Monday, November 29, 2010

twenty-second visit: Nov 28th 2010 East End's Coop Ministry Men's Shelter

8am sunday
Good Samaritan Service
at East Liberty Presbyterian Church
116 S. Highland Ave,
Pittsburgh PA 15206
east liberty

If you recognize the church name and address (above) from my 13th visit (Taizé Prayer Service), then you are paying way too close attention and should find other ways to occupy your time. But yes: this Good Sam service takes part in a completely different part of the same church (below-ground floor dining hall), with completely different leaders, and involves a completely different congregation, including members of the East End's Coop Ministry Men's Shelter, which makes it fair game by my rules. And since I'm making the rules here, I've already decided that this church has yet even one more service (a ritual or ceremony, really) that is much too unique not to include in gatherings. (again diff place, people, and leaders) Reverend Randy Bush warned me of ELPC's many offerings during our first phone conversation; at first I resist. Alas, he is right. So watch for a final visit to 116 S. Highland's Prayer Labyrinth on 12-5-10.

Honestly, I was wondering if I'd stand apart in this congregation, and not just because of my dress. But no chance: no standing apart for anyone here. Firstly, about 1/4 or perhaps more in the congregation are non-members of the shelter, from my best estimation. And secondly, within 30 seconds of my arriving, I find myself moving to the outer walls of the room, and joining hands with two strangers—contiguously along with every single person in the room to forming a huge inclusive circle, the forty of us: hand in hand in hand.

Worship here "is led by members of the clergy from local churches, guest speakers from a community organization or social service agencies, or members and staff of ELPC." The woman leading today's stalls a bit when we come to singing the first hymn. "Is there anyone here that plays the piano?," she asks. Giggles. "I'm serious." We get by a capella, but barely. Seconds into the second hymn, Reggie arrives, fingers drumming on keys before his body hits the piano bench. He is in his 60's (he told me), African American, long-curly white bearded, and wise. ("Well, I try not claim to be a wise old man, but sometimes I just am.") If he had not made a mid-worship entrance, I would not have been aware of exactly what he adds to the morning, his stumbling fingers giving way to a haunting calliope on the old upright. "That's exactly why it's important to sleep in every once in a while and miss part of a duty: so that people appreciate you," he told me as we talked after the service.

We talked a long time about a lot of things. Teaching music (he) and art (me). Creating and maintaining creative environments.

Also: how amazingly well-maintained the church is in all its Gothic ornateness—this the largest church building I have ever been to in the US, while so many smaller beautiful structures are so badly struggling here in Pittsburgh. "Well," he says, "we have an endowment." "From the members?" "Oh, from one member in particular. Her last name is Mellon." Understood.

In 2006 I moved to Baltimore from Portland Oregon. I remember writing in an email shortly after: "In Baltimore, life is real." I miss that city sometimes, its edginess. And I miss the unrelenting realness. It works to keep things in perspective, so that the little things, like loosing a favorite sock in the laundry or squirrels eating your tulip bulbs, remain little. And in all the humongous grandness of this building, amongst its bowling alley, basketball court and movie screening room, there is realness at this early morning service.

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