Thursday, March 17, 2011
forty-seventh visit: March 27th 2011 cross-cultural, sacramental, missional, Christian community*
The Upper Room
5828 Forward Ave, Pittsburgh PA 15217
*note about denominational affiliation: The Upper Room is "a new church development of the Presbyterian Church (USA), but the folks who make up our community come from a wide range of backgrounds." -Pastor Mike Gehrling
It's interesting that for some leaders, no matter how completely at ease he or she is in front of a large group, how grounded in the act of expressive guidance he or she is, there sometimes also exists within the same person a quiet self that favors introversion; a self that is revealed in one-on-one interaction. From feedback I have received from my perceptive college art students, I think I might fall into this category. And from my short interaction with Chris Brown and Mike Gehrling, pastors of The Upper room, I think they might, too. Perhaps? For me (and I'd assume for others) the quiet, introverted self is the one you always knew existed. Because, for example, everyone tells you you are shy. The performer-self is the one that is later self-discovered. Maybe this second extroverted version of yourself, this surprisingly different "group-leader" energy emerges as a result of doing exactly what it is you are meant to do. But that's just my speculation.
This is a young gathering, in terms of the average worshiper's age, and also in that the congregation began in a living room not much more than two years ago (if I'm remembering correctly), perhaps not unlike "Shabbat" (my 33rd visit). From gatherings' start, one of my goals was to be sure to include storefront churches; it feels good to be answering this. Speaking of storefront... or rather bar-front churches, Mike and Chris know Jim and Jeff of the Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community (my 11th visit) and the association makes perfect sense to me. Fun for me to see a network reveal itself.
This Upper Room thrives to focus not simply on it's existing members, but instead to answer a calling to "cross-cultural, sacramental, and missional community." The phrase "The Upper Room" refers to the biblically-mentioned location of The Lord's Supper, preceding Jesus' betrayal and crucifixion. And this Sunday's room of worship is Upper in the literal sense of the word, too. I climb stairs lined with lit candles. Take a seat on a folding wooden chair. Sing to acoustic guitar. Absorb a sermon on tolerance. A call to break down existing walls and to cross personal and cultural boundaries. To seek windows instead.
Drawings and paintings hang on the walls of The Upper Room. One of a tree, filled with written responses and observances of belief. It's explained to me that this was created over a period of one summer; congregants adding statements to the composition, whenever moved to certainty that the thought was meant to be shared. (reminiscent of my 23rd visit, Quaker Meeting) I meet Rachel, who recently lived in a house full of 13 artists and now plays a part in overseeing creative activities within the congregation. It is nice to be in an environment full of conversation. Even my shy self agrees. I have an interesting conversation with Mike about Andrei Rublev, the Russian icon painter, whom, two days later, I talk about again, with my painting students in Baltimore.