Sunday, October 31, 2010

eleventh visit: Oct 24th 2010 Non-denominational Christian (Methodist and Presbyterian supported)

11:30am sunday
Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community
2700 Jane Street, Pittsburgh PA 15203
south side

I realize it is far time for gatherings to venture to the south side. Where to? I come across the name of this congregation... no further effort in decision required. For those who don't know Pittsburgh, the Hot Metal Bridge is an honest-real bridge, and it's always been my favorite of Pgh's 29 that cross the 3 rivers simply because of its name. Can you think of a better? I emailed HMBFC, and minutes later Mike Holohan shot back: an invitation and expression of support for gatherings. Thank you.

Days leading up, I was looking forward to experiencing worship with HMBFC in a way that admittedly is not always the case as I pursue this project. I read somewhere that before securing their current location (a remarkably restored space that was once a corner bar) the group regularly met in a Goodwill for a period of time, and their Bible study in a operating tattoo parlor. Attire is casual. (Thankfully a sweet young woman complimented my garb as I went in, so I did not feel so over-dressed as I might otherwise have.) Also, this is an establishment that walks the talk: a homeless ministry team pounds pavement, providing food and conversation to those without. There's a "live and let live" approach even to traditional Christian ritual: "If you don't feel like taking communion this week, then let yourself take time off from it."

supported by the Presbyterian Church and United Methodist Church, is comfortable with the term "non-denominational" and led by Pastors Jim Walker and Jeff Eddings, assisted by Mike Holohan. Personalities are as colorful as the tattoos gracing their arms. Apparently messages are often offered through drama and other arts, though not specifically this Sunday.

This is not necessarily your grandmother's worship-place. Refreshing. (But if she did show up, she'd be well received.) I can only sense that the life experiences of some (not all, but some) of these young adults are REAL—I would guess not always roses and teacups of cherries. Which is why I really liked being there, surrounded by the sincerity of life.

Until this point in my project, I had been wondering about the relationship of youngest adults of this city (say 18-29 year-olds) and religion. I had not been seeing a huge number from this age-group. Answers to my wondering found here. It is clear from HMBFC's website that Pastors Jim and Jeff are passionate about offering community in way I'd not yet witnessed, and offering it to those who really have had perhaps a tougher time at it, as well as to those who have abundance to share... and this is the age-group that is jumping on board.
Talk of spelunking trips and wilderness retreats, no less. A hot meal is served to all in attendance following every 11:30am weekly service. And as far as I can tell, it's succeeding. These worshipers seem to be driven to attend in order to be together. True spirit is felt.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

tenth visit: Oct 23rd 2010 Baptist

7:00pm saturday
Mount Ararat Baptist Church
271 Paulson Ave, Pittsburgh PA 15206


the largest Baptist church in western Pennsylvania.
2 percussionists, 2 drum sets, 2 sound barriers.
2 ASL signers.
I enjoy the informality. I enjoy the warm welcome from strangers.
There is an awkward moment, though when I suddenly find myself in the basement of the church, lined up behind a table with other visitors who can not claim membership with another church.

I had called and emailed, but it's such a large church that I'm sure not all members of the administration had access to my messages. After explaining the ideas behind gatherings, and the fact that I'm not specifically looking to becoming a member of any establishment at the moment, I am offered directions to the nearest elevator. I find my way out to greet the warm evening air.

ninth visit: Oct 17th 2010 Baptist

11:00am sunday
Saint Luke Baptist Church
659 Herron Ave, Pittsburgh PA 15219
hill district

When teaching my college art classes, I often say it this way:
"Sydney, Dave, Laura: are you absorbing what I am saying?
Does this make sense?"

At St Luke's it's like this:
"Can somebody say 'Hallelujah'?"
"Can I have a witness?" "Amen."
"Whatever (Amen), I said, whatever it takes.' "Amen."
Amen. The same word, is also used in Islam: "Ᾱmīn." Many Buddhists and Hindus say Amen at the end of prayers as well. Ever present in Judaism, too. Some say the word was first used by Egyptian Pagans, referring to the name of the Egyptian Sun God, Amen Rah, later passed to Egyptian Jews, changing in purpose. Others say the use of Amen in worship (used in the same way as it is used today) originates in Judaism—a Hebrew word meaning "so be it."

At Hillel's Rosh Hashanah service (my 2nd visit),
Rabbi Scott Aaron explained that the congregational response of "Amen" at the end of Rabbi-delivered-prayers comes from a time when not many worshipers could read. It was believed that the speaking of only the final word of a prayer (pronounced closer to Ah-mehn, in Hebrew) was all that was needed to signify the speaking of the entire prayer, if one was unable to read.
Back-peddle to the beginning of my visit to:
the church where everybody is somebody. This church.
By 11:17am,
I had slowly nibbled a fun-size snickers into nothing. (From the candy bowl by the door, offered to me by Mamie.) I had been hugged by Mary: "Would you like a hug? I'm the huggin' lady." I had admired a ceremonious donning of white gloves on usher's hands. My attention again to Mary, making her hugging-rounds through the pews wearing a confident red felt hat that earns deserved compliments. "Oh, you know, I meant to put on a different one, one that matched my outfit, but this one fell off of my closet shelf instead, so I put it on my head." All this before any signs of the service beginning. I quickly realize that at Saint Luke's, 11am is settling-in time, and the service begins when it's good and ready.

It is the eighth Pastoral Anniversary Celebration for the church, honoring Rev. Gerald M. Laster. A guest pastor provides the sermon that day:
Rev. George Williams of the First Baptist Church of West Mifflin. I introduce myself during visitor welcome. Before the end of his sermon, Rev. Williams speaks to me directly from the pulpit: "That's great about Pittsburgh churches, but, sister, don't forget about the suburban and rural ones... West Mifflin is something to see, too." Smiles. Dinner and a second service at 4pm to follow, an unexpected full day affair that I am not able to work into my Sunday. My neighboring worshipers insist there are enough greens and macaroni and cheese for me. Cherry pie, too.

I follow Mamie's white patent leather go-go boots
downstairs to the basement's open gathering space. I experience boot-covet. "I had been waiting all year to put these on again. Could not wait, could not wait," she said. No one wants to join our end of the table. I do stand out a bit, even in a church where everybody is somebody. I learn Mamie is from Alabama. The bus stop by her childhood home, the very one Mamie used every day, was the one where Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat. "That actually happened after I moved here," she said. But it marks her home, no less.

Reverend Laster's wife welcomes me. Later, a group of women beckon us over to their table. The brother of one updates us on the score of the Steelers game. Things get a little quiet when I mention that through gatherings, I have been to synagogues and a mosque as well. I meet Novia, also visiting, from the
Mt Ararat Baptist Church. Have you been there? You should go. And so I am. In less than 2 hours, as I type this.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

eighth visit: Oct 3rd 2010 Roman Catholicism (Latin Mass)

11:00am sunday
St. Boniface Church of Holy Wisdom Parish
2208 East Street, Pittsbugh PA 15212
north side, spring hill city view

(included in this entry: documentation of 7th visit, Jum'ah at Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, 10-1-10)

"I had no idea it is so physical—the expenditure of energy," commented a friend, a poet at an artist residency, referring to the act of painting. It is, but my work at this time: really not so much. Instead, ask the ghost of Pollock; ask Karin Davie. Matthew Barney and his drawing restraints.

...the use of rosary beads to keep fingers busy (and to help keep one's place) while praying. I remember reading somewhere: the intention is to include a physical act to accompany and enhance the mental focus, contemplation, meditation. (from my 6th visit, Carol's voice in my ears: As young boys, Orthodox Jews are taught to rock and sway during prayer to help maintain focus.)

Even with folding padded rests, my 39-year-old knees ache by the end of service at St. Boniface Church of Holy Wisdom. How to maintain the pattern of kneeling, sitting, kneeling, standing, kneeling—faces never breaking expressions of tranquility? Worshipers of all ages surround me, demonstrating wordlessly. Do the elderly reach a point of exoneration from this and from genuflection (kneeling on one knee) at every entry and exit of the pew? How does a worshiper with injured joints take part in Muslim prayer? How did I paint during my (now accumulative) five months on crutches? ...Chuck Close and the late Grace Hartigan? I was taught that painting is always performed while standing. Having to sit and paint for the first time in my life, the art became smaller, much less satisfying (too fast, not tiring enough), but more intimate.

At High Mass my two years of Latin in junior high is no help except for a half-syllable here and there. The last name of a friend in hymn.

Two days earlier, during the bus-ride to the Islamic Center a man chooses the seat next to mine and begins to speak to me in Arabic. Later in English, he says he regularly attends a mosque and a church, as well.

Inside the mosque, the air smells of warm rice. Two hours later: delicious spices. Only the sermon in English. The woman at my right gestures me to the line, folding. Bookcases separate us from male worshipers. Men from all walks of life imaginable. The women in attendance are comparatively homogenous, in appearance at least. Infants in rockers.

At St. Boniface, I peek up to see an ocean of bowed heads, a random scattering of veils and veil-less stilled nods. Carol's words from the Orthodox service a week ago replay in my mind: "The differences in dress reveal the various levels of observance."

I sit a minute after most worshipers have left. A dear woman most likely in her 80's stops to catch my attention. She had seen me drawing. "Are you an artist?" (smile and nod) "I like your dress," she whispers. And adds with most sincere enthusiasm, "It's very unusual."

seventh visit: Oct 1st 2010 Islam

1:00pm friday
Islamic Center of Pittsburgh
4100 Bigelow Blvd, Pittsburgh PA 15213
north oakland

I attended Jum'ah, or the Friday prayer service. Words about my experience are woven into next entry: Oct. 3, 2010.