Thursday, May 26, 2011

sixty-fourth visit: May 29th 2011 African Methodist Episcopal Zion Christianity

10:30am sunday
John Wesley A.M.E. Zion Church
(abandoned, 1993 Designated Historic Landmark)

594 Herron Ave, Pittsburgh PA 15219
hill district

As mentioned, recently I have been attending Jewish services, leading to my artist residency in Germany. I also mentioned that I was hoping to fit this in: one observance of (Christian) services-past, where I’ll simply sit in remembrance of what once happened in that spot. Since I’ll probably be doing a lot of this during my travels. It does fit it in, time-wise. And here is its story. On a sweltering Sunday morning, at the exact time of the day during which a pastor's preaching once sounded within the sanctuary walls, I sit on the front porch of an old, beautiful abandoned church in Pittsburgh's Hill District. I spend some time thinking. And I write this:

This is a neighborhood where people notice things. During my first round of grad school, a classmate and friend of mine spoke about introducing her boyfriend, Rick, to her hometown of Louisville KY, for the first time. Rick had grown up in NYC. "He did not understand," she said, "that if you parked your car to hike up a hill with someone no one had ever seen before, half the town would know about it by the time you had hiked back down." It is like that in the Hill District, or so it feels today, as I hand-write this on site.

A few minutes ago I parked my car on a side street and walked toward the church. "Better park your car on the main through-way," called a woman from the yard across the street, sitting in a lawn chair, fanning herself. I oblige. She nodds. I feel watched.

I can't shake my consciousness of cars passing. Are they slowing for the sake of traffic laws, or to gawk at me? I can't imagine I'm that easily visible, as far back as this church sits from the street, hugged by hedges. But if I want to know, I have to look up from my writing each time: could be either; only one of the roads at the "T" intersection has a stop sign. I had thought I would be spending a few hours lost in my head, conjuring up ghost-voices from services past. I try. What was it like, the talks about saving this structure, about keeping it in use? The emotions the day that this was confronted: that there were no more sources of giving and the worshipers had no choice but to let their building go? Places and bodies forever hold their happenings.

So I sit on the porch and let the past settle around me, thankful to be surrounded by concrete and brick, providing a coolness of castle-like air.

This, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (a denomination established in the US arguably in 1796), is not to be confused with the African Methodist Episcopal Church, though both exist as a response to racial discrimination—their congregations African-American, and through the first quarter of the 19th century, their pastors Caucasian.

The story goes that this particular church is "one of Pittsburgh's oldest African-American faith organizations." (Wiki) In '94, '06 and '08 attempts were made to resolve flooding caused by an abandoned mine running under the church. Efforts eventually failed, expenses overwhelmed, and the church too, was abandoned.

Did I mention that this is a neighborhood where people notice things? They have to in order to survive. I had to when I lived in Baltimore. That portion of me is alert today. And so the moment his dress-shoes hit the concrete path leading to my porch, I notice. My alarm is hushed immediately, though. Another sense I developed in Baltimore: to recognize safety. He is Pastor TJ. He introduces himself and asks for my name at least twice during our conversation. Of the two of us, who is the nervous one? I ask if he was involved in this church when it was in operation. Yes. I tell him I think it's beautiful here. He tells me to come to his current church, down the street, at the YMCA, where he preaches. I tell him I will. And how long have I been sitting here? And did I walk here and where am I from? The whole time, he does not ask what I am doing. I tell him that I hope he does not mind that I'm just spending some time here on the old porch, writing. He shakes his head and waves my sentence away before it has fully left my mouth. I think he has the senses, too. He paces the porch while we talk, checking the lock on the door at one end, and then at the other. Yanking. With noise. Twice. Before he turns to go he says to me: "Be careful." Twice.

I am certain: Someone is watching me and sent him.

Back in Fall 2010, I passed this building and stopped in hopes of learning when services are held, or to jot down a phone number, in hopes to attend. I left not certain whether the church was still holding services and continued my research at home. I found a website asking for donations for necessary repairs in order to bring the church back to working status. I left an unanswered message at the number provided there. I also decided that this did not mean that I could not visit.

Earlier this morning, I looked for the donation site again. It too, had been abandoned.

In two days I give up my spaces here to live in another part of the world for a bit, to work on this project, to learn about the religious culture there and to think about the history of place.

sixty-third visit: May 27th 2011 Orthodox Judaism

7:00pm friday
Bnai Emunoh Congregation
4315 Murray Ave,
Pittsburgh PA 15217
squirrel hill

I had been emailing Rabbi Weiss, who welcomed me and suggested that I take photos just before the service... technically before sundown, before the Sabbath is ushered in... while photography is permitted. At 6:50 pm, I am standing at the temple's locked front door. I am wondering if I misunderstood the service time. I am joined by a couple arriving on foot: a blind man (Richard) and a partially-sighted woman. (I am so upset at myself for forgetting her name.) They mention they are wondering the same. They also mention they walk to this temple to worship at least three times a week. I figure they would not mistake the time. Sure enough, no worries. Rabbi Weiss opens the temple, waves us in. Encourages me to photograph.

I enter the sanctuary and realize that though I was not mistaken with the time, the only true mistake so far lies in my faith in the online directory that listed Bnai Emunoh as Reform. Plexiglass installed between seating, dividing the room into two sections lengthwise, prompts me to ask my female companion: Orthodox? Yes. Up goes my headscarf. Slightly embarrassed. But I love traveling prepared, the handy aspect of my dress.

There are about six men present. A Minyan (see last post, 7th paragraph) is not met. My companion whispers that she has never experienced this situation.
Rabbi Weiss approaches me to explain that there are out-of-state weddings and other events keeping attendance low. Because there are less than ten men present, a different, abbreviated version of the service is performed, and accordingly, prayers are read individually to one's self, beginning on page 50. A small section of chanting and song. The 44 minutes pass like a single breath.

Rabbi Weiss kindly offers to sit a minute to answer questions. We talk about the overlap in scripture between Christianity and Judaism. I talk to him (slightly hesitantly) about the recorded Kaddish I will play in Germany next week (see last post, 3rd pgh). I'm not able to read his reaction to this; he is quite reserved.
He offers bulletins from Passover and upcoming Shavuos, June 7-9. I regret that will not be in town to observe this upcoming holiday.

sixty-second visit: May 21st 2011 Orthodox Judaism

9:00am saturday
Beth Hamedrash Hagodol - Beth Jacob Congregation

~ the city's oldest Orthodox Jewish Congregation

810 5th Ave, Pittsburgh PA 15219
downtown, bluff

This, my second of three participations in Jewish services preceding my six-week residency in Germany, is a visit to Pittsburgh's oldest Orthodox Jewish Congregation. Beth Hamedrash Hagodol - Beth Jacob used to meet in a synagogue on Colwell Street, which was demolished for the Penguin’s new hockey arena. (no comment) The congregation now meets in a building that formerly served as a blood bank. It stands at the edge of Duquesne University, a Catholic U, where I taught art last semester. The art department has since been shut down, as well. (no comment) Sigh.

Running behind as usual, I make my warning phone call on Thursday night, dialing the number posted on the synagogue’s website. “…and I am wondering if you know the times services are held?”
“Well, I should know. I’m the Rabbi.”
(May all my future projects be as sincere and simultaneously provide unexpected laughter.)
“… And is there someone for whom you are saying Kaddish?,”
Rabbi Stanley Savage asks me.

The following night (Friday, the night before this service), I receive another email from the artist who served a German residency last summer—the same for which I leave shortly. (see previous post, 61st visit) Serendipitously, completely coincidentally, she writes about her work and to ask a favor: “…it concerns part of an art project of mine that I worked on … called the Mobile Kaddish—Kaddish is a Jewish prayer for the souls of the dead. I bicycled to places where there were unmarked graves and human remains from the camps, with the prayer playing from little speakers on my bicycle. Once I found out about the deaths in Schwandorf/Fronberg, the location of the residency, I spent a lot of time playing it for them there, too. I was hoping that the prayer could continue a bit in my absence if the right person came along, even if it was played only once. I could email you an MP3 sound file of the prayer if you feel interested in playing it from your laptop on the Künstlerhaus balcony?… I feel a long-term sense of responsibility towards that town, which still bears a tremendous amount of pain. I think anyone who can come there with the intention of love instead of hate is very much needed.” It gives me the chills every time I re-read this passage concerning this sacred lullaby for ghosts.

So, Saturday morning I arrive for service at
Beth Hamedrash. I am the second of two female worshipers. A bit later, we are joined by Miriam Meltzer. Miriam and I whisper introductions and more. It ends up that she indeed, has come to say Kaddish—all the way in from Maryland, arriving after midnight last night. Her father’s father, Rabbi Joseph Kaplan helped to begin this very congregation in late 1800’s. But it is her cousin for whom Kaddish is spoken today. She lost him tragically, two years ago. She explains that he came to this synagogue twice a day, every day, and was more like a brother to her. Devotion x2. The same intensity of devotion that I hope to instill in my college art students, to their life’s purpose and to those near them.

Miriam helps me find the correct prayer book. Helps me to stay on the right page. I’m following the English, of course, as always. And because only the Hebrew is spoken, not Engligh, have no source of confirmation of the pace except to sneak peeks at others’ page-corners, and to listen for cues in the form of the sound of turning pages.

During the service, Rabbi Savage introduces me to the congregation. He mostly refers to me simply as "Professor," which makes me want to look over my shoulder to see whom he’s addressing. I can tell it’s because my last name is a little puzzling to him, so I introduce myself using the formal version of my first name: "Rebecca." Which lately (with all due respect to my parents), I strongly, suddenly, curiously, wish was spelled Rebekah. Because I feel that’s more honest to the pronunciation, I guess.

Miriam whispers that it takes the presence of ten men (a Minyan) to make an Orthodox service valid. There are exactly ten. I wonder what happens in the case of fewer male attendees. Do they call someone in? Or is phone-use forbidden on the Sabbath? Each takes a turn reading. The last, with a long, thin face, dark salt and pepper hair, a day’s growth of scruff, chants with a voice I’d pay money and give up studio time to hear. Effortlessly. As if he is deaf to the beauty of his own sound.

After service, I am introduced to two brothers, who look exactly alike, except for differing heights. One is a musician and reacts with enthusiasm when he learns that I make art. Brings up Picasso. (And says: "He invented cubism, right? But he draws like a child, I have always thought. I have never understood.") But children draw so beautifully, their intuitive marks. Then we grow up and forget how.

Upstairs for Kiddush. Rabbi: “Eat, eat. Have the whole Danish, no splitting in half, none of that. Eat. Have another cup of wine. You know you have to drink that in one gulp or you have to have another. (recalls 14th visit, 7th paragraph and 52nd visit, 7th pgh) ...Can you see I’m trying harder to come out of my shell lately? I’m usually so introverted.” (47th visit, 2nd pgh)
I can’t not indulge. To clarify, the cups are tiny. Tiny as in Christian communion style, if that is your frame of reference. And in both cases, a blessing is involved.

Rabbi Savage invites me to accompany Miriam and himself back down to the sanctuary. We search among plaques to find the names of Miriam’s family members. A single light bulb next to each one, so that it may glow at Yahrtzeit. (I already know this one: so close to German's "Jahrzeit" literally meaning "year-time" or anniversary—here specifically implying that of a death).

I finish absorbing the morning. Please come back. We can talk more and you can take pictures then. Miriam wishes for my email. A fist-full of the ephemeral and it’s hardly noon.

Friday, May 20, 2011

sixty-first visit: May 20th 2011 Conservative Judaism

7:30pm friday
New Light Congregation
1700 Beechwood Blvd, Pittsburgh PA 15217
squirrel hill

Except for three days of the year at the First Lutheran Church, apparently there are no services offered in the German language in Pittsburgh. This surprises me, as there is a church in Baltimore (my previous home city) that has such every Sunday. As opposed to Baltimore, Pittsburgh has a Germantown. And quite a significant German ethnic stronghold.

So instead, I have decided to attend Jewish services until I leave for Germany. And, if I can fit it in, one observance of Christian-services-past, where I’ll simply sit and think about what once happened in “that” spot. Since I’ll probably be doing a lot of that during my travels, in the general sense. The known history of the US is so short. You can't do that in quite the same way here.

Today, before services:
~ Regarding Israeli-Palestine negotiations, I learned that Obama “declared that the prevailing borders before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war …should be the basis of a deal.” (NYT) This involves retreat on the part of Israel.

~ As mentioned, I am about to spend time at an artist residency in Germany. Today I have been exchanging emails with another artist who served the same residency last summer. We have only made each others' electronic acquaintance (as opposed to an in-person hello). I began with banal questions about electrical adapters and internet. Eventually, our conversation turned to include that fact that her work also is inspired by spiritual belief and practice. I am looking forward to working on gatherings (video and ink drawings) while in Schwandorf. In addition to the fact that my mother’s family's Christian faith is German in origin. (see first visit)

Today at services:
~ I enter the room. Not a moment passes before a congregant darts across the room to hand me his open prayer book, and returns to the front of the room to fetch another for himself.

~ There are nineteen worshipers present. No one is afraid to give me a good honest look. Which means no one will be afraid to talk to me. I look forward.

~ Homily: Rabbi Perlman begins by stating that he will not talk politics today except to acknowledge President Obama’s stance and to say, “It is difficult to be an American Jew today.” After 10 minutes of talking politics, he reminds us that he is not going to talk politics. Have I mentioned I experience more laughter in Judaism than in any other faith? Even considering the history. Perhaps, at times, in order to survive the history—I’ve heard it said before within the community.

~ L’kha Dodi
Come, my beloved, to meet the bride,
and let us welcome the presence of Shabbat.

Arise! Leave from the midst of the turmoil;
Long enough have you sat in the valley of tears,

We shall rejoice and sing happily.

And as the last verse is sung, we turn 180 degrees to face the door of the sanctuary, to welcome “Queen Shabbat,” as she arrives.

~ I think of Loring Cornish, a Baltimore artist, who spoke to my Obsessions class. I remember him talking about a piece of his, which addresses the use of the word “Jew” and his intent to reveal and re-establish the beauty of identity after so much persecution. He is not Jewish, but understands strife from an African American perspective.

~ Two candles are lit. A gesture: two hands cupped over the flames, as if to gathering the smoke, wafting toward self, both hands to forehead, pausing there. So similar to the gesture I have done several times over during Hindu pujahs.

After the service, over tea, coffee and homemade sweets:
~ It is explained to me that during the service, wine and grape juice is offered to congregants in celebration, in welcome of Sabbath. Though, actually, the first person I ask is unable to answer this question; not sure. I love that she is unable to answer. At this point it is such a part of her life that it does not matter. But the meaning exists just the same, unscathed. As is often the case in my experiencing these rituals. As far as performing acts without fully understanding the meaning—something hard for me to avoid completely, no matter how much (how little, really) time I have to research—my rule to myself is that I do nothing visitors should not do, and I do nothing that feels insincere to me; nothing that feels like I am "pretending".

~ And it is explained that candles are lit to initiate the evening, to welcome holiness. Similar to my understanding of Hindu prayer ceremonies. But in Hinduism it is often a full-on fire, and specifically to invite the presence of the G-ds.

~ Anne mentions that Rabbi Perlman is rather new to the congregation, and when he arrived at New Light, he brought with him new melodies to the familiar chanted Hebrew; his notes were different than the previous Rabbi's. So, there is more than one way, even within the same branch of Judaism. Same overall meaning. And—I dare say—(everything) from the same root beginning. Vielleicht.

Friday, May 13, 2011

pursuit of a German visit

I am looking to attend an entirely German-spoken service within the next 2 weeks before I head over to fulfill my artist residency in Bavaria.
I have rec'd a couple of tips as far as finding such, but alas, they have not proved fruitful. Please leave a comment or email if you know of any! Thank you.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

sixtieth visit: May 8th 2011 Compline (choral prayer at day's end)

8:30pm sunday
Compline: choral prayer at the close of the day at
Heinz Memorial Chapel
University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA 15260

Below I have written about the 58th, 59th and 60th visits in one entry. These visits are to churches which all have windows designed by Charles Connick. (see 57th visit) He also designed windows in the East Liberty Presbyterian Church's (ELPC) (13th, 22nd, 26th, and 27th visit).

Additionally, I finally have a watered-down version of an answer to my question raised back on September 19th: Were there any architects who built places of worship for one religion, then agreed to also build one for another? Well, as far as denominations: Ralph Adams Cram designed the ELPC, the First Presby Ch of Edgewood (59th visit), AND the Calvary Episcopal Ch (58th visit). One man, two different denominations. I imagine I'll find more examples of this (or please chime in). Ultimately, I'm hoping I'll find an architect who designed places of worship for two entirely different faiths.

Three services today, and this is what I remember:
9 minutes, 3 minutes, 8 minutes late.
In all 3: grey glass windows, blue, rose.
and candle light; in the third, almost nothing more.

positive thoughts pile in 249. never stop.
The first two: sun and the word gatherings (not from my mouth).
Father Rugh, Pastor Wilson and Dr. Alastair Stout.

A week of violence, loss, death and terror:
how is this addressed? the giving of the self,
coming together, the last supper.
Bread braided like challah, my gift.
It's not that religion and art are about each other;
it's that they can be about the same things.
Can I speak about my discoveries?
A girl named Christina.
A window of Robert E. Lee, pointed out by his relative.
A pane to be repaired following the storm.

All the ways to receive communion.
Luke was the best storyteller of all:
from Jerusalem, I become the character not named.
A pastor's silence to compose mid-traurig [sodden body]
and I can't forget: sodden sleeves, raw lider.
Alter carvings ascend forever.
One man alone, Um nicht verteilt seine Erkältung.
A staircase climbed.
These windows are smaller, figureless, stronger.

Nothing spoken; all in song.
Someone asks: Does the music inspire drawing?
Exposures so long, I still my camera quarter-minutes.
Finest luxuries: being read to, being sung to, drawing in the dark.
Air presses the creases of fluted stone.
windows rise 73 feet: these among the tallest in the world.
Above my head: space lofts sound, 80,000 roses or a fortune's armor.

fifty-ninth visit: May 8th 2011 Presbyterian

11:00am sunday
First Presbyterian Church of Edgewood
120 East Swissvale Ave, Pittsburgh PA 15218

(see sixtieth visit: May 8 2011 Compline)

fifty-eighth visit: May 8th 2011 Episcopal

9:00am sunday
Calvary Epsicopal
Holy Eucharist (Rite II)
315 Shady Avenue at Walnut Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15206
shady side

(see sixtieth visit: May 8 2011 Compline)

Monday, May 2, 2011

fifty-seventh visit: May 1st 2011 Baptist

11:00am sunday
The First Baptist Church of Pittsburgh
159 N. Bellefield Ave, Pittsburgh PA 15213

This time I arrive early enough to photograph before service. Early enough to meet Margot (sp?), a greeter. She recognizes me as a visitor. Before service, she gives me a back-stage tour of the full immersion baptismal font. Empty at the moment, but easy to imagine the ritual descent into water from the stairs on either side. The font is visible from the front alter only as a marble facade. Wish I could see a baptism here, but the next is June 2nd and I’ll not be around.

I learn that Margot’s husband, DJ, is a retired Methodist minister. She had always admired the architecture of this building, so they became members two years ago. I asked her if it was OK with him to switch from Methodist ministry to Baptist membership. “Oh, they don’t hurt us any here,” she says.

The service. A line in the sermon coming straight from my storytelling and mythmaking painting class: Everyone craves fairy tales and the truths depicted in them.
The question of bunnies and eggs: how did these come to be associated with Easter? Reverend Denning mentions bunny proliferation (new life) and the cracking open of eggs (birth, re-birth). Physical objects serving to render abstract beliefs visible. I’ve heard that there’s a Pagan root to these symbols, too. This notion upsets many Christians. All the time, we borrow things from other entities of thought and the meanings evolve accordingly. Why can’t this be OK? I am remembering more than one conversation with more than one college art student of mine in puzzlement over the anger that surrounds this within the Christian realm.

After the service. Reverend Gary Denning first clears a falsity:
The Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, my 8am visit (#56) just before this one, was not built by the same architect as this church. This, The First Baptist, was designed and built by Bertram Goodhue, while The Redeemer by Howard Gilmann Wilbert. With all due respect: Reverend Denning is good friends with Reverend Robison. A wink and a nod, I’m certain.

I hear the church’s history, dating from 1812 (not much younger than the very oldest congregation in Pittsburgh). History includes activism in slavery emancipation and much international and minority social outreach continuing to the present.

Rev. Denning tells the story of the stained glass windows. First the backstory. People who don’t live here may not know about Pittsburgh’s strong lineage of local glass artisans. Charles Connick is one of them (1875-1945), and this church is his first major work ever. Later work includes renowned churches of NYC, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston and beyond. He is known for his Gothic Revival style, influenced by Arts and Crafts, exactly the architectural mix of First Baptist. Upon his death, the New York Times described him as “the world’s greatest artisan of stained windows.” His company, based in Boston, continued to lead the field through its closing in 1986.

Connick’s windows at First Baptist: Reverend Denning describes the meaning behind certain symbols. The fact that the deliberate order in which the symbols appear results in an expressive path intended to carry the viewer, the worshiper, through the sanctuary. This path is meant to reflect the emotional and psychological nature of the arrival to worship, spiritual transformation, and exit or return to the secular world.

More info? Here you go (skipping some, a simplified explanation): Enter the back of the sanctuary directly from outdoors. Look to the upper left side windows. The first four beatitudes, those referring to the weight of the secular world, the way in which some may enter worship: those poor in spirit, mourners, the meek, and hungry. At the front alter, windows at either side refer to the crucifixion, strife, pain, conflict. Here the chronological order of symbols criss-cross wildly, jousting between opposing walls on either side of the alter. As you turn to leave the sanctuary, following the path on which you came, look up and left again—the side opposite from the first. Symbols on these windows represent the last four beatitudes, those referring to spiritual transformation, post-worship: the merciful, pure in heart, the peacemakers, the righteous braced for persecution. And finally, you exit the sanctuary passing under symbols of the resurrection.

And I’ve made Rev Denning late for his deacons' meeting.

Connick did the windows for another church I’ve been to: the ELPC, visits 13, 22, 26 and 27. And three others in the Pgh area I have not yet experienced. I think I’ll let this impetus create my path for a bit.

fifty-sixth visit: May 1st 2011 Episcopal

8:00am, sunday
Holy Eucharist (Rite I)
The Episcopal Church of the Redeemer

5700 Forbes Ave, Pittsburgh PA 15217
squirrel hill

My decision to attend this and the next church (First Baptist) on the same day stems from my hearing that both churches were designed and constructed by the same architect, Bertram Goodhue. Alas, with all due respect, during my 57th visit I learned this is not true, and confirm with my own research. The Redeemer was actually built by Howard Gilmann Wilbert. No loss. And still much discovered. But the question (see last two paragraphs of the post) does remain open. Unsolved mysteries can be interesting than knowing all the answers, anyway.

I am the last to arrive and to choose her pew, but only a few minutes late despite the early hour. Nine worshipers occupy the sweet diminutive Lady Chapel, lying aside but fully contiguous with the main sanctuary. I love the smell of the interior in the wet spring air. It is so quiet that every sound resulting from every movement is audible: the creaks of her wooden floor, praying bodies shifting in pews, a page turning, the slide of my pencil against the paper atop the hollow metal box on which I draw and write.

The sermon. Reverend Mike Wernick. The subject of locking doors in fear and doubt. Of finding security in faith. The story of Thomas, physical proof. I think of Caravaggio.

Communion received kneeling at the front alter. I think about what it must feel like to feed your congregation, hand to hand, and then send them out into the world. Is it profane (yes, probably; and definitely egotistical) that I think about giving final reviews on Tuesday; last words to students whom I will miss greatly; watching those who are graduating go out into the world.

After the service, I leave to photograph the exterior. Return to the chapel to draw. “Forget something?,” Father Wernick asks. “No, just hoping to draw if that’s OK.” I explain gatherings, as my voice mail yesterday was so last minute, of course he has not received it. He asks if I am aware of the changes happening in the past 40 years within the Episcopal churches in Pittsburgh. I am not. Apparently in that amount of time, the number of Episcopal congregations in Pittsburgh has halved. Many Episcopal churches have left the denomination to become Anglican, a more conservative philosophy. (Yes, the Church of the Ascension, my 55th visit, is one such.) This migration is a result of several things: the adaption of the ‘new’ liturgy in 1979 to replace that of 1928. The ordination of female priests beginning in the 1970’s. And the ordination of partnered gay priests.

Father Wernick has been the Priest in Residence at The Redeemer for three months (and having lived in Pittsburgh for just as long), pastoring while Rector Rev. Cynthia Bronson Sweigert is on leave. He says that it is thought that there will be a place for him in this city.

While I draw, a man I recognize from the service joins me in the chapel. “I love your dress,” he says. “Glad you were with us today.” I explain my project. Ask if he is always at the 8am service. Oh no. 8am? No, not every Sunday. See, I’m Reverend Wernick’s partner.

At home, I mention to Arohan that I want to contact Father Wernick to thank him for being so honest in sharing a bit of the history of the denomination in ways that others would probably hesitate. Instead, he calls me the next day. (today, in the middle of writing this, actually) So I am able to tell him in person.

During this second conversation, I also learn: Priest Wernick was Jewish before converting to Christianity. And, as I understand, he believes that Christianity offers (through Christ) one of the many paths to God, and fully acknowledges the many other ways. (Please correct me on any of this, if needed, Father Wernick.) He explains that, there is something else he had not at first understood to be congruent within the Christian faith: that there can be a focus on inclusive love over condemnation... in regards to sexual orientation and of course in regards to the other discriminations that exist in our world culture... and that this can be found in the scriptures… revealed through his theological studies of linguistics and archeological matters. And that our search for the spiritual, throughout all humanity, on a global scale, is more universal than one would imagine. I mention Joseph Campbell. He mentions a few others I might want to look up.

I walk away with this collection of motley thoughts. Including the incredible range of interpretation (of words, of pictures, of documentation). And undying active efforts.

Speaking of undying efforts, I surely will never get anything else done with all this writing. This impulse to which I give in. Spoiled rotten, I am.