Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Eve Report

I did not attend the Christmas pageant yesterday, but I did attend the 7:30 and 11 o’clock services as a member of the choir. It was reported to me that the pageant was what we have come to expect—very crowded, very cute.

PoinsettiaBoth evening services were well attended; there were more people at the early service, but it was gratifying to see a crowded church twice in one night. Worshipers mostly dressed up for the occasion—there was a lot of red in the pews.

As usual, the church was attractively decorated. It struck me that the poinsettias were more beautiful than any of the plants I’m used to seeing for sale. Their bracts (look it up) were an intense, deep shade of red.

The services were most remarkable for the music, which was abundant and stirring, yet mostly familiar. Instrumentalists played at both services, but the 10:30 hymn sing has grown from an opportunity for worshipers to sing the traditional carols and perhaps hear a few new ones to something more like a holiday pops concert, complete with substantial orchestra. The choir sang two choral anthems during the services, “In the bleak midwinter” and, from Messiah, “For unto us a child is born.”

Lou preached one of his better sermons—and his best Christmas sermon—from the pulpit. Members of the choir could actually see him there, and I assume that people sitting in the pews could better see him as well.

As is becoming commonplace, we were short on acolytes, though not embarrassingly so. There were four at 7:30 and five at 11 o’clock.

My only disappointment was the lighting, which was something of a mess. Since we seldom take advantage of the features of our lighting control system for the church, no one seems to understand it or the principles of theatrical lighting any more. The pew candles were lit, but the artificial lighting was often so bright as to make them irrelevant. Evening services generally should be less brightly lit than daytime events. Only at the Refuge service does this seem to be understood, but lighting for that service, at least for the times I’ve attended, has tended to be so minimal that even reading the service booklet is difficult.

As usual, we dimmed the lights for the singing of “Silent night.” There always seems to be some controversy about just how dark the church should be made for this. My guess is that, in the nave, the lighting was about right last night. The nave lanterns were dimmed, but not extinguished. On the other hand, the chancel lanterns were completely off, and, as a choir member, I found reading my music virtually impossible. Fortunately, choir members know the hymn pretty well. At both services, however, when the lights came up, they were much too bright, for reasons I cannot imagine.

Lighting aside, last night’s services were wonderful celebrations of the incarnation. It’s too bad if you missed going to at least one of them. (There is still time to get to today’s 10 o’clock service.)

Have a blessed Christmas.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Take the Hymnal Survey

Hymnal 1982Episcopal News Service ran a story today titled “Input sought on possible hymnal revision.” The Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM), it seems, has undertaken a study to determine if the 1982 hymnal needs to be revised. You can read additional details in the ENS story.

As part of its study, the SCLM has put a survey on the Web that Episcopalians are invited to take sometime between now and January 31, 2011. I recommend that St. Paul’s parishioners make their voices heard (so to speak) by taking the survey. It does take 10 or 15 minutes, but it is, at times, interesting.

I’m not sure whether revising the current hymnal is a good idea or not. Certainly I would make some changes were it in my power to do so, probably dropping a few hymns, including fewer unison hymns, and adding more rounds. In any case, the survey does not ask whether you think revision is a good idea but concentrates on individual experience and taste.

Don’t let me influence you, however. Take the survey yourself by clicking here.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Where Have All the Acolytes Gone?

I was disappointed that we had only three acolytes at the 10:30 service today. Steve, who is suppose to be managing acolytes, filled in as a acolyte himself today. A few weeks ago, we had only one acolyte—two if you count Steve. That Sunday, as the first person in the choir procession in the south aisle, I had no acolyte to lead me into the church. That meant I had to pay attention both to my hymnal and to the procession in the north transept, so that everyone would arrive at the back of the nave at the same time.

I have complained about the lack of acolytes in the past. (See “Sunday Discontents.”) Participation continues to deteriorate, however. Somehow, it was must better in the past, when we have a volunteer acolyte master (or masters). We used to have at least six acolytes every Sunday. On each side of the church, the procession was led by a crucifer, torch bearer, and flag bearer. I cannot remember when we last had six acolytes for a service.

Where have all the acolytes gone?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

All Saints Doing Fine

I’m sure that many parishioners of St. Paul’s have been wondering how All Saints Episcopal Fellowship, led by the Rev. Dick Pollard, is doing. Dick, for those who are new or have short memories, is a former parishioner of St. Paul’s who became a priest and was, for a time, on the St. Paul’s staff. He now heads a small congregation on Boyce Road in a former beauty shop. All Saints became an official part of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh at last month’s diocesan convention.

At that convention, Dick invited me to stop by some Saturday at 5 PM to join All Saints in their weekly worship. Only yesterday did I finally get around to taking him up on his offer. The fellowship’s Web site gave me some idea of how the physical facilities might look, but I didn’t know what to expect from the service itself. (Some pictures of the worship space are available here.)

The fellowship’s building was easy to find, though the location of All Saints within the building was not quite so obvious. There is a sign by the side of Boyce Road, but it did not face the direction from which I came. Fortunately, I knew the fellowship was in the same building as a 7-Eleven, which was itself hard to miss. The side door sported a makeshift sign, so I entered and wandered through a labyrinth of hallways and stairs—this is not a handicapped-friendly facility. I met an Airedale—a regular worshiper apparently—in the corridor just before I found the entrance I was looking for.

The worship space is fairly conventional and well-appointed. Its most obvious disadvantage is that people enter the room near the lectern, so one cannot arrive late—as several worshipers did—and do so inconspicuously. Seating is on pews, which include kneelers. The altar was dressed with what I am told were homemade paraments that did not look at all homemade. Blue, an alternative color to the more penitential purple, is being used at All Saints during Advent. To the rear and side of the worship space is Dick’s office. There is another room in the back that I assume is used as a sacristy and perhaps for other purposes. It sported a sign over the door that read “Undercroft.” Something like 25 people (and one Airedale) attended the service. Every time I counted, the number seemed to increase. I am told that there is seating capacity for about 40.

There was a simple bulletin, though it did have a full-color front page. The back page included the following:

All Saints Episcopal Fellowship

I wasn’t sure if I was violating some local norm by wearing my NO ANGLICAN COVENANT button, but no one remarked on it.

The service itself was quite familiar, a Rite II Holy Eucharist. There were a few unusual elements, but not many. (A “Prayer for the Coming Week” was thrown in, for example.) We sang four hymns accompanied by a too-soft electronic organ, though we sang only two or three stanzas of each hymn. (St. Paul’s parishioners who complain that our organ is too loud need to understand that an organ that does not produce enough sound makes everyone feel like a soloist, a phenomenon that makes most people uncomfortable.) The sermon was adequate, by Pollard standards, which is to say, above average. People were encouraged to kneel for prayers; I was probably the only person in the congregation standing other than the celebrant.

During the Eucharistic Prayer, one worshiper fell ill. She was apparently feeling cold and faint. Two doctors came to her aid, and the paramedics were called. They arrived in 12 minutes and took her to St. Clair Hospital. Needless to say, this interrupted the service. We said a prayer, and, eventually, worship was resumed. Somehow, we skipped over The Lord’s Prayer, but everything else went smoothly.

There were refreshments served after the service. Coffee was available on a back table, and food of various sorts were placed on the altar. (This, of course, would give some Altar Guild folks apoplexy, but no one at All Saints seemed to notice.) I was greeted warmly by a number of people I knew from St. Paul’s and spent some time catching up on family news.

Dick gave me a tour of space below the present “church” into which the fellowship plans to move when the congregation gets larger. The space is not conveniently arranged at the moment, but it is a good deal larger, so All Saints can grow without changing its address, though it will have to do some renovation. The new space is handicapped accessible.

From all I could see, All Saints is doing well for such a young congregation, and there is much to be said for the more intimate, close-knit church. The lack of a choir is something of a show-stopper for me, but not everyone has the same need for music that I do. I expect that All Saints Episcopal Fellowship eventually will become All Saints Episcopal Church and play a significant role in our diocese.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Welcome to St. Paul’s: Advent I

Anyone approaching St. Paul’s’ front door on Sunday had lots of sights to see. Its being the first Sunday of Advent, there were wreaths with purple ribbons on the front doors:

The wreaths are quite lovely and welcoming. Moreover, the purple ribbon makes people stop and think, since Christmas wreaths generally sport ribbons of other colors.

To get to the doors from Washington Road, however, one had to pass the Refuge sign:

Refuge signAs usual, the sign, which is hard to read from a passing car anyway, was something of a mess. The New Morning sign, which should have been in the background of the above picture, had been damaged by wind and taken down. (I didn’t bother to take a picture of our permanent sign which looked only slightly more decrepit than it did the last time I wrote about it.)

Am I the only one who finds these semi-permanent cloth banners tacky?

A more promising sight was the progress being made on the steps and sidewalk associated with the narthex entrance facing Mayfair Drive:

Work on stepsIf this sight isn’t welcoming at the moment, it will be soon. We have waited too long for this much-needed repair.