Thursday, September 30, 2010


Children’s Ministry brochureWhen Glenn Holliman of Episcopal Church Foundation delivered the bad news that Fulfilling the Vision would not fly—see “Fulfilling the Vision Postponed”—he worked hard at putting the best face on the news. Among other things, Holliman complimented the parish on its newly released Children’s Ministry brochure. I had seen this brochure only the day before, but I picked one up only after I heard Holliman’s comments. Only today have I gotten around to actually reading it.

So, was the praise justified? Well, yes and no. The cross with the hand prints on the cover is certainly arresting, and carrying the hand print motif through much of the brochure does, I think, work. Overall, so does the Berlin Sans FB font, although the Berlin Sans FB Demi Bold used in the calendar is ugly and hard to read. Ideally, the brochure should have been printed on heavier stock.

Then, there is the text. For years, I have complained that publications from St. Paul’s are poorly edited and proofread. This brochure is no exception. The first line of body text includes the name “St. Paul’ Episcopal Church.” I kid you not; the “s” is indeed missing! Without getting picky, I identified:
  • 1 missing letter
  • 24 missing commas
  • 1 missing period
  • 1 missing capital
  • 1 extraneous word that was clearly intended to be deleted
  • 5 missing spaces
  • 1 missing hyphen
  • 2 misstatements of fact
  • 4 badly chosen phrases
  • 1 instance of failing to use italics
  • 1 arguable misspelling (“worshipping” is a British, not an American spelling)
  • 1 single quotation mark where a double quotation mark was called for
  • 1 misspelling
That last item is interesting. On the back page is a list titled “The Top 10 Reasons Why Children are Welcome in Church.” At the bottom of the page, Tracey E. Herzer is credited with the list. (The list is found here.) That list is, in fact, the source of “worshipping,” so this error can perhaps be excused. On the other hand, there is little excuse for copying “quiet” as “quite.” Was the text copied and pasted, or was it actually retyped (and retyped badly)?

I have a reputation as an obsessive editor. Am I being unfair in insisting on professional standards in publications from St. Paul’s? I don’t know. Are we only an amateur church?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Update: Is St. Paul’s Growing?

Last month, I wrote “Is St. Paul’s Growing?” Central to that post was a chart from the Episcopal Church Web site. That chart has now been updated with 2009 data and is shown below. Note that the scale in dollars is different in the old and new charts. Click on the chart below for a larger view. You can see this chart or charts for other churches here.

Participation & Giving Trends

Saturday, September 25, 2010


St. Paul’s was quick to clean up after this week’s storm, perhaps even too quick. Tree surgeon Vladimir Ivashchenko was immediately put to work cutting down (sort of) the Rob Douglas memorial tree. (See “Storm Damage.”) Vladimir said that there was some hope that the tree would grow back. Somehow, I doubt it, but what do I know?

Apparently, this tree was the second tree dedicated to the memory of Rob Douglas. The first one was not thriving and was also cut down, likely also without any consultation with experts.

In any case, Rob Douglas’s tree now looks like some sort of phallic monument, as you can see below.

Remains of the tree

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Storm Damage

A major thunderstorm hit Mt. Lebanon around 4 o’clock yesterday afternoon, and damage from wind and lightning was widespread. Today, Mt. Lebanon schools are closed, some residents are still without power, and residents have been advised to stay home.

St. Paul’s suffered some damage, but, as many homeowners could tell you, it could have been worse. Most significantly, the tree in front of the church that is a memorial to Rob Douglas suffered major damage, as can be seen in the photo below (inset shows dedicatory plaque at the base of the tree):

Damaged tree
The damage seems to be from wind, rather than lightning, but I am not an arborist. Moreover, it is not clear to me whether the tree can be saved. The falling branch took out a small branch or two from the nearby tree, but that damage is minimal.

There was some debris in the parking lot, but no major damage was evident. Also, there were a few branches down in the front lawn next to the adjacent house, but this damage seems minor as well:

Branches down

Update, 7 PM: I’m at church for choir rehearsal, and I can report that the tree has been reduced to a rather tall stump.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Refuge @ St. Paul’s, II

I returned to Mt. Lebanon about 5:30 this afternoon after attending Episcopal Day at PNC Park. (The Pirates won, by the way, and I had a wonderful time at the baseball game.) I decided to stop by the church and look in on the second Refuge @ St. Paul’s service.

When I entered through the lower Mayfair entrance, I found Pat Hurd in the kitchen working on food for the post-service reception. Apparently, food is going to be a regular part of the event, which is a good thing. The reception is pointedly not intended to be dinner, however.

Not surprisingly, I counted many fewer people in the pews than last week, probably about 23. Happily, the lighting was a bit brighter, which made it easier to see the service booklet. The sound from the musicians was still muddy, however, and the singing I heard was unintelligible. I only stayed for a few minutes—I was tired and hungry—so this report will have to do for this week. Only after a few weeks’ experience with the service will we have a good idea of what the long-term attendance is likely to be and who, in fact, is in the congregation. Stay tuned.


Today’s Gospel reading about the dishonest manager certainly is a perplexing one, and I’m not sure Mabel’s sermon this morning made its message clearer. Perhaps my thoughts were diverted, however, by Mabel’s assertion that the recent feasibility report on Fulfilling the Vision from the Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF) suggests that St. Paul’s parishioners are not quite ready to trust—read take on a $1.83 million fund-raising campaign—given what Calvary rector Harold Lewis refers to as the “recent unpleasantness” in our diocese.

I believe the ECF report exaggerates the effect of the diocesan schism on St. Paul’s, and I think Mabel further exaggerates what was said in the report. The report states, for example,
  • This schism rippled through St. Paul’s and numerous long-term members left, again depleting energies and good will. Church membership and stewardship have suffered as a result.
In fact, St. Paul’s lost remarkably few members as a result of Bob Duncan’s depredations, and which camp the parish would end up in was never really in doubt, even if parish leaders waited painfully long to declare the obvious. Whatever loss of membership there has been in recent years—see “Is St. Paul’s Growing?”—has largely been due to other factors. Trust may indeed be in short supply at St. Paul’s, but the ECF report uses the word “trust” only once, and not in the context of diocesan schism.

There is much that can be blamed on Bob Duncan, but the leadership of St. Paul’s must take responsibility for the failure of the Fulfilling the Vision proposal to gain traction. The proposal was a bad plan that was ill-timed and poorly promoted. If the parish could not put its trust in the plan that was advanced, it had good reason for not doing so.

I fear that Fulfilling the Vision II—be assured that there will be another proposal, of whatever name, coming down the pike—will simply drop the more ridiculous aspects of the first proposal while failing yet again to solicit parishioner input as to priorities and objectives. The small group of people who completed the Vision 15 work clearly did not capture the sentiments of the parish as a whole, and continuing to rely on Vision 15 to guide the parish will only further alienate the majority that finds it difficult to take Vision 15 seriously.

I will have more to say about how parishioners should be consulted on certain matters in a future post.

Let me conclude by noting that St. Paul’s, despite an explicit promise by Lou to put the ECF report on the parish Web site, has not yet made the ECF report available to parishioners in electronic form. My guess is that few members have gone to the office to read it. Poor communications within the parish, a concern identified long before Lou arrived, continues to plague St. Paul’s.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Outreach Dinner Tonight

I happened into the kitchen at St. Paul’s last night and discovered cooks hard at work preparing for tonight’s outreach fundraiser dinner. A large box of tomatoes sat on the counter, Jim Stafford was chopping onions, and a cookbook was open to a gazpacho recipe. I really hadn’t intended to attend this event, but gazpacho is one of my favorite dishes, so I probably will change my mind. The theme of the event is Buy Fresh, Buy Local. The buffet will be served between 6 and 8 PM in the undercroft.

I checked for details of this event on the St. Paul’s Web site, but they were nowhere to be found. Using the search box, I entered “outreach.” The search yielded three results, cryptically, under the legend “Enter 468x60 Ad Code Here”: announcements from April and August and the Vestry list. Sad to say, our Web site is not only not welcoming, it is almost completely useless.

If you are on St. Paul’s e-mail list, you did get an announcement about the dinner in your inbox yesterday. In case you are not on that list, here is that announcement in full:
St. Paul's Outreach Commission invites you to a buffet dinner this Friday, September 17 to raise funds for local outreach projects. The theme for the dinner will be Buy fresh, Buy Local to showcase local nutritious fresh foods in this harvest season. We will celebrate PA's tradition of farming and feature many local products, including meats, vegetables and fruits. Please come to the dinner from 6-8 p.m. Tickets for the dinner will be $9 for adults and teens and $5 for children 5-12. Tickets will be available at the door. Please email Pat Eagon Stafford ( to let her know how many are coming. Beer will be available, along with wine. In addition, raffle tickets will be available at $2 or 3/$5 for the Anti-Cancer Cookbook, written by ca [sic] local author, Dr. Julia Greer.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Reflecting on Refuge

In my last post, I promised a longer essay reflecting on the first offering of St. Paul’s new Sunday evening service, Refuge @ St. Paul’s. In this essay, I intend to fulfill that promise. (An aside: I really don’t know what to call this service. I have been calling it Refuge most often, but that does not seem to be its official name, and another activity at the church uses that name. I have seen both Refuge@St. Paul’s and Refuge @ St. Paul’s in church literature, but the service leaflet had only Refuge on the cover. On the first line inside the leaflet, the service is referred to as Refuge at St. Paul’s. I’m not personally fond of the name, however rendered, but we should make a choice and stick with it.)

I arrived at the six o’clock service 10 or 15 minutes early. I came with Jane Little, who uses a walker. We sat a few pews back from the crossing on the Gospel side. After the service, we attended the reception that was held in the undercroft.


As is immediately obvious from the picture I posted yesterday, St. Paul’s looked different for Refuge than it does for most services. To begin with, the church was dark. Because it was still light outside, some light filtered through the stained glass, but even the light coming through the east windows—our “east” windows actually face west, so they are most brilliant in the time before sunset—did little to brighten the worship space. There were many lighted candles, but they didn’t provide much light either. The lanterns (i.e., chandeliers) were dimly lit, and their downlights (i.e., lamps pointing straight down from the lanterns or the ceiling) were likewise dim.

The scant illumination was restful, perhaps even beautiful, but it had its drawbacks. I found it very difficult to read my service leaflet and could only do so because I was near a window. A better balance needs to be struck between Milton’s “dim religious light” and the need to actually see what one is doing.

Decoration of the church was less extensive than for the Wilderness service held in May. This was actually a good thing. There was enough drapery to make the church look different without making it look like a fabric store that had experienced a suicide bomber attack. I was particularly struck by the “screen” in the middle of the chancel on which images were projected. (See the aforementioned photograph.) The screen was a translucent bit of white fabric suspended from a wire spanning the chancel. It proved functional and attractive without looking obtrusively high-tech.

Not all decoration was equally successful, however. For example, the painting nearest to where we were sitting was on the wall of the Gospel side aisle. It was illuminated by a lamp clamped to a music stand. Not only did this look jerry-rigged, but it made it impossible for two people to walk through the aisle side-by-side. The painting, however, done by Shelly Fanguy, daughter of the Rev. Mabel Fanguy, was lovely. (Shelly contributed a series of paintings for the service.)

There is little I can say about the various “stations” scattered about the chancel. I didn’t even discover the description of these in the service leaflet until Monday. Perhaps I am simply not spiritual enough to get into this sort of thing, but they reminded me of kindergarten, where, at playtime, kids have a number of options to pass their time. In any case, the explanations at the individual stations were impossible for me to read without my being infelicitously close to the printed explanations at the stations themselves. Chalk this up to aging eyes and inadequate lighting (but perhaps also too-small fonts and too-long explanations).

I should say that lighting candles with a prayer—the places where this was done were “stations” of a sort—seemed natural. I did not personally do that, but I could without being self-conscious about it. I am nonplussed by how fast the candles used for this purpose burn down. Lighting one of these candles seems more like lighting the fuse on a firecracker, except that, in the end, the candle just goes away. There seems to be symbolism here, but I don’t know what it is.

As I mentioned, Jane and I arrived a few minutes early, giving ourselves lots of time to settle in, look over the material that was handed out, and put ourselves in a worshipful mood. This was difficult to achieve. Not only was the church dark, making reading difficult, but the musicians were practicing, and people were busily moving about the chancel, presumably putting last minute touches on the decorations.

Music and Sound

It is hard to know where to begin here. Perhaps I should start with the wireless microphone worn by Kris. It should be well known by now that reception of the signal from this microphone has a tendency to drop out when the transmitter is at the crossing. This is where Kris spent most of his time, and the drop outs inevitably happened. They are annoying. Probably the antenna for the receiver should be repositioned, but this has been an issue for years, and no one has seen fit to do anything about it. Additionally, the microphones for our beltpack transmitters are all patched with tape, and, some day, they will likely fail during a service. Even if we don’t replace our sound system in the church, we need to keep it in good repair. (Perhaps, like the un-repaired steps at the upper Mayfair entrance, sound system glitches are to remind us that someone should pony up money for a new system.)

I felt rather detached from the music, which, as a musician, was uncomfortable. This was partly because I could not see all the musicians. In fact, I could see only one well, but I think there were actually three or more. The poor quality of the sound—see below—made it unclear to me whether I was listening to live or recorded music.

In general, the music sounded muddy. It was as if the bass controls on the mixer were turned all the way up and the midrange and treble controls were turned all the way down. I do suspect that this was a mixing problem, rather than a poor equipment problem, but I’m not certain of that. I don’t know if appropriate microphones were used, for instance. In any case, singing was not very intelligible, and the overall effect of the music was not what it could have been.

As for the music itself, it was mostly acceptable, if unremarkable. The use of a much-too-loud drum early in the service, however, nearly caused me to run out of the room screaming. I was so glad when it was over! It was good that none of the music was rhythmically complex, a characteristic that makes so much “contemporary” Christian music difficult to sing, particularly with those unfamiliar with it.

The service used both new and old tunes, but nothing was actually unsingable. On Sunday mornings, worshipers generally hear an entire hymn before they begin singing. This is not simply to give people time to stand up and find the right hymn in the hymnal. We play the hymn so that people can get the tune in their minds and begin singing when the time to sing has come. This is especially helpful for the musically trained, who may be listening to the alto or bass part during the introduction. (As a choir member, that is what I do.) On Sunday evening, however, we got no such introductions, and I found myself always playing musical catch-up. Moreover, on one of the songs, there was a long interlude between two of the verses. Unlike the interludes Doug plays on Sunday mornings, the music gave no clear signal when it was ending, so I did not catch the entrance to the next verse.

A personal note: I hate unison singing, and everything the people sang Sunday night was unison. This may be a personal quirk, but being able to sing regularly in four-part harmony is one reason I am an Episcopalian. It may not be the best reason, but it is one reason. (My theory is that all good church musicians are really Episcopalians at heart, no matter what church they work in.)

The Psalm that was read was not reproduced in the service leaflet or in an insert that included the readings from I Timothy and Luke. I have no idea why, but I suspect it was to save space. The reading was hard to follow, as it was “decorated” with music that tended to cover up the voice of the reader.


When I first heard of plans for the new service, I was concerned that it would not be Episcopal enough. I now worry that it is too Episcopal. Although the liturgy was not taken from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, the arc of the service was that of a standard Rite II Eucharist. I don’t really know if this is a criticism, as it is unclear to me for whom this service is intended. The Eucharist and the creed (“Affirmation of Faith”) made the service definitely Christian, and it struck me that someone of the spiritual-but-not-religious persuasion might feel very uncomfortable at a Refuge service. I estimated the congregation at 75 or so, and it seemed that just about everyone took communion. I suspect that this was a very Episcopalian crowd.

In any case, any parishioner who is worried that Refuge is some new-age, non-Christian experiment should be reassured. The attractiveness of the service to Christians, Episcopalians, or the unchurched, on the other hand, remains an empirical matter. Attendance will almost certainly be down next week. Many of the curious will be satisfied, and many Episcopalians will have gone to the Pirates game.

Personally, I found the distribution of the elements problematic. Whereas the service encouraged informality and wandering about, communion felt conventional and regimented. Kris stood at the crossing with bread, flanked by chalice bearers. Two lines of communicants stretched down the center aisle. (There were candles and other stuff in the middle of the aisle that people had to walk around.) Jane, who is now used to receiving communion in her pew, decided to try walking up to receive, with a little help from me at her side. Remarkably, we accomplished this, but not without assistance. Because of the music stand and lamp partially blocking the side aisle—see under “Ambiance,” above—I could not walk beside Jane past the pier at the front of the nave. Happily (and surprisingly), there was a volunteer handy who helped get Jane past the barrier and up to the crossing. (The volunteer was from Calvary Church, as it turned out. She had come to the demonstration service in the spring and liked what she saw.)

Other Matters

It was only after Jane and I sat down that I realized that there was an insert for the service leaflet that we did not receive. Of course, everything should have been collated in advance. As I mentioned, the insert lacked the Psalm, but it contained the announcements from the morning’s bulletin.

Then, there is the matter of the offering. Appropriately, I thought, there was a basket for donations but not a passing of the plate. Kris, however, talked about donating “for those in need.” At the last Vestry meeting, however, it was decided that collections from Refuge would be used exclusively to support the Refuge service itself, something that is done for no other service. There is what I can only view as deception here. The church cannot have it both ways—are we helping the less fortunate or building our own ecclesiastical empire? I must admit that the decision made by the Vestry did not trouble me at the time, but I think we have a problem here.

There was a reception in the undercroft after the service. The fare was modest, but adequate. Jane and I rode the elevator downstairs, and we found a place for her to sit, I then went off in search of wine, cheese, and other goodies for the two of us. When I got to the table, I realized that there were no plates, only napkins. I assume this was an oversight rather than a mechanism to discourage gluttony, but it made it difficult to carry food for the two of us back to where Jane was sitting. After unsuccessfully attempting to embarrass the rector into fixing the problem, I walked to the kitchen, found two paper plates, and returned to the food table. (I’m not sure the lack of plates was really Lou’s problem, but it wasn’t mine, either.)


In light of my observations, here are some ideas to make Refuge @ St. Paul’s—or whatever we’re calling this service—better.

Lighting. We need more of it. I understand the “dim religious light” thing, but it is easy to carry this too far. Perhaps all that is needed is to increase the intensity of the downlights. In any case, some experimentation is indicated. We should also consider using different lighting treatments at different times. The uniform gloom quickly became tiresome. We may have to purchase lighting to illuminate objects like paintings on the wall. It would have made more sense to turn up the track lighting in the side aisles. Not only would this have illuminated anything on the walls, but, by contrast, it would have made the central nave seem darker.

Setup. Keep obstructions out of the side aisles and perhaps out of the main aisle as well. Objects in the aisles hinder movement, which is something the service encourages. Moreover, the fire marshal might not approve.

Make sure all handouts have been collated when they are given out.

There is a tension between making the service familiar to Episcopalians and yet not too alienating to others. The via media is hard to find here. The service leaflet referred to the “High Altar” and the “Holy Table” (i.e., freestanding altar). There is a certain schizophrenia here. Also, I found the conventional list of announcements on the back of the insert strange. If this service is oriented to outsiders—I don’t know that it is—the “announcements” should target those people and their perceived special needs. The conventional announcements could be left in a pile somewhere for parishioners to pick up, if needed.

Before and After. Setting the mood happens before the service begins. I would suggest that all preparations be completed at least by 5:50. No tweaking the set or practicing should happen after this time. Consider whether there should be soft, contemplative music before and/or after the service.

The reception felt like a reward for having pulled off the first Refuge service. That is perfectly appropriate. We should consider whether we should serve some kind of food after each such service, however. This would encourage people to share their experiences. Of course, this isn’t, so far as I know, provided for in the budget.

Sound and Music. The sound needs more presence (a technical term), and the musicians should be more visible. This would make them seem more participant than performer. Music that has no visible source should be limited to elevators. Drums should be used sparingly, if at all. Amplification for drums is almost always unnecessary in a setting like this, in my opinion.

There is a tendency in contemporary services to use music to set a mood. This technique should be used sparingly. The “decoration” of the Psalm mostly covered up the words.

Songs should have a full introduction, and interludes should have cues as to when they are about to end.

Liturgy. As one who has attended offbeat liturgies at the General Convention, I had no problem with the liturgy for Refuge. There were times when I lost my place, however, because I could not hear Kris very well and because there were distractions.

I don’t think the distribution of the elements worked well. It felt too claustrophobic. I’m not sure what to do about this. I am tempted to put the priest and chalice bearers on the other side of the altar rail, but I can anticipate objections to this. This needs to be thought through.

Concluding Thoughts

Did I like the service? Well, I didn’t hate it. I do have a been-there-done-that attitude, however, and I don’t expect to return except possibly to see what my parish is up to. Jane was more positive, but I don’t want to speak for her.

I would like to see a mission statement for Refuge. Certain elements appeal to one clientele and others appeal to other groups. I would like to see a clear declaration of what Refuge is trying to accomplish that would provide a standard against which we could measure various options.

It is too much to ask that Refuge seem like an effortless production at this stage, but that should be a goal as the service settles in. On Sunday, I think everyone was coping with discomfort and anxiety.

How does Refuge fit in at St. Paul’s? Just as Refuge needs a clear mission, so does the parish itself. Aspiring to be welcoming is not helpful operationally, except for trivial matters. The Pittsburgh Pirates have a similar aspiration, as do many establishments that are nothing like churches. Does Refuge help us do what God has planned for us?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Refuge @ St. Paul’s

Refuge @ St. Paul’s service
A substantial crowd showed up at St. Paul’s yesterday for the inaugural service of Refuge @ St. Paul’s. (I think that name, with its trendy at sign, is an abomination.) The service was followed by a reception in the undercroft.

I will have more to say about the service later. Suffice it to say, there were no substantial glitches, though I do think there is room for improvement. (One should not expect St. Paul’s to conduct a perfect service the first time out.) Whether the service will attract a following and whether it proves worth the substantial effort being devoted to it, however one might measure that, remains to be seen.

The photograph above was taken just before the service began. Click on it for a larger image.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Refuge in The Almanac

Newspaper storyA St. Paul’s press release on the new Refuge service became a story in The Almanac this week. There is much to like in this story, and it is refreshing to see St. Paul’s taking advantage of The Almanac as a vehicle for publicizing its activities. (You can read the story here. It is actually on the Web site of the newspaper, but it is buried in the middle of the page that is hard to find.)

Unfortunately, the story runs off the rails in the last paragraph:
As are all of St. Paul’s worship services, Refuge @ St. Paul’s is free and open to the public. The church also offers a youth-oriented outdoor service at 6 p.m. Saturdays in St. Margaret’s Garden, a family-friendly, contemporary service at 8:45 a.m. Sundays, and a more traditional, choral liturgy at 10:30 a.m. Sundays.
That first sentence plays into my fears that the new service is more entertainment than worship. Whereas most people understand that an offering may be taken up at church services, they generally do not expect to pay an admission charge, though they usually do have such an expectation when attending an entertainment event. Moreover, why do we need to emphasize that not only is Refuge @ St. Paul’s “free and open to the public,” but that so are our other services. This seems to suggest that either this has not always been the case at St. Paul’s and we need to emphasize the change in policy, or that we think that other churches have services that charge admission and for which attendance is by invitation only. Mostly this sentence makes us look clueless.

Finally, it was certainly a good idea to include information about other services at St. Paul’s, but there are a few things wrong with the characterization of our Saturday Eucharist:
  1. It is not clear where “St. Margaret’s Garden” is. A reader might assume it is on the church grounds, but a reader might just as easily assume it is some other venue with which he or she is simply unfamiliar.
  2. I would not describe the 6 P.M. Saturday service as “youth-oriented.” Few attendees could be described as “youth”; the service seldom includes music; it is a conventional prayerbook service; and, more often than not, it is conducted by one of our older priests.
  3. Finally, I have to point out that, although the Saturday service has been held in St. Margaret’s Garden all summer, as of today (i.e., the first Saturday after the story appeared in The Almanac), the service has been moved to Old St. Luke’s.
Alas, communication is still a major problem at St. Paul’s.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Good News/Bad News

The good news is that repairs have begun on the sidewalk and steps leading to the Mayfair Drive entrance to the narthex. The bad news is that we may not be doing a good job of the repair.Plans for steps

Last Sunday, I saw plans for the repairs posted, without comment, in the undercroft. (See picture at right, and click on it for a much larger image.) The plans call for replacing the steps more or less as they have been. The steps are to be concrete. The plans were marked “OWNER/REVIEW SET/NOT FOR CONSTRUCTION,” which I took to mean that demolition and construction were not imminent. I learned yesterday, however, that this was a misinterpretation; I passed the church and discovered that the existing steps have already been demolished. (See below.)

I have two concerns: the materials called for and whether we are ultimately planning to provide handicapped access at the front of the building.
Upper Mayfair Drive entrance on 9/10/2010
All of St. Paul’s is faced with limestone. The front steps and the lower Mayfair entrance steps are limestone. The upper Mayfair steps, that is, the steps just demolished, were mostly concrete. (From the rubble pile, it seems that there was some limestone used. The deteriorated steps were definitely concrete, however. See picture below of the steps as of sometime last May.) The existing stone steps are largely in good repair, except that there are significant cracks where railings were installed. (I suspect that none of the iron railings are original.) In any case, I believe the integrity of the building demands limestone steps. I was told Sunday, however, that limestone cost too much. Shouldn’t it be parishioners, or at least the Vestry, who decide this? (I am told that the Vestry has not been shown the plans or approved the project.)

It is clear from the recent feasibility report on Fulfilling the Vision that parishioners are very concerned about the physical plant of St. Paul’s, and I suspect that they might well opt for limestone steps if asked, even if such steps were more expensive than concrete ones. No one has asked, however, which seems to have become the way business is conducted at St. Paul’s these days.

The second issue is whether we are going to provide handicapped access at the front of the building. I suggested back in May—see “Do We Really Want to Repair the Steps”—that we could use the excuse of repairing the steps to the narthex to provide handicapped access via a ramp from Mayfair Drive. Stairs last MayThe plan for Fulfilling the Vision—now on hold, of course—proposed an alternative plan that would have sloped the pavement in front of the building upward to provide handicapped access from Washington Road. (See “Fulfilling the Vision, Part 1.”) The plans for the present repair connects the front pavement to the Mayfair entrance exactly as it has been. But what if we alter the pavement in front of the building? (It is in poor condition in any case, and a good case could be made for replacing it.) I question whether we should carry out any project involving access to the narthex before we have a comprehensive plan for the front of the church. Because the appearance of the building is affected, that plan should be one at least presented to parishioners, if not actually endorsed by them.

Do we need handicapped access to the narthex? Whenever I bring up the subject, I am told that that is what the elevator is for. After all, we wisely spent the money necessary for an elevator that reaches every level of the church, save for the choir room and chancel. (One might ask for a sign pointing down Mayfair and labeled “Parking and Handicapped Access” or some such, by the way.) One must admit, though, that there is something symbolic in everyone’s being able to enter the church at the front. The parking lot entrance for the handicapped seems a bit like a back-door entrance for “colored.” (I grew up in the South.) Perhaps a more compelling argument for accessibility, however, is for a handicapped exit. In case of fire, the elevator should not be used. What is someone in a wheelchair supposed to do if there is no exit without stairs?

That said, neither plan for handicapped access to the narthex is without its problems. A ramp from Mayfair Drive would have to be long if it were not to be too steep. Access from Washington Road as proposed in Fulfilling the Vision would have significantly changed the building’s façade. Moreover, Washington Road is not an ideal place to discharge passengers, particularly handicapped ones, from an automobile. Even if we installed some sort of driveway in front of the building, the lack of parking would be problematic, particularly for handicapped drivers. The only good solution I see to this problem would be to provide handicapped-only parking parallel to the street but cutting into the existing sidewalk and lawn. Such parking would need to be without a curb to facilitate egress from vehicles.

My current idea for providing handicapped access in front of the church would indeed add a parking area off Washington Road as I have described. I would build a larger paved plaza in front of the church, leaving the front steps as they are. I would build a ramp from that plaza to the side door of the narthex. As it happens, the existing sidewalk from the front of the church to the side entrance actually slopes downward; we had more steps on the side than in the front. This sidewalk could be regraded to go upward. This plan, of course, would require demolition of much of what is about to be built.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Great Day for Music

It was a wonderful day for music at today’s 10:30 service! I hardly know where to start in describing it.

The hymns included “Lift high the cross” (#473) as the processional, “Praise the Lord through every nation” (#484, employing the familiar “Sleepers wake” tune harmonized by J.S. Bach) as the sequence hymn, and “Praise to the living God!” (#372, to the Hebrew melody “Leoni”) as the recessional.

The choir sang Martin How’s “Day by Day,” which was lovely, but which was outshown by solists. Mezzo soprano Kathleen Hendricks sang Adolphe Schlosser’s “He that keepeth Israel” during communion. (This seems to be a popular solo, though I know nothing—and could discover nothing—of Schlosser.) Doug Starr played the very interesting “Galeries ancien” by contemporary composer Dennis Janzer as the postlude.

Despite those lovely performances, the star musician of the day was Alexandra Thompson. Alexa played two movements from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 5. Before the service, she played the Prelude, and, during communion, she played the Allemande.

I first heard Alexa play at St. Paul’s when she was about 12, and I was struck by her musicianship even them. She is now studying to become a professional cellist, and she has passed the point where I can identify any imperfections in her playing. After the Allemande, I just wanted to sit quietly and meditate on what I had heard.

Alexandra Thompson is not the first musician to grow up at St. Paul’s. Doug should be commended for providing what encouragement he has to these musicians by allowing them to play at services and concerts. Certainly, the parish has greatly benefited from their musical talents.

Executive Summary of Feasibility Study Report

“Copies of a summary of the Episcopal Church Foundation Feasibility Study Report are available in the parish office and in the parish hall/undercroft. The summary consists of excerpts of the key findings made by the Episcopal Church Foundation concerning the proposed capital campaign.” That was the announcement at the bottom of the page in today’s bulletin. That summary, and the report it summarizes, are still not on the church’s Web site, but you can read the summary here and the full report here.

As explained in the summary itself, the document “is taken from the ECF report without editorial comment.” This was a wise decision, though, as I noted in “The Episcopal Church Foundation Feasibility Study Report,” the foundation went out of its way to mitigate the sting of its conclusions. Those excuses are reproduced in the executive summary as item 4 under “Concerns.”

Friday, September 3, 2010

Update Needed

St. Paul’s plaqueThe Fulfilling the Vision proposal included a number of building improvements that were widely anticipated, such as repairing the steps at the Mayfair entrance to the narthex. It did not—not explicitly, anyway—include other maintenance and enhancement projects that many of us would like to see. (See, for example, my post “Fulfilling the Vision, Part 2.”) While taking pictures of the banners on the front lawn yesterday—see “Lawn Signs”—I was reminded that there is a bronze plaque on the front of the building that needs updating.

A number of people have mentioned to me that we have never inserted a nameplate into the bronze tablet for our current rector. There is clearly more wrong with it than that, however. Our forebears realized that the parish rector would change from time to time, but they apparently failed to recognize that services and service times might also change. Such details are not cast in stone and should therefore never be cast in bronze.

It should be obvious—was it not obvious to the capital campaign committee?—that our bronze tablet needs to be fixed, and not by chiseling off the text as was seemingly attempted in the past. No, I’m afraid we need professional help. It may be that our current plaque is hopeless, and a new one will have to be manufactured, but I would hope that we could modify what we have, if only for tradition’s sake. (Admittedly, one could make a case for a new plaque that leaves off the rector entirely. The rector changes but the Lord abides.)

I suspect that the COMMUNION, MORNING PRAYER, and CHURCH SCHOOL lines can be removed by a foundry. The space between the two horizontal rules will then need to be filled with something. I suggest adding a bronze medallion in the space, either of the St. Paul’s dove or of the Episcopal Church shield. In the latter case, the medallion can perhaps be painted or enameled.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Publicity—Second Thoughts

This morning, I posted an appreciative post on this blog about the banner signs that are currently displayed in front of St. Paul’s. (If you haven’t read “Lawn Signs,” do so before reading on.)

One of those signs is promoting the forthcoming Refuge service. Looking over my post once it was uploaded to the Web, I was reminded that the banner and the ad in Mt. Lebanon Magazine both point the reader to a Web page, namely that at This is what that page looks like as of today (click for a larger view):

Refuge page on church Web site
What’s wrong with this picture? To begin with, there isn’t much here. Supposedly, Refuge is a big deal. Why aren’t there more pictures, more explanation, and more information about the church and personnel who are making this service a reality? There certainly are more pictures on the service’s Facebook page, but, even there, there isn’t much of a pitch for attending or caring about the church’s new initiative.

What really made me think I had to write this post, however, was this line:

Visit us at Mt. Lebanon’s First Friday, on September 10

One doesn’t have to look at the calendar to know that, even in Mt. Lebanon, the first Friday can never fall on the 10th of the month. The post on the St. Paul’s Web site is dated July 29, 2010, and, in more than a month, no one caught that egregious error!

While on the subject of the St. Paul’s Web site, let me offer a thought or two. (I will defer a full critique of the Web site for another time.) I am sitting at my computer that says the outdoor temperature is 90 degrees, but the banner picture on the Web site shows a winter scene, snow included. The picture is not refreshing, just insensitive and irrelevant. And the colors look like they were chosen for a Halloween makeover. How welcoming is this on September 2?

Lawn Signs

Signs on lawn (manipulated image)
“Joyful Morning” facing southbound traffic
Banner signs on church lawns tend to be tacky, but St. Paul’s often does as good a job with such advertising as anyone. As we enter a new program year, St. Paul’s has two banners on the lawn facing Washington Road, each an attractive, two-sided pitch for Episcopal worship services.(Click on any of the pictures in this post for a larger view.)

The “Joyful Morning” facing northbound trafficsign nearer the corner of Washington Road and Mayfair Drive employs the now-familiar “Joyful Morning” motif. It is a pleasing design with legible copy. One has a fair chance of reading all or part of it while driving by.

Refuge sign facing roadNew this year is a sign for Refuge. It is smaller than the other banner, and, because of the font used, is somewhat more difficult to read. It is nicely designed, but its placement is more problematic, being more nearly parallel to Washington Road. Also, as can be seen in the picture at left, the two green steel poles Refuge sign facing buildingholding up the banner are not quite parallel, giving the installation an amateurish quality.

As I said, however, the design on the banner is quite nice. It is virtually the same as the advertisement St. Paul’s placed in the September issue of Mt. Lebanon Magazine. (Back issues of the magazine are posted on-line, but the September issue is not on the Web as I am writing this. When available, the issue can be found here.) The design actually works better as a print advertisement, but we can hope that the sign on the lawn also gets some attention from passersby.

It is good to see St. Paul’s getting more imaginative in its publicity. The magazine ad is well placed, well executed, and well timed. Attracting worshipers is no easy task, however, and it remains to be seen how much the new advertising will help.

Update, 6:30 PM: I drove by St. Paul’s a little while ago and was gratified to see that the Refuge sign had been repositioned. It is now perpendicular to the roadway, so it can be seen easily by travelers moving in either direction. The stakes holding the banner are still not parallel.

Update, 9/4/2010: I visited downtown Mt. Lebanon last night for First Friday. Kris had has table on Washington Road promoting the new Refuge service. A Refuge banner was behind him. I assumed it was yet another banner, but the banner had apparently been removed from the St. Paul’s lawn. As of Saturday afternoon, it has not been returned to the lawn. Meanwhile, the other banner has apparently suffered wind damage and is largely disconnected from its supports.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Vestry Delivers the News

The Vestry has now sent its statement responding to the feasibility study report on Fulfilling the Vision to parishioners on the church’s e-mail distribution list. (See posts “Fulfilling the Vision Postponed” and “The Episcopal Church Foundation Feasibility Report.”) The statement is not on the St. Paul’s Web site, but those who did not receive a personal copy can read it on the Constant Contact Web site. (Constant Contact is the e-mail distribution service used by St. Paul’s. An image of the Constant Contact page is shown at the left.)

Alas, the statement does not suggest that the Vestry has any regrets for having handled this matter poorly. We are told, however, that it “ will take the time necessary to revise and refine the various aspects of a capital campaign to focus on those items of greatest interest and concern to the congregation, and then explain more fully the need and rationale for each of them.” This is all well and good, but it is not clear that the Vestry really intends to consult parishioners in any effective way before presenting yet another take-it-or-leave it package. The congregation as a whole needs to be involved in charting our future.

More disappointing is the news that the church “will be providing a summary of the feasibility study report in the near future,” but not yet. “A copy of the full report is available to be read in the parish office.”

Why is there no copy of the report on the parish Web site? Why is the message from the Vestry not on the parish Web site?

In case you missed it, the report is available here. It is a quick and informative read. Don’t wait for the executive summary or the promised report on the Web site. Read it now!

The Episcopal Church Foundation Feasibility Study Report

While the rector and Vestry struggle at getting their story straight, I thought it would be helpful if parishioners could begin reading the capital campaign feasibility study from the Episcopal Church Foundation for themselves. The PDF file available here differs slightly from the paper copy distributed at Monday’s Vestry meeting. (See “Fulfilling the Vision Postponed.”) I believe the differences are only cosmetic, however. The paper copy that was yanked from my hands at the Vestry meeting—very few bound copies were printed, and Vestry members had a stronger claim than I—had a nice cover and the St. Paul’s prospectus in the appendix, both lacking here. The pages may have been formatted slightly differently; this version seems a few pages longer. (I still don’t have a paper copy to compare.) I’m sure the text is the same, however.

The purpose of providing the report here, of course, is to let parishioners make their own judgments about Fulfilling the Vision and the way it has been dealt with by our parish leaders. I cannot avoid making a few observations, however.

What most stands out in this report is the rather strong support for maintaining the building—there is less support for “enhancing” it—and the nearly total lack of support for program expansion financed in any way other than through annual giving. There is also great skepticism that St. Paul’s can raise anything near the price tag of the proposal presented to the congregation, a matter on which ECF agrees.

What is also apparent is that there is deep dissatisfaction among parishioners concerning the state of the parish and little agreement with respect to the details of the Fulfilling the Vision proposal. Whereas the ECF report does not try to hide these unpleasant realities, it struggles to mitigate their significance. According to the ECF, the economy is bad, taxes are worrisome, the split in the diocese was traumatic, previous rectors were poor administrators, parishioners haven’t adapted to the rector’s leadership style. ECF seems to be flattering those who pay its fee. The reality, however, is that Fulfilling the Vision was ill-conceived and poorly sold.

But don’t take my word for it. Read the actual report here. I invite your comments below. Note that you need a Google, AIM, Wordpress, or other ID to leave a comment.