Saturday, October 23, 2010
ninth visit: Oct 17th 2010 Baptist
Saint Luke Baptist Church
659 Herron Ave, Pittsburgh PA 15219
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.