Sunday, April 17, 2011

fifty-third visit: April 21st 2011 Epsicopal, Maundy Thursday Potluck

6:00pm thursday
St Andrew's Episcopal Church
Maundy Thursday Potluck Dinner
5801 Hampton St, Pittsburgh PA 15206
highland park

The congregation of St. Andrews met for the very first time on Easter Sunday in 1837, in a downtown schoolroom, before constructing its own church building, also downtown. Years later it was the trend for families to relocate to more residential neighborhoods, away from the industrial city center. Following suite, the St. Andrews congregation relocated again, meeting at this present location for the first time, on Easter Sunday, 1906. Accordingly, months ago, I had decided that I would visit St. Andrews on Easter Sunday. Alas, as the holiday approached, I realized I would be out of town, unable. So, instead, I chose to visit St. Andrews as close to Easter Sunday as possible—on Maundy Thursday.

Maundy Thursday (Holy Thursday, Covenant Thursday, or my personal favorite: Thursday of Mysteries) is the Thursday before Easter, commemorating the Last Supper of Jesus with his Disciples before his crucifixion. The observance at St. Andrew’s comes in the form of a potluck. My favorite potluck contribution comes in the form of desert. So I arrive (very regretfully a bit late… ughh) bearing gifts of chocolate: brownies and chocolate chip oatmeal peanut butter cookie bars, with apologies to those giving up chocolate or sweets for Lent.

As I hunt for an unlocked exterior door I run into Jeff, arriving for choir practice. He walks me to the potluck hall. We both feel that mid-prayer is perhaps the wrong time for me to join the table, so he offers me a tour of the sanctuary, until meditation ends. What I learn: in this worshiping body, music plays a prominent role, and the locally musically renown flock here to contribute and share their skills. The organ is primo, original and was top of the line when the church was constructed. The stained glass behind the alter is Tiffany, and now costs more to clean than it did to install. The sanctuary is definitely not the smallest I’ve seen in Pittsburgh, but it’s remarkably cozily-sized in comparison to its grand style. Inviting and non-overwhelming. All the beauties of dark wood, carvings and stone are there, but in a more intimate scale. Later I learn from Rev. Dr. Bruce Robison that the impetus was to create a building that fits into the neighborhood without dominating it. Responds compatibly to the surrounding residences. Seems welcoming to families. The design is based on that of an English village church. Appropriate, as the Espicopal church split directly from the Church of England at the end of the 1700’s.

I join the potluck table. Take part in the end of a short liturgy. Communion is offered in the way most would recognize as being similar to Catholic Holy Communion: offered to each worshiper individually, and the wine from one cup, directly from Pastor Robison. We fill our plates from the potluck buffet. I meet Stephanie the cyclist, Lois, the Pastor’s wife. Another member approaches me and comments on the lace-like piece hanging from my left sleeve, added to my dress in response to my visits to the three Byzantine Churches on February 20th. "That piece," she says, touching it, is an old French art called..." (um ... note from your author: a French work that begins with "f" that I have forgotten ... sorry). She goes on: "My mother used to make doilies just like this on a loom." The woman speaking to me is in her late 60’s I think, and grew up in France. Here cultural specificities in dress-art serves to connect us, to start conversations. Unexpectedly.

After the meal I spend a good amount of time talking with Rev. Robison. Mostly about the architecture of Pgh churches, of which he has a wealth of knowledge. I add to my list of not-to-miss-es. And I obtain a partial-answer to the question I had raised back during my fourth visit: Were there any architects who built places of worship for one religion, then agreed to also build one for another? Rev. Robison’s answer: For entirely different faiths—he is not certain. But different denominations of Chritianity—yes. Bertram Goodhue designed the First Baptist Church in Pgh’s Oakland neighborhood (1909), and also the The Church of the Redeemer (Epsicopal) in Pgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood. So there you go. (Note from the author added 5-2-11: I have been corrected, as, alas, these 2 churches were not designed by the same architect. See 56th and 57th visits.)

And everything comes full circle: this St Andrews Episcopal Church was built by the same architect who built The Episcopal Church of the Holy Cross …where I first raised this question.

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