Sunday, December 30, 2012

Christmas Lessons & Music

 SPOILER ALERT: This post is grumpier than usual. Read at your own risk.

Service Format

The 10:45 AM service for the First Sunday after Christmas was billed as “First Sunday after Christmas: Lessons & Music.” In his “Music Notes” in the bulletin, Doug Starr wrote about the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols that is celebrated at King’s [“Kings” in Doug’s writeup] College, Cambridge every year in the late afternoon on Christmas Eve. I don’t know why we don’t call our service “Lessons & Carols,” but the fact that we don’t is a tip-off that the St. Paul’s version, despite many commonalities, is not quite what is done in England.

On the afternoon of December 16, I actually attended a Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Highland Park. Except for the fact that the choir included females, the service was about as close to the King’s College version as one could expect to experience in the U.S. We didn’t pray for the Queen, of course, but the church was lit by candlelight, the first verse of “Once in royal David’s city” was sung a cappella by a boy soprano, and the lessons were read by members of the parish and the community.  (Readers included the rector, the bishop, a Roman Catholic deacon, and a state senator.) The “carols” were mostly arrangements sung by the choir; a few were hymns sung by all. The service was magnificent.

Years ago, St. Paul’s put on a service much like that of St. Andrew’s late in the afternoon. In recent years, however, the service has been translated to Sunday morning. This created a quandary—shouldn’t there be a Eucharist at the principal Sunday service? For a time, we simply ignored the problem and did a lessons and carols service without a Eucharist. Apparently, we’re not doing that any more.

Unfortunately, adding a Eucharist to the lessons and carols format, even without a sermon, necessitates some cuts if one insists on keeping the length of the service below 75 minutes. The nine lessons of the Cambridge service became six today.

Service Details

One might quibble that the choir prepared no music specifically for today’s service—a departure from what was done years ago before the service was moved to Sunday morning—but I don’t think that worshipers were shortchanged. Lovely solos were sung by Sue Vines and Brian Brazon. Sue and Cathie Buschek played a four-hand postlude. Alexandra Thompson played a cello solo and accompanied other pieces, as did Tommy Starr on tympani. Katy Williams filled in for the boy soprano on the processional.

There was some confusion as to who was reading which lesson, which resulted in Chris Thompson’s reading two lessons. As is usually done at St. Paul’s, choir members read most of the lessons. (The rector read the last one.) There always seems to be confusion about how the lessons are to be introduced and concluded. In the King’s College service, lessons are introduced by a brief description and concluded with “thanks be to God.” I may not have been paying close attention, but, if memory serves, some lessons were introduced with a description, and others were introduced with a citation. All were ended with “the word of the Lord,” to which the congregation naturally responded “thanks be to God.” Maybe next year, we’ll get it right.

One of the minor joys of the December 16 service at St. Andrew’s was the continuity of the service. No one was telling the congregation to stand up or sit down or turn to a particular hymn in the hymnal. Everyone simply followed the program like an adult. (Well, it must be admitted that it was so dark in the church that one had to struggle to read the program. St. Andrew’s does not have the ability to dim lights without turning them off as St. Paul’s does.) In any case, Lou apparently fails to appreciate how annoying and insulting his stage directions are. Many parishioners agree with me on this point, though I suspect few share my visceral aversion to the practice. When I hear “we will now stand and sing hymn —,” it is all I can do to avoid running out of the chancel screaming.

Physical Setting


From my vantage point in the choir and with my experience as former Audio-Visual Coördinator and member of the Worship Committee, I cannot ignore problems with the physical environment. The good news today is that some of the spotlights that had been burned out for weeks (perhaps months) were working today. Of the five spots that had been non-functional, three were working last Sunday, and four were working today. I was pleased to see that one of the down lights at the crossing was working. I have no idea how the bulb was replaced—it is the most difficult bulb to replace in the entire church—nor why the bulb on the opposite side of the center aisle was not replaced.

A few weeks ago, I told Lou about the lamps that were burned out. The spotlights were at the top of my list, but I also noted that two lamps in lanterns were out, as was one lamp in the north aisle. Those lamps were still out today. Moreover, another lamp in the north aisle was also dark.

The most upsetting glitch in the decoration of the church was the presence of a lighted Advent wreath. We are done with Advent, people; this is Christmastide. We need to put the advent candles away for another year!

Speaking of candles, the pew candles were installed and lit today, as were the candles in the windows. This frankly looked silly, as the electric lighting in the church was as bright as it ever is. Candlelight only works when lighting is dim enough to allow the candles to have a significant effect on ambiance. I wonder if the candles were lit—presumably like the Advent wreath—simply because no one had bothered to put them away. If we were were going to use candles, the electric lighting should have been much dimmer.

There was one other lighting glitch. Neither the light on the pulpit nor the light above the pulpit were turned on. Switching these lamps on is often forgotten, and it was unfortunate that they were off today, as all the lessons were delivered from the pulpit.

I should also mention that, for today’s service, we used the two microphones dedicated to the choir. Given the size of our choir, it isn’t clear that we ever need these microphones, but someone clearly thought it was a good idea to incorporate them into our new sound system. Generally, we haven’t been using the microphones, but we did today for the two anthems sung by the choir, the Victoria Ava Maria and the Sedio arrangement of Coventry Carol. I would be interested in learning if using the microphones enhanced our music. One microphone was pointed toward the men singers. This might have been useful, as I have heard complaints that the men are often difficult to hear, perhaps because many of us are standing behind the organ console. The other microphone was not so much pointed toward the women singers as behind them, so I doubt it proved of much utility.

Final Thoughts


I suspect that most worshipers at 10:45 thought the service was lovely. At some level, it was, and it certainly had its high points. For me, it was marred by the presence of the Advent wreath—this was an unforgivable liturgical error—by lighting that failed to create the atmosphere the service deserved, by a lack of attention to certain details, and by incessant and unnecessary directions. I pray St. Paul’s will do a better job next year. I will certainly plan not to miss the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at St. Andrew’s in 2013.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Freed from obligations related to Refuge, the task for which he was hired, Bryan Sable took on the task of resurrecting St. Paul’s handbell choir. I have always wanted to try playing handbells, so I volunteered to be part of the new choir. Perilously close to Christmas, we began practicing for a Christmas Eve debut.

HandbellPrior to Christmas Eve, St. Paul’s new group of ringers had only two real rehearsals, with a different mix of personnel each time. A third rehearsal was cancelled because most people could not attend. We were slated to have a quick practice before the 7:30 service on Monday, but we spent most of our time setting up and getting organized. Not everyone showed up on time.

If you’ve never played handbells, it may not be apparent how problematic it is not to have the same ringers present each time you play. In essence, each ringer is a piece of an instrument. Remove one ringer and the instrument has to be reconfigured or parts of it simply will not play. I was never quite sure which bells I would be responsible for when we finally played in church.

As the only male in the group other than Bryan, I was assigned to handle the lowest (i.e., biggest) bells. My assumed qualifications for this were strength and the ability to read bass clef. The advantage of the assignment was that I was not constantly ringing, and I didn’t have to master the technique of ringing two bells in one hand.

Our group may not have been sexually diverse, but we were certainly diverse in terms of experience. The choir included the likes of Jan Toth, who always looks cool and competent, as well as others who at least had some handbell experience. My knowledge of handbells, on the other hand, was limited to watching ringers rather uncritically and with a sense of awe.

I quickly realized that the ability to read music is useful, but it is not the most important handbell-playing skill. The critical facilities are mechanical and mental ones: remembering which bells are in which hand, switching bells quickly, ringing bells reliably and consistently. My hardest job was ringing two bells at once and immediately ringing two different bells at once.

At our last full rehearsal, when I tried to ring the D4 bell, the handle broke off in my hand and the casting (i.e., the bell proper) fell to the table. (Maybe it was the D3 bell. I’m still learning which bell is which.) This was inauspicious. The handle is a flexible plastic strap, and it snapped off in the two places where it met the bell. Examining the damaged instrument, it seemed that it contained, as they say in the consumer electronics industry, no user-serviceable parts. It was not clear that we would have a usable D4 bell for Christmas Eve.

Bryan came to the rescue. He consulted the manufacturer, which promised express delivery of a new handle assembly. What neither Bryan nor I realized was that, although there was no way to replace the strap, which was attached with four rivets, the entire handle assembly attaches to the casting with a small bolt. A completely new handle assembly arrived at St. Paul’s on Monday.

There was good news and bad news in having a working D4 bell. Obviously, having the bell had the potential to improve our performance. The bad news, of course, was that I had one more bell to handle.

For the 7:30 service on Christmas Eve, the handbell tables were set up in the church behind the last pews in the nave. We were to play an arrangement of “Away in a Manger” before the service and “Silent Night,” along with the organ, near the end of the service when the hymn was to be sung by the choir and congregation.

For much of Monday afternoon, I was watching instructional videos on YouTube. (Yes, there are such things.) I did pick up a few useful tips, but the overall effect of my watching these videos was to increase my already high anxiety about the evening’s performance. I suddenly realized just how much I didn’t know about handbell playing!

We had essentially no practice time Monday night. Our performance, though certainly not a disaster, was well short of adequate. In addition to the problems I was already having, mostly related to switching bells quickly, I experienced two other problems I did not fully appreciate. I don’t know if everyone was as affected as I was.

Just before we played “Away in a Manger,” I had the fleeting thought that we should perhaps tell the ushers to keep people away from the ringers as we played. Deciding that I was being obsessive, I failed to act on my concern. Big mistake! As we began playing, worshipers walked behind me in a steady stream. My problem with this was not simple claustrophobia. My problem was that the piece began with tower swings, a movement involving ringing the bell in front of me and swinging it backward as if it were ringing in a bell tower. The fact that I was actually hitting people as they passed behind me did not stop the flow of people. (What were they thinking?) I was very much rattled by this and did not recover easily or quickly.

The second problem was anticipated. “Silent Night” was to be played in relative darkness. I asked Rich Creehan to give us more light than he had originally provided, and he obliged. We never practiced with the organ in dim light, however. The task turned out to be much harder than I expected. It was difficult to get my face close enough to the music so that I could read it and remain far enough from the table that I could actually ring my bells. St. Paul’s has some battery-operated lamps for our music stands, but they seemed not to have fresh batteries, so we did not try to use them. Too bad.

I hope to continue as a bell ringer, but I may need a bit of time to recover my composure after my Christmas Eve experience. Perhaps the bell choir will play at Easter. If so, I will refuse to play at the back of the church before a service.

Friday, December 21, 2012

St. Paul’s in The Almanac

On the front page of The Almanac for December 19, 2012, There is a picture of Lou and parishioners lighting candles for the dead of Newtown, Connecticut. The picture is not on the Web, but the text under the 5 x 8 inch photo can be found here.

Monday, December 3, 2012

One Funny Pane?

Aisle windowAll the windows that were being restored by Williams Stained Glass Studio have now been reinstalled. It is clear that work has been done on the windows, but, as I was not in the habit of studying the windows carefully, I cannot say definitively that they look better now than they did formerly. I am willing to believe that whatever was done was worth doing, however.

Generally, the windows look fine, but I do want to raise an issue about one window, the one in the (liturgical) north aisle closest to the narthex. That window is shown at the left. The window depicts the cross in front of a Bible opened to the first chapter of the Gospel According to John.

Particularly striking in the window are the panes of red glass. It is difficult to appreciate this glass in the photographs shown here. Like virtually all the glass in the windows in the two nave aisles, it is translucent, but not transparent. That is, one cannot see images of what is outside. The glass is wavy, or contains small bubbles, or has other patterns that make it interesting.

In all the windows, I have found a single piece of glass that does not seem to match other panes. This piece of glass, which is only a square inch or so in area, is transparent, red glass with no perceptible “flaws.” Its faces are perfectly flat and parallel, and it is without bubbles or patterns of any kind. One can look through it and see the trees on the church’s lawn quite clearly.

The pane in question is indicated by an arrow in the closeup below. Tree branches can be seen through the pane, something more apparent when viewing the actual window, since the scene changes when you move your head. One cannot see images through the pane to the right or through any other glass in the window.

I doubt seriously that the transparent pane is original. I suspect that Williams replaced this pane and failed to match the glass in the rest of the window. The mismatch is easy to miss, but it is annoyingly conspicuous once it has been pointed out. St. Paul’s should insist that the errant pane be replaced with a more appropriate translucent piece of red glass.

Closeup showing mismatched pane

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Unnecessary Change

Advent candelabrum
Worshipers at St. Paul’s on this first day of Advent were greeted not by our familiar large advent wreath suspended at the front of the (liturgical) north transept, but by a new brass candelabrum at the crossing on a brass stand. (See photo at right.)

I have no idea why the Memorial Fund authorized $1,000 to buy this unnecessary addition to our liturgical furnishing. (It sits on a brass stand that we already owned and which also cost about $1,000, by the way.) Someone suggested that parishioners have worried that the old wreath might fall down and hurt someone. The same could be said about the lanterns that light the church, however, or the organ pipes cantilevered over the sanctuary on either side of the high altar.

As you can see in the picture, the candelabrum currently sports a cheesy wreath, but I am told that a more appropriately sized wreath will eventually circle the central candle.

It is difficult not to see the advent of our Advent candelabrum as yet another abandonment of furnishings that have made the church special at St. Paul’s. We now seldom use our elaborate pulpit for preaching. The drama of lifting the lid on the font has been dropped from baptisms; the bowl of the font is now exposed before the service begins. And our spectacular and (at least in my experience) unique advent wreath has been replaced by a standard item from the CM Almy catalogue that can be found in hundreds of churches.

The lovely little ceremony of lighting the Advent candles and raising the wreath that once began our Advent services is yet another St. Paul’s tradition that lives only in memory.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Refuge’s Last Stand

I attended the final Refuge service on November 18. (Officially, Refuge services are suspended, but I don’t expect them ever to resume at St. Paul’s.) I had not been to Refuge often, but I was present at its birth, and it seemed right to compete the circle by attending its funeral. The congregation at the last service was clearly larger than had been expected—wine was in short supply after the event—so I was in the company of many occasional, in addition to the few regular, worshipers.

I have never been a fan of Refuge, but it was clear that not everyone felt the same way. I am sorry for the loss that may be felt by some. Alas, their numbers were too small for the service to be sustainable. I was reminded, however, that for me, Refuge, which no doubt is supposed to offer a deeply spiritual experience, simply seems self-conscious and contrived.

Some positive things can be said of the “Farewell” service. (“Farewell” was the subtitle on the service booklet.) The decoration of the church was better than at the first service, and the projection of images on the semi-transparent screen was very effective, even if the images themselves lacked obvious relevance.

A major strength of Refuge is that the service is a Eucharist, and one that mostly avoids any New-Age excess. The intimacy of having everyone stand around the altar to receive the elements is a welcome change from what is possible in a more conventional and better attended service. As it was, however, the unusual number of worshipers detracted somewhat from the atmosphere that I assume was more usual on Sunday evenings.

The music, even when I was not fond of it—that is, most of the time—was performed with sincerity and competence. The voices of Mara Underwood and Brian Sable go very well with one another. I was pleased to see that no one was being asked to sing anything for which music had not been provided in the service booklet.

And now for the not-so-positive things.

The church was still too dark for me to read the service booklet comfortably, and I found myself taking off my glasses and holding the booklet close to my face. I complained about the lighting more than two years ago, and the lighting at the last service was even worse than at the first, which benefited from a later sunset.

I had the feeling that St. Paul’s was simply the wrong size, either too big or too small. It is difficult to achieve a sense of intimacy for the whole service with people sitting in the church’s large nave and being necessarily distant from the chancel and from the musicians. Interestingly, such intimacy can be achieved in a much larger space by judiciously using only part of it and leaving most of it dark. (I recommend Easter Vigil at Washington National Cathedral.)

The music suffered from remaining within the narrow limits usual in Protestant praise music. Such music utilizes only a few themes: telling God or Jesus how great he is or how wonderful the worship of him is (for some reason, the Holy Spirit never seems to get the same respect), a morbid obsession with the cross, the ineffable comfort available to the Christian in this life, or the expectation of an end to suffering in the next. Additionally, as a singer who has not practiced with the official musicians, I object to not having access to harmonies employed, the failure to follow the written music strictly, and the irritating convention of repeating the endings of songs an indefinite number of times.

Kris McInnes’s “reflection” was, of course, atypical, given the occasion. I had the thought, however, that the search for an appropriate musician that eventually identified Brian Sable should have been accompanied by a search for a preacher whose voice was deep, resonant, and comforting. For all of Kris’s talents, he sounds like the kid down the street, but the service seemed to call for an Alexander Scourby. (If you’re too young to remember Scourby, you can listen to this example of his voice on YouTube. Refuge needs a slower pace, however.)

What is most distinctive about Refuge is its collection of “worship stations.” I must say that I just never got these. In the dark, the purpose of the stations is insufficiently perspicuous, and it is not obvious to the casual worshiper that the explanation of the stations needs to be read from the back of the worship booklet before the service begins.

We were told that the Wilderness program on which Refuge was based is a successful program. Perhaps it is, and perhaps there is an audience for this sort of service in the context of an Episcopal church. The appeal, however, would seem to be to a hip urban audience or to a university community. Mt. Lebanon always seemed an unlikely venue for Refuge, and the notion that St. Paul’s would attract worshipers from all over Pittsburgh never seemed realistic. I suspect that Refuge would never have been undertaken if all the funds for it had to come from the parish. The diocese was generous in supporting the experiment, but it is time to move on.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

St. David’s Community Cookout

St. David’s, Peters Township, kicked off its program year with a community cookout today. I drove over to the church after the service at St. Paul’s. I wanted to see how many people showed up for the 10 o’clock service and for the cookout that followed. It seems fair to say that the event was a great success. You can read about it and see some of my pictures on my blog, Lionel Deimel’s Web Log.

Kris McInnis grilling vegetables

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

One by One, the Lights Go Out

Side aisle with dark lamp
Side aisle: The third lamp
from the viewer is dark
Chancel and
sanctuary lanterns
In my post “Back at St. Paul’s,” I noted that a number of spotlights were burned out. Because those lamps are either on a roof truss or on the ceiling of the church, they are difficult to replace.

This past Sunday, I noticed that, not only the three spots on a truss near the crossing and two spots on the ceiling are dark, but so are four (or perhaps five) other lamps that are more easily replaced.

In each of the side aisles, one of the track lights is out. (See photo at left. Click on photos for a larger image.)

More personally irritating is the fact that the down light in the lantern over the chancel just behind the organ console is out. (See photo at right.) The failed lamp is over the chair where I sit in the choir. This area is dark in the best of circumstances, in part because one of the spots in the chancel that should be pointed in my direction actually points somewhere else. To make matters worse, it appears that one of the bulbs in the lantern over my head is also burned out.

In general, the chancel is darker than it should be because the floodlights behind the arch at the back of the chancel are unusable. They should have been moved higher up on the arch when the exposed organ pipes were installed in the sanctuary, but they were not. They cannot be used because they heat up the pipes and throw the organ out-of-tune. But I digress from purely maintenance issues.

There are two lanterns over the freestanding altar. The down light in the lantern closest to the pulpit is burned out, and it looks as though the lantern itself is not quite properly assembled. This can be seen in the photo below. which also shows four of the five spots above the crossing that are not illuminated.

Chancel lantern with dark down light. Four of the five dark spotlights
on the ceiling and roof truss can also be seen.
Given the extreme height of the spotlights that are burned out and the consequent trouble and expense attendant replacing them, it is understandable that the spots are not replaced as soon as they burn out. With five lamps out, however, it is time to do whatever it takes to replace the bulbs. In fact, all the lamps on the trusses or ceiling should be replaced at one time.

On the other hand, the lamps in the aisles and lanterns can be replaced using a ladder. Someone should be responsible for checking every week that all lamps are working. Lamps that can be replaced with relative ease should be. Why is no one paying attention?

Stained Glass Repair – 2

Progress in renewing the stained glass at St. Paul’s was evident this past Sunday. All four clerestory windows on the south wall have been re-installed, and the process of removing the windows below them has begun. Panels that have been removed have been replaced by plywood. The progress is most clearly seen outside. (Click on pictures for a larger view.)

South wall of church
South wall of church, showing lower stained glass windows that have been removed

It was easy not to notice the removal of the clerestory windows, but the absence of the windows in the side aisle will be more conspicuous.

Aisle window
Aisle window with one panel removed
Work on the stained glass windows is to be completed by Christmas.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Stained Glass Repair – 1

I dropped by St. Paul’s today to observe the process of re-installing stained glass windows. Williams Stained Glass Studio had removed the clerestory windows on the south side of the building weeks ago for rehabilitation, and two workman were putting the restored windows back in place. At the time of my visit, all but one of the windows had been replaced.

I was told that the windows being re-installed were much in need of repair, being very distorted. For some reason, the windows on the opposite side of the nave are in better shape. A stained glass window needs to be repaired every 80–100 years, apparently. St. Paul’s seems to be right on schedule.

Re-installing the clerestory windows requires a lift inside and one outside. Outside access is probably easier. Inside access involves moving pews and positioning a scissor lift. Moving pews is not, in principle, difficult. I was told that screwing the pews back down often encounteres holes that do not readily hold a screw. (I have personally encountered this problem in the church.)

Next week, the lower windows on the same side of the building will be removed.

The pictures below will give you a sense of the work Williams is doing at the church. Click on a picture to see a larger image.

Williams Stained Glass Studio truck
Williams Stained Glass Studio truck parked on Mayfair Drive

Window in truck ready to be installed
Window in Williams truck ready for installation

Outdoor lift
Outdoor lift

View of the nave
View of the nave. The window closest to Washington Road remains to be installed.

Scissor lift
Scissor lift

St. Luke window
St. Luke window

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Back at St. Paul’s

It was good to be back at St. Paul’s and singing in the choir today. I had picked up a respiratory infection at General Convention, and it resulted in lingering voice problems. After singing today without difficulty, I’m going to declare myself officially recovered.

I was surprised—well, sort of—to see that we had a baptism today. I have complained to the rector more than once about our scheduling baptisms for the convenience of the family, seemingly without any encouragement to wait for one of the traditional occasions:
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. [BCP, p. 312]
I spent several minutes reading the bulletin trying to figure out just who was being baptized. Only in the prayer list following the order of service and the schedule for the coming week did I find the name of Henry Jay Trau. It is unfortunate that this information was buried in such an unlikely place. The baptism of a child is a significant event in the life of a family, and most families would like to take home a bulletin (or two or three) as a keepsake. We owe it to them to make a bigger deal of the ceremony. The names of people being baptized should always be prominently displayed in the bulletin, and it is a nice touch to work them into the sermon as well.

Completely missing from the bulletin was the formerly standard notice of the prohibition of flash photography during the service. I had not noticed its absence until a flash went off right in my face. The photographer, the font, and my chair in the choir were pretty much in a straight line, and I’m sure I jerked conspicuously when the picture was taken. That picture was only the first of several.

Michelle Boomgaard neglected to ask the congregation to stand for the Baptismal Covenant. People remained seated at first, but eventually stood up. Curiously, there is no rubric in the prayer book instructing the people to stand, which is perhaps an oversight. Michelle has likely done few baptisms and can be excused the oversight.

Less excusable was her sermon, which, for me, was virtually inaudible. Michelle was wearing a microphone and wireless transmitter, but the microphone was too far from her mouth or the gain on the amplifier was too low or she simply did not speak loudly enough. Her dismissal was easy to hear, so there was nothing wrong with the audio equipment.

I do wish preachers would use the pulpit, which is designed for the purpose. Not only does it make the preacher easier to see, but the microphone can be moved closer or farther from the speaker as required. If people are going to use wireless microphones, they really should perform a sound check before the service.

I was delighted that Michelle neglected to announce at least one of the hymns. (I have always considered such announcements unnecessary, if not insulting.) I noticed that we managed to sing the hymn anyway.

We really can roll with the punches. The final hymn had seven verses, but Doug only played five. No one began singing verse six. (Of course, that we were only singing the first five verses should have been noted in the bulletin, but wasn’t.)

My final observation on the service is that five spotlights on the ceiling or rafters are burned out. These bulbs are extraordinarily difficult to replace, and we seem never to have developed a standard way of performing the task. With so many lamps defective, however, I think it’s time to consider how we’re going to do the job next time.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Rev. Michael Randolph Dead at 71

The Rev. Michael Randolph
The Rev. Michael Randolph
The Rev. Michael Randolph, who served as interim rector at St. Paul’s between the tenures of Bill Pickering and Bob Banse, died at age 71 this morning in St. Louis. Information about the dramatic and well-liked Fr. Randolph can be found on the Diocese of Missouri Web site.

I don’t think anyone ever fell asleep during one of Michael’s sermons. He brought an excitement to worship services that has seldom been equaled at St. Paul’s.

I wrote a poem for Michael when it seemed that he was suspended between this world and the next. You can read my poem and, perhaps more importantly, my modest little essay about Michael, here.
Rest eternal grant to him, O Lord;
And let light perpetual shine upon him.
May his soul, and the souls of all the departed,
through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Pentecost at St. David’s

The choir wasn’t singing at Trinity Cathedral yesterday, which gave me an opportunity to attend St. David’s, Peters Township, on its first Sunday as a restored Episcopal parish. Kris McInnes did a fine job explaining the arrangements that had been made for the parish and leading two services at the East McMurray Road church. I wrote a more complete report on my other blog, which you can read here.

St. David’s
St. David’s. The new church is at the right. Click for larger image.

Monday, May 21, 2012

St. Paul’s-St. David’s Partnership

St. Paul’s has done a fine job of informing parishioners about the partnership it has formed with St. David’s Episcopal Church. Many members of our own parish once attended the Peters Township church and were saddened to see it run off the rails over the years, removing itself finally from The Episcopal Church to join Bob Duncan’s Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh.

There had been much speculation as to what would happen to the St. David’s property when it was returned to the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, and I was delighted to learn that a core group of parishioners was interested in the church’s being restored to being an Episcopal parish. The partnership with St. Paul’s solves the problem of providing clergy support for the returning congregation.

Peters Patch today published a nice article about the St. Paul’s-St. David’s partnership. I recommend it. You can read it here.

Where Has Lionel Been?

Readers have no doubt noticed that I haven’t written anything on this blog lately. I apologize both for the lack of communication and lack of explanation. Although I have not left St. Paul’s, I have been attending Trinity Cathedral and singing in their choir for the past few months. I’ve done so to support the congregation that was greatly diminished by the departure of parishioners after the chapter decided that Trinity would no longer be the cathedral for the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh. I don’t know that anyone has done what I have done, but people from other churches, including St. Paul’s, occasionally show up at Trinity on Sunday morning. Two parishes, All Saints’, Bridgeville, and All Saints’, Brighton Heights, have visited the cathedral as a parish. (This might be impractical for St. Paul’s, but, if it happened, it would be dramatic.)

Being away from St. Paul’s most of the time, I have less material to write about on this blog. Another excuse for writing less here, however, is that I wrote extensively on my personal blog about the candidates to be the next Bishop of Pittsburgh, an excuse I will not have in the future.

Anyway, I will write on this blog when I think I have something useful to say. Meanwhile, I recommend your reading my personal blog, Lionel Deimel’s Web Log, and the Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh blog focusing on The Episcopal Church, Pittsburgh Update. The latter is updated with news items every Monday evening.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Candidates for Bishop Announced

Last night, the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh announced the names of four priests who have been nominated to be the next Bishop of Pittsburgh. Additional candidates may be added by petition before the April 12, 2012, election. You can read details on the diocesan Web site. The blog Our Pittsburgh Diocese is offering to be a clearing house for information about the candidates.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

R.I.P. Father John

I just learned from Doug Starr that Fr. John Thomas has died. A service for him will be held at St. Paul’s at 1 o’clock this Saturday, January 11, 2012. The e-mail notice from St. Paul’s is here. (An update of the service time for the Friday visitation is here.)

Please pray for Janet and for John’s family.

Rest eternal grant to him, O Lord: And let light perpetual shine upon him.

Monday, January 9, 2012

State of the Parish

I attended Adult Forum yesterday morning. This had been described on the parish Web site and elsewhere as a “State of the Parish Meeting,” which sounded interesting. I failed to read the fine print, however, which indicated that the discussion was largely to be about financial matters:
State of the Parish Meeting
Please join us this Sunday, January 8 between the 8:45 and 10:45 services to review where we stand financially and address questions and comments from the congregation.
That said, the presentation, by Bob Johnston, with the help of PowerPoint slides, was both helpful and encouraging.

For those who missed the presentation, here are some highlights:
  • We enter 2012 debt free.
  • 2011 ended with a $7,000 surplus.
  • Although more pledges have been received since the last report, the stewardship campaign did not reach its $650,000 goal. (Current pledges were stated as about $581,000.)
  • Present estimates show a $25,000 shortfall in 2012, though the intent is to have a balanced budget this year.
  • The presentation only involved the operating budget, but several off-budget items have been moved into the operating budget. (This improves transparency in the long-run, but made the numbers presented a bit harder to put into perspective.) In response to a question, Bob admitted that this would increase our diocesan assessment slightly.
In response to a question from the floor, Bob said that the capital campaign had pledges of $660,225, with about $90,000 already collected. Exactly how the money will be spent has not been decided, but Bob suggested that a committee would probably be formed for the purpose.

Helpfully, Bob sent me a copy of his presentation, which you can see here. Note that the slides in the appendix were not shown yesterday.

As you will see from Bob’s slides, the full financial accounting of the sort presented in the annual report was not available yesterday. I asked if we would have a session before the annual meeting in which those who were interested could ask questions about the parish’s financials. Bob didn’t have a problem with this—we have had such a meeting in the past, which avoided long financial discussions at the annual meeting. Lou, however, wanted to have such a meeting after the annual meeting. Of course, last year, we avoided discussion of financial issues by Lou’s arbitrarily cutting off debate at the annual meeting. I hope that does not happen again.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Refuge or No Refuge?

I am not a regular attendee of the 6 PM Refuge service. I was ill for most of December, however, and haven’t rehearsed with the choir in weeks, so I thought I would worship at the evening service today.

I arrived at St. Paul’s about 5:55. Only one car was in the parking lot, though one entered the lot just behind me. I headed for the door nearest the elevator, waiting for whoever was getting out of the other car. Unfortunately, I discovered that the  door was locked. It only took a few minutes to determine that all doors were locked, and, except for a second floor room in the education wing, no light could be seen in the building.

By the time I returned to the parking lot, seven people had gathered for a service that, apparently, was not going to happen. We speculated that the service had been cancelled because of the Steelers game, but two people had checked the church’s Web site in advance to be sure that the service was indeed scheduled. After waiting for a while, we all went home.

When I checked the church’s Web site, I found this notice for the week of January 8:
Refuge at St. Paul’s
Refuge at St. Paul’sresumes [sic] with a new Season of Clarity this Sunday, January 8 at 6:00 p.m. Come early for the prelude and stay late for a glass of wine. Refuge is a multi-sensory, contemplative, and creative worship service. It is not to be missed. Refuge is a truly unique and moving service.
 So, why was there no service? I have no idea.

I take away three thought from tonight’s disappointing experience:
  1. Why are we even bothering with a service that can only attract seven worshipers at the beginning of a new “season”?
  2. How  do we expect to develop a congregation for a service that is often cancelled for one reason or another and sometimes doesn’t happen for no apparent reason?
  3. Not everyone planning to attend Refuge can be expected to check the church’s Web site, but what does it say about our concern for worshipers when checking the Web site doesn’t even help?
“[T]ruly unique and moving service” indeed!

Update, 1/9/2012, 10:11 AM: In response to an e-mail question, Kris gave this explanation for yesterday’s lack of a Refuge service:
Yes. I am going to put an apology in the weekly email. The heat is out in the church and there is an electrical problem with some of the outlets in the chancel. With those difficulties on top of there being a playoff game we decided it best to cancel.
We announced it at church, called the usual suspects, put it up on facebook, and unfortunately, when we went to send an all parish email found there was an issue with the network and couldn't send one out. We didn't realize this until after church was out. I was going to put signs up but got distracted and left without putting them up. I apologize for forgetting the signs.