With a pandemic pivot to technology, Christ Church Fox Chapel is building a flock
A former British lawyer turned minister at Fox Chapel has turned to technology to boost membership during the pandemic.
Reverend Alex Shuttleworth, 43, from Liverpool, has been at Christ Church Fox Chapel since 2014. Since then membership has increased by 50%, with 44 new members added during the pandemic.
He attributes recent growth to the addition of a podcast featuring Bible study sessions and Sunday sermons. Church services are streamed on YouTube and cataloged. Both are also available through a smartphone app created by the church.
“The podcast is our attempt to allow people to listen to a staff Bible study. He grew up, and now we have guests most weeks. It’s a great place to share stories about what God has done in your life,” Shuttleworth said. “Our most popular episodes are when someone talks for an hour about their own faith.”
The church has a total of 186 worshipers today. Shuttleworth said he inherited a church with a consecutive decline in membership for 15 years. “And about 25 years of stagnation before that,” he said.
Christ Church is part of the Anglican Church of North America, based in Ambridge, and the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh.
Shuttleworth said about 40% of new people attending Christ Church have joined since the pandemic began.
Marion Ahlers, 52, of O’Hara is a new loyal and regular podcast listener.
“It’s incredibly accessible. Anyone can sit down and listen and enjoy. That’s what brings me back,” said Ahlers, who left a Presbyterian church for Christ Church. “I was drawn to its genuine sense of community. And during the pandemic, they have increased their technological reach.
Shuttleworth and his podcast team broadcast from an upstairs room in the church that was once a maid’s quarters – the building is a former mansion, built in 1929 for the Gould family.
In the 1940s it was converted into Fox Chapel Episcopal Church. After a split in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh in the 2000s, the congregation aligned with the new Anglican Church of North America and became Christ Church.
“It feels like home,” Shuttleworth said of the church’s previous residential status. “There is a fireplace in the hall and a bathtub in my office. How weird is that? A $450,000 renovation was completed in 2016.
Another era change
Shuttleworth sees the changes resulting from the pandemic in the context of Church history. Over the centuries, radical changes have been brought about by crises and new technologies.
“For example, there was a health crisis in the early church that changed the way people were baptized,” Shuttleworth said. With the invention of the printing press, “a lot of things changed because people could suddenly read the truth for themselves.
“Covid was the perfect combination of both a health crisis and a time in history when technology had really changed. I suspect this will be the biggest change in how we do church since the Reform.
At Christ Church, Shuttleworth takes what some might call an unorthodox approach to welcoming new members. He prefers his name Alex and brings an informal approach to spreading the gospel.
“I don’t use titles,” Shuttleworth said. “Jesus tells us not to show off or take pompous church titles.”
He said the majority of new church members said their first experience of worshiping at Christ Church was through YouTube broadcasts.
The church production team invested in new broadcasting software, a camera, a sound card and a computer. With upbeat music and her unassuming demeanor, Shuttleworth aims to make podcasts intimate, comfortable and welcoming.
After the shutdown was lifted and parishioners returned to worship in person, Shuttleworth said, the popularity of podcasts remained.
Shuttleworth said he always asks how people find Christ Church when he meets new visitors.
“Before the pandemic, the response was always either ‘I googled you’ or ‘my neighbor invited me’. Now everyone is saying, ‘I watched you online for a few weeks’ and ‘J ‘ heard your podcast. It felt good so I came in person.”
Two new small groups for men and women have been added, as well as two satellite congregations in retirement communities – Blawnox Apartments and Longwood in Oakmont.
Christ Church’s director of operations, Bridget Michael, began developing the church app before the pandemic hit and accelerated the launch when the shutdown happened. The app is available on GooglePlay and the Apple App Store.
Michael said podcasts are here to stay.
“We didn’t plan to keep the podcasts, but it turns out they’re like a storefront because people find us and try us online,” Michael said. “That was a huge advantage.”
The path to the New World
In his twenties in London, Shuttleworth was well on his way as a lawyer specializing in international insurance, construction and energy law.
The career, despite its financial rewards, left him dissatisfied. He found himself drinking too much and failing in his relationships.
“My sense of self-esteem was invested in work, money and other people,” he said.
Seeking direction, he became involved in a church, often leading weekend trips for youth groups. As her faith deepened, Shuttleworth began to question and doubt her life choices.
An encounter with a stranger near London Bridge in 2005 turned out to be a whirlwind moment. Walking on his morning commute, Shuttleworth said he was praying to know if he should quit his job and go to seminary.
“As I prayed for a sign, I didn’t look where I was going. I bumped into someone and to my surprise he was holding a sign,” Shuttleworth said. The person was a ‘crazy street preacher’ and the sign said, ‘Jesus loves you’.
That did the trick. Shuttleworth went on to earn degrees in theology from the universities of Canterbury and Bristol and was ordained in the Church of England.
Shuttleworth met his wife, Kat, an American, in London, where she was a child protection social worker. She attended the church where he was a part-time pastor.
At a service on a Sunday, she drew attention to herself by coming to communion at the wrong time.
“The pastor sent her back to her place and she was mortified,” Shuttleworth said, “but I fell in love immediately.”
They married in London and now have two young children – Ben and Hannah, who goes by the name “Han”.
“Kat argues that Ben and Han are biblical names,” Shuttleworth said. “I claim they are from Star Wars.”
Shuttleworth said he always loved America. As a young boy growing up in Liverpool, he even had an American flag hanging above his bed.
His trip to Pittsburgh was, in part, thanks to the British sport of rugby.
Working in London as a pastor, Shuttleworth met the Reverend Robert Duncan, then Archbishop of the Church of England in North America. They went to a pub while a rugby tournament was playing on TV.
“He asked me to explain the game, as well as many questions during the night. I found out at the end of the game that it was kind of a stealth interview,” Shuttleworth said. Pittsburgh-based Duncan brought him to Christ Church.
Shuttleworth, who retains his British nationality, plans to stay.
“We are very happy here,” he said. “I like the scale of the city, the variety of downtown and countryside. I like people’s attitude. »
The Shuttleworths try to visit England every year. He said that although he missed British humour, constant banter and Cornish pastries, he had embraced American breakfasts and Mexican food – “we don’t have that in England”.