Sunday, January 2, 2011
thirty-first visit: Jan 2nd 2011 Missionary
Agape Christian Missionary Church of Pittsburgh
(formerly Agape Christian 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.