Monday, October 18, 2010

Refuge Revisited

I attended Sunday’s refuge service, largely to see if some of the problems I had identified earlier had been corrected—see “Reflecting on Refuge”—and partly to recover from my upset over this morning’sService bulletin cover 10:30 service—see “Sunday Discontents”.

I arrived in the narthex at 5:50. There was no usher at the door, so I took a copy of the worship booklet and insert and chose a pew. The chaos before the service began had been eliminated. The lighting seemed a bit more reasonable, but, as the service wore on and it got darker outside, it became obvious that the lighting was insufficient for many (including myself) to read the service booklet. Lighting needs to be set based on the end of the service, not the beginning. The lamps illuminating the paintings on the aisle walls had been moved to allow freer movement through the aisle; this was an improvement. At the beginning of the service, the doors to the north transept were open and letting light into the church, an obvious mistake.

Music began at 5:50. The sound was muddy, noisy, and unpleasant. (More about this later.)

Mabel was the celebrant. She wore no microphone, but this was positive. I had no trouble understanding her, and the lack of a microphone made her speech seem more natural. The same slides were being shown as at the first Refuge service. I didn’t understand them then—they included a picture of one of the first atomic bombs and one of a mushroom cloud—and I didn’t understand why they were selected this time.

Mabel’s sermon was delivered in a typical fashion, but I thought that, for this service, she spoke too fast. Also, I did not agree on her characterization of faith as acting on what we believe. Faith as belief, which amounts to the same thing, has gotten Christianity into a lot of trouble.

From time to time, Mabel referred worshipers to a page in the service booklet. Unfortunately, pages 4 and 9 were unnumbered, a definite glitch.

I made several counts of the number of people at the service. Four people were there to actually conduct the service. Depending on when I counted, there were either 17 or 19 additional people, including myself. Sixteen people took communion, leaving one person in the nave. Almost everyone was from St. Paul’s.

I had no problem with the liturgy, which I found more acceptable than what we use at 8:45. The music was more problematic. The sound is simply bad, sounding like the musicians are performing from the bottom of a barrel. I thought this could be remedied by adjusting the mixer, but, after the service, Bryan told me that the mixer was broken and not being used. As far as I am concerned, this is sabotaging the service. Moreover, I think much too much amplification is being used, making the music sound unnatural. Rock enthusiasts and rock concert goers probably like this sort of sound, but I find it inappropriate in a relatively live room. Additionally, it is disconcerting to have the musicians in one place but the sound coming primarily from elsewhere. Again, this is inauthentic. I also object to the fact that some of the vocals were prerecorded.

That said, I didn’t actually dislike the music. It was often too loud, however, which discouraged singing. That interludes were of unpredictable length made it difficult to figure out when to sing the next verse. Also, I hate unison singing and felt resentful when the musicians were singing parts for which I did not have music. Keeping the music “simple” is apparently deliberate. I was unimpressed.

Finally, there are the “stations.” I actually tried to read the explanations of them this time, and I found them frankly silly. But I find most “interactive” displays at museums equally silly.

Overall, I give Refuge a grade of C–, but there is opportunity for improvement. Attendance, however, gets a D–.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sunday Discontents

I found myself upset over a number of aspects of today’s 10:30 service, an attitude not helped by participating in the Eucharist of the diocesan convention at Trinity Cathedral yesterday. That service ran quite smoothly, was enhanced by hearty singing by the congregation, and was presided over by an enthusiastic Bishop Price who was not constantly telling us what we were doing next or what page we were on. By contrast, Lou feels compelled to tell us what hymn we are about to sing and where we are on the page in the prayer book, even though we have just been reading from that same page! But these unnecessary interruptions of the liturgy—inserted, no doubt, in an attempt to be “welcoming”—are a perpetual complaint of mine and, likely, more members of the congregation than the rector realizes.

Today had its own special irritations that began with the procession. The crucifer in the south aisle didn’t seem to know where he should be (i.e, leading the procession) and didn’t seem to know to keep the cross vertical. At the recession, he didn’t know where to stand, and choir members had to walk around him. As I was processing, I was wondering why we no longer have flag bearers and why, in the summer, we had almost no acolytes at all. (Steve, who has taken on the role of acolyte master, often had to act as crucifer.) Lou’s sermon provided some insight into the acolyte situation. He bragged that St. Paul’s has 36 acolytes. He probably does not know that, not too many years earlier, we had 56! Our problem used to be giving acolytes opportunities to serve; Baptismal fontit is now finding enough acolytes to serve.

While I’m thinking about the sermon, I should mention that we were told that St. Paul’s attracted 50 new families last year, most of whom have remained. This sounds like an encouraging statistic, but Lou did not say how many families we lost in the past year to indifference, to other churches (including Dick Pollard’s), and to the fact that large numbers of families move in and out of Mt. Lebanon and the surrounding suburbs all the time. It is not clear that the membership of St. Paul’s is any larger today than it was a year ago. (See “Update: Is St. Paul’s Growing?”)

Perhaps most irritating was the celebration of baptism on the Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost. I have complained to the rector more than once about the scheduling of baptisms whenever he feels like it and have been told, essentially, that he will do whatever he wants to do.

Here, in part, is what the prayer book says about the matter on page 312:
Holy Baptism is especially appropriate at the Easter Vigil, on the Day of Pentecost, on All Saints’ Day or the Sunday after All Saints’ Day, and on the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord (the First Sunday after the Epiphany). It is recommended that, as far as possible, Baptisms be reserved for these occasions or when a bishop is present.

If on any one of the above-named days the ministry of a bishop or priest cannot be obtained, the bishop may specially authorize a deacon to preside. In that case, the deacon omits the prayer over the candidates, page 308, and the formula and action which follow.
It is clear that the reservation of certain days for baptism is not merely a casual suggestion of the church. The prayer book even goes so far as to authorize a deacon to preside at baptism if a bishop or priest is unavailable in order that the sacrament may be celebrated on one of the days set aside for it. I must point out that the Sunday after All Saints’ Day is but three weeks away. Could the baptismal candidates not wait another three weeks?

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against either children or baptisms, but I did resent that it was difficult to hear a lovely duet sung in church today because of the crying of infants, and I did not appreciate the camera whose flash was in my face during the service.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Back from the Convention

I returned from the diocesan convention earlier this afternoon. The convention was held at Trinity Cathedral last night and today. I am happy to report that there were few surprises. This was good. (Remember the old Holiday Inn tagline The best surprise is no surprise.)

Perhaps the most significant piece of business transacted was the passage of a resolution to begin a search for a new bishop for Pittsburgh. We will be hearing a lot Episcopal Church bannermore about this in the next few months.

We also changed the canons to allow the diocese to be partitioned into fewer district, since we have fewer congregations than formerly. There now are only four districts, and St. Paul’s, which used to be in District 5, is now in District 3, along with St. Thomas, Canonsburg; St. Peter’s, Brentwood; All Saints, Bridgeville; Nativity, Crafton; St. Stephen’s, McKeesport; and All Souls, North Versailles. All Saints, Bridgeville, by the way, is Dick Pollard’s new church, which was officially accepted into the diocese by this convention.

Some St. Paul’s people were elected to one position or another. Andy Muhl was elected a General Convention deputy, and Lou Hays was elected fourth alternate clergy deputy to General Convention. Our new district elected Jon Delano district chair and Kris Opat vice-chair. Carl Kylander was elected District 3 representative to Diocesan Council. Congratulations to our new office holders.

A highlight of the convention was a brief but spirited presentation aimed at getting people in the diocese to visit the diocesan Web site (at and to use the calendar on the site (available on the front page) to check on events around the diocese. Pittsburgh Episcopalians were also encouraged to sign up to receive the diocesan e-mail newsletter Grace Happens, which keeps you abreast of diocesan happenings with hardly any effort on your part. (Sign up on the diocesan Web site if you have not yet done so. You will will receive an e-mail newsletter each Tuesday or Wednesday.)

The banner of St. Paul’s was displayed throughout the convention in the north transept of the Cathedral, along with other parish banners. This year, however, we also had a new banner in evidence that I was pleased to see. You can see it in the photo above.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Late Newsletter

I received my October issue of The Messenger today, October 5. Among other events, the newsletter announces a vocal recital on October 3. Why did the newsletter arrive so late?

More Tree News

When I passed by the church this morning, I noticed that the remains of the tree that was damaged in the recent storm—see previous posts here and here—had disappeared. Here is how the site of the tree looks like now:

Former location of memorial tree
What may or may not be obvious in this picture is that the memorial plaque that used to be at the base of the tree is gone. Instead, it has been relocated to the base of the nearest remaining tree:

Plaque in new location


Friday, October 1, 2010

Richard Davies Retiring (Really!)

The Rev. Canon Richard W. DaviesThe Rev. Canon Richard W. Davies, who has been a fixture at St. Paul’s for more than two decades, is actually retiring. It is no secret that Canon Davies has had a number of health problems recently, and, a few weeks ago, he collapsed after a Wednesday service and had to be taken to the hospital.

St. Paul’s has been the beneficiary of the labors of a number of priests like Canon Davies, who, though retired, have worked tirelessly for St. Paul’s for paltry wages or less. Few priests of any sort have been associated with our parish as long as Canon Davies, who will have been a priest for 55 years in December.

Canon Davies informed the rector of his decision to retire for real about two weeks ago. Why parishioners have not been told of this decision, I don’t know. When I read the parish e-mail newsletter this week, however, and it said nothing of this development, I thought it was time that everyone know that we are losing a valuable and beloved member of the St. Paul’s staff.

Canon Davies is a modest man and, no doubt, does not want us to make too much of a fuss over his retirement. He deserves a comfortable retirement and a good sendoff, however. I hope that he and his wife Doris will indeed enjoy retirement, but I hope we will still see them at St. Paul’s with some regularity.