Monday, January 17, 2011

thirty-fourth visit: Jan 17th 2011 Baptist, MLK Day observance

12 noon monday
Metropolitan Baptist Church
MLK Day observance
22-24 Sampsonian St, Pittsburgh PA 15212

north side

It felt good to spend time focusing on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s life. Ten speakers or so, with hymns between. Children's performances and solos. Community citizenship awards presented. I didn't know that Martin Luther Sr. was born as Michael Sr. and known a such until he changed his and his son's names to MLK Sr. and Jr., in honor of the Protestant leader, after visiting Germany in 1934. Timing can be everything, or can create curiosity, at least.

I remember learning about Dr. MLK jr for the first time when I was 6 or so, preluded by the Rosa Parks story. I was in kindergarten on a rug of pea-green shag, just before resting-time—when we would all lie still for a minute. I truly think that it was the first bit of history that I really fully grasped, as much as I could at that age. The kind that made me quite sad as we lay still, but left me wanting to learn more. I also remember the day that someone explained to me what the phrase "different race" meant. That was when I was even younger. I remember noticing the difference from that point on. I remember having no concept of it before that moment.

There are some visits during which I have very little interaction with those around me. This is one of them. Maybe that's why I decide to stop into the Sacred Heart of Jesus Store on my way home. (It's only four doors away from where I needed to return a movie.) I am greeted warmly by the two nuns running the spot. "You've never been here? But you are an artist, right? And we have artists in here all day long. You are an artist, aren't you?"
"She always can tell," the other chimes.
"Only, the others are all dressed in black, head to toe. You, in white, think for yourself, I can tell that, too. And that is what artists are really supposed to do." Well, that's what she said.

The shop is a hoarder's visual feast. Most items look second hand. Porcelain Marys and Saints, drawings and prints, candles and holders, books topsy-turvy in floor-to-ceiling shelves. Black and gold rosaries to serve the devout all Sunday long. We talk religion, football and art. I am, indeed, in Pittsburgh.

So I tell her about gatherings, since I am wearing the dress and all.
"Have you been to St. Mary's on Fifth." I know exactly the place, but no.
I ask if that is her church. "Oh, I am a true Roamin' Catholic. I go everywhere. I take Holy Communion every day. God knows I need all the help I can get."

I'll be teaching a painting class at MICA this semester called "Obsessions." It starts tomorrow. Oh, how I wish I could put her in my car, drive her to Baltimore, and introduce her as our guest speaker.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

thirty-third visit: Jan 7th 2011 Interfaith Shabbat

6pm friday

hosted by Kathryn and Zoe
at Kathyrn and Samm's house
north side

Stef, a friend of mine and a regular here at Shabbat, suggests that I include this gathering in gatherings. So I contact the hosts and mention my impetus, and the fact that I won't know if I can make it until the last minute. "Oh, it's an informal gathering. Don't worry about RSVPing. If you can come, then we'll see you."

This Shabbat happens every other Friday. Those who started it in the early summer of 2010, intended not to continue it once the busy fall began. Now, inches of snow accumulate and it's still going, growing larger every week.

Forty bodies nestle across the living room floor, potluck
salad dishes flood the kitchen counters, and wine flows before the liturgy's start. Song: some for listening and some for joining in, live acoustic guitar, readings, poetry and sacred text. Theme: peace. Sweet folded paper programs. Simply but remarkably well designed. Forethought and effort, no doubt. And the Old Testament reading includes Issaiah 11:6, one of the few that especially had meaning to me when I was small, the animal lover that I still am: "The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them."

Books on shelves—fiction and poetry by my favorite authors or ones I need to read. The impulse not to pluck one down and leaf through as we talk in groups is tough, but resisted. Then two and two come together: Samm, husband to Kathryn, co-habitant of the home, began as a writer. Poems and short pieces. Then wanting to put images with his writings, he worked in graphic design, then pursued yet another arts field that unites the visual and the word: theatre, and finally (currently) film and video. All of this before his present age of 25. We talked about his long hours in the film and 3-D animation studio. There IS no other way, I am aware from knowing others doing the same, and dabbling a little myself. I mention that an animation student has signed up for my "Obsessions" painting class, no coincidence. We then curved the conversation from obsessive work habits and obsessions in general, back to religion, no coincidence.

"I never liked going to church while growing up," Samm says. "The formality of it."
Here's a secret: me neither, really. But I do like doing this project; gatherings is a different animal, entirely. He goes on:
"So I was kind of surprised to find out that there are a lot of people my age who feel the same. His wife (Kathryn) is studying theology, and he implies she did not have the same formerly-conflicted relationship with religion. Anyway, they decided to start this bi-weekly Shabbat. Informal and social.

Before I turn to head home, to run out into our night of swirling white flakes, I ask Stef to sprinkle my dress with red wine and christen the evening's end.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

thirty-second visit: Jan 4th 2011 Pentecostal, Revival Service

7pm tuesday
New Year Revival Service at
The Pentecostal Temple Church of God in Christ
6300 East Liberty Blvd, Pittsburgh PA 15206

east liberty

At this project's conception, I envisioned a paragraph or so for each blog entry, for each visit. I have been struggling to keep my entries to a more manageable length. No one has time to read all those words. And ah, the time to write them. With my teaching college classes—this semester in town and also one a 4.5 hr weekly commute out (each way)... called "Obsessions" no less... a more efficient streamlining of thought, a more careful honing in on the essentials and healthy self-editing becomes more important. In the direction and name of improvement. We'll see how it goes. (I can hear those who know me saying, "Yeah, right.")
So, I finally found my Pentecostal (see last entry). New Years Revival, indeed. What I failed to put in my little canvas bag as I ran out the door were my dancing shoes. Now, I've been known to enjoy an occasional boogie session, but here it's jubilantly holy, and among this African American congregation radiates an energy of no bounds. And no boundaries between song, sermon, dance, praise and worship. There was literally no pause to the organ's whirling, sighing, tripping of hums the entire service, slipping into the background, then shining forward again. Accompaniment to the readings, sermon (story of healing), and testimony from members, spoken with mic at the alter. Musical notes served as the organist's personal "Amen," in chorus to the attendees. ("SOMEbody ought to say, 'Praise the Lord.'")

The musicians here are skilled. Drums, base, organ guitar and voice, and I'm probably missing something. Sermon blends into Pastor's Mann's spiritual solo. Yes singing, himself. Then from song back to soulfully spoken word. The whole gathering had begun with a gospel solo by
the Pastor's wife. I am wondering now if it was she who answered my phone call: "Of course, sweetie, our doors are open to everyone."

"If anyone will come down this aisle, up to this alter and say to me, 'Pastor Mann, I want to join the church today,' I promise you... I swear... I will DANCE." Roaring congregation. The man in front of me turns to ask if I'm a member yet. A moment later, someone else answers the call. Have you seen last year's Alice in Wonderland? Last scene. It exists here in real time. Futterwacken. No fantasy.

Where does this energy come from? Is it stored within and released? Or does it flow through us from elsewhere. I'm talking secular, too. Athletic energy. Energy to share with my students. My insistence on rousing my nieces and nephews to shreeks and cartwheels despite my sisters' protests. Drive. Response. Expression. And the source of the ideas floating around my art studio at home. To wonder.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

thirty-first visit: Jan 2nd 2011 Missionary

11am sunday

Agape Chr
istian Missionary Church of Pittsburgh
(formerly Agape Christia
n Fellowship Church of Pgh)
301 Larimer Avenue, Pittsburgh
PA 15206

Agape: Greek for love.

Places of worship in Pittsburgh are constantly in flux. Around 1910 - 1940, expanding congregations commonly built bigger gathering-places or moved into bigger spaces. In the past 30 years, shrinking congregations moved again or combined. Throughout gatherings, I have collected stories of several worship places having a history of serving as home to two or more differnt congregations. And beyond this: I recently mentioned to someone that if I attended every single worship place in Pittsburgh (one a week) I'd be exactly 99 when I finished. He answered that I'd be younger than that because toward the end there would no longer be 3000 left. So many empty churches on the South Side. A church is now a residence in Morningside, a Synagogue becomes a school in East Liberty, and two more are now homes, both less than a mile from mine.

So, after my evening with the Christian Scientists on Wednesday, I decide to continue the emphasis of healing and seek out a Pentecostal Church. I locate one via internet, but recognize it as the Presby Church down the street—no longer Pentecostal. I find a second. I drive by to determine service times, and realize that it too, is no longer Pentecostal. I locate a third. Charm, right? Well, upon asking after service today (I had a hunch), I learn it had changed its name and denomination to "Mission," as Pastor Barry's background is in the Alliance Church. (see my 17th visit) No matter. Every visit counts.

This group of African Americans welcomes me with open arms. Literally. A long hug from the tambourinist, a dear woman dressed in black velvet. The current congregation at Agape numbers 15 on a healthy Sunday, I'm told, but this morning there are 8 of us including the clergy, with maybe up to 3 more wandering in by the time service ends.

The Pastor's son leads song on keyboard with lyrics overhead-projected. (ah, nostalgia for technology from my childhood) Tambourine accompaniment. A member requests prayer, and is anointed with oil.

The sermon: Put a cranker on your thanker. (i.e. express thankfulness more often.) Am I the only one who smiles at this, from my pew?
And something I find really interesting: African American Churches (especially in the south) hold services and 1:00am breakfasts on New Years Eve, an event called Watch Night. (On the other hand, churches coming from the European tradition don't embrace the idea of celebrating this secular holiday in the church. Are perhaps critical, even.) What is the meaning behind the tradition of Watch Night? Pastor Barry says that these days, even many African Americans don't know. Answer: The first Watch Night was held on Dec 31, 1862 in order to await the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation at midnight, Jan 1, 1863.

After the service: questions for me. Upon learning that my husband's family is Hindu Pastor Barry says "Oh, that makes me very sad. Very, very sad." As the conversation continues, he implies that he is surprised that I found a minister to marry the two of us because of our families' different faiths. And Pastor Barry asks "Now, I wonder what Hindus think of Christians?" I tell him that it's my understanding that Hindus recognize Christianity (and all other religions) as a valid form of worship. Absolutely—it is one of their primary beliefs, in fact. (see 14th visit, last paragraph). Without any perceivable emotion, he chooses to gently begin a conversation with someone else.

Later Pastor Barry fills me in on the history of this sweet little red-brick building. It is the oldest (originally) Italian church in Pgh. Sorry, Bloomfield. Every Sunday, only Italian was spoken here. Not even that: Mafia headquarters were along this street back in the day. That's his claim. Ten plus years ago the original Italian congregation dropped to 6 members: four over the age of 65 and two twenty-somethings. They offered the church to Barry, who had been ministering in a store-front. The two youngsters from the original Italian congregation are yet currently members of Agape, though not present today. I wish I could have met them.