Sunday, September 18, 2011

ninety-fifth visit: Sept 25th 2011 Presbyterian, oldest church in continuous use

10:15am and 12:30pm
Beulah Presbyterian Church

2500 McCrady Road

Churchill, PA 15235


This post covers both my 95th and 96th visits.

I went to bed Saturday night, thinking I'd be done with today's visits in time to begin work in my studio shortly after noon. Think again.

10:15am attend service at Beulah.
Beulah's regular Sunday services here are held in a building built
in the 1960's. The reason I choose to include Beulah in gatherings is this: on this property, next to this newer church, stands the congregation's 1837-constructed church building, Beulah Presbyterian Chapel. Weddings and occasional summer and holiday services are still held here, making it the "oldest building in Allegheny County in continuous use as a church." However, worship on this site actually dates further back. Evidence of preaching was first documented in the area in 1758. Members first gathered in plein air, with logs serving as pews and the minister benefiting from the only shelter: a tiny gazebo-like tent. (information from a pamphlet provided by Pastor Cynthia)

In emails earlier this week, Pastor Cynthia hints that I may be able to get a quick tour of the older building if I stick around for the picnic after services and connect with one of the church archivists. However, unfortunately, I must bow out promptly, in order to attend Second Presby. As
I drive off, my sixth sense tells me it would be worth returning to Beulah today, immediately after my visit to Second Presby, in case the archivists have not yet left the picnic. Decided.

11:00am attend service at Second United Presbyterian of Wilkinsburg.
Obviously, this is number two of my 3-Presby-church-countdown (explained here, first two paragraphs). At the end of this service, a request is made: "Would those who are able, please carry a chair or two outside for our 'blessing of the animals' to occur today at 3pm?" Hhhmm. I can't justify missing this. If any dog deserves to be blessed, it's our dog Zoe. She's 11.75 yrs old and the best dog ever. This may be her only chance. (By the way, this is a gorgeous church in beautiful grassy, treed surroundings. She's a nature dog, and she'd love it.)

12:30pm I have returned to Beulah (picnic).
I'm greeted immediately by a sweet, sweet woman whose name I feel really bad for having forgotten. She says she had seen me talking to her husband on my way out this morning. I remember his name: Jan. I am quickly shuffled to the food tables because the packing up and clearing off has already begun. No worries: mac and cheese and potato salad, plenty. I am offered a seat with Jan's family. I learn that the picnic is to honor those who have been members at Beulah for over 50 years. There are 77 of these honorees. Indeed.

Pastor Cynthia approaches and offers to take me into the historic 1837 chapel herself. Jan comes too. The entire one-story building is one room. A dug out basement was completed in the 1920's despite its solid rock foundation. The chapel was period-restored in the 1980's. Electric chandeliers hang as careful matches for candled-originals. Paned-glass windows give ripply views of the cemetery outside. Which, I am told, is the resting place for soldiers from each and every war that this country has been involved in.

Cynthia, Jan and I spend some time in the room of archives.
Three doll-house-scaled dioramas of these worship grounds are encased in glass vitrines. The dioramas, constructed by a father-daughter team, depict the other worship-buildings or worship-spaces that once stood on this property and served this congregation: hewn logs as pews and pastor's gazebo-shelter; log cabin; and the 1837 chapel. A few more minutes of conversation about Beulah's time capsules before I thank Cynthia, bid Jan farewell, and return to the cemetery to draw. It's warm enough to take my shoes off.

2:25pm I pull up at my house. Hello to husband. Gather the dog, and immediately drive back to Second Presbyterian in Wilkinsburg for the blessing of the animals.
Not more than eight people and ten dogs sit attentively in a perfect semi-circle before Pastor Deb. All canine attention is completely focused on her. Dogs have a sixth sense, too. About why they are here, and over a sudden distraction: the fact that the pet carrier just now arriving contains a cat. A short homily. No denial: an embarrassingly horrible attempt by humans at singing two hymns. And then the important part. Spoken to each pet individually, with eye contact: "May you, (insert pet's name), be blessed by the One who created you and may you continue to be a blessing to those who love you."

At the finish, all creatures move to the reception area. Treats for the dogs and treats for their owners. The humans exchange pet stories for a bit. Pastor Deb has two dogs and two cats. They are Minister's children of the worst kind while she is officiating, so instead, every year, she takes them downtown to Trinity Cathedral to be blessed there. Ironically, Trinity is my next stop—three days out.

4:15pm Finally, finally home.

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