “The Modern Service” to the Sanctuary where it continues Sundays at 11:15 a.m.

The vision and guidance from the Rev. Dr. John Guest are largely responsible for the reputation of CCGF as a church whose mission was—and is— to “call our world to Christ”. At the core is dynamic, Bible-based preaching with the message of the hope that is in Jesus Christ. As Senior Pastor, Dr. Guest worked to “make Pittsburgh as famous for Christ as it was for steel.”  He worked to extend CCGF’s outreach beyond its immediate neighborhood.  Partnerships with Urban Impact, The Silver Ring Thing, and other organizations all had one thing in common – evangelism. The goal is to bring the saving and healing message of Christ to as many people as possible.

 When Dr. Guest announced that he was retiring at the end of 2010, a search committee was formed. They conducted a nationwide search for a successor.  In February of 2012, the Reverend Jon Panner was installed as the church’s second Senior Pastor.  A year later he resigned, and Dr. Guest returned as interim senior while a permanent successor was sought.  In June of 2015, Rev. Dr. Jared Ott, who had been serving as Associate Pastor, was named as the church’s 3rd Senior Pastor. In January of 2019, Dr. Ott resigned, and the church council asked Dr. Guest to step in once again to lead the church. During this time, CCGF continued to grow.  The former Family Guidance building – located adjacent to the church’s campus – was dedicated as the John Guest Ministry Center. Other facilities at the church were expanded and updated.  The Kids Ministry was extensively renovated and reimagined.  The main entrance to the church was moved to the rear of the building, and the Minton Commons and Atrium areas were completely remodeled with an expanded cafe and a new specialty coffee bar – both of which have become very popular with the congregation.

In a special meeting held in October of 2019, church members elected Rev. Craig Gyergyo as the church’s 4th Senior Pastor.  He was officially installed on February 16, 2020-a month before COVID 19 forced the church to suspend in-person worship.  The church had been streaming services on a dedicated YouTube channel and on its website.  Pastor Craig and his team immediately went to work to continue services to the home-bound congregation. Other ministries used Zoom to continue their work.  CCGF became the center of a food distribution program for families and individuals in need throughout the area. As the effect of COVID began to recede, the church gradually reopened. It marked its 25th anniversary with a prayer service which was for some in-person and for others live-streamed.   Pastor Craig re-introduced himself to his congregation.  “Every member ministry” is Pastor Craig’s challenge to the congregation.  There has been a consistent effort to draw more participation in church ministries and outreach. As the church continues to find new ways to reach more people for Christ, it has not strayed from its core value – “to call our world to Christ.”