Monday, May 2, 2011

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.

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