Monday, November 25, 2013

Bishop’s Pastoral Letter Issued

The bishop has released his pastoral letter regarding blessing same-sex unions and ordination of persons in committed same-sex relationships. (Both will be allowed.) Details can be found here.

Sad News

I just learned that Heather Roman, wife of Andy Roman, died yesterday in Florida. There will be a service for Heather at St. Paul’s at a time to be determined with the bishop as officiant. I expect that an official announcement from St. Paul’s will soon be forthcoming.

Give rest, O Christ, to your servant with your saints, where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Is Youth Ministry Killing the Church?

That provocative title is not mine, but the title of a 2010 blog post from Kate Murphy that has received a lot of attention lately in the Episcopal blogosphere. The question seems silly, of course, but Murphy makes an interesting case. Given that St. Paul’s has had a long-time commitment to youth ministry, that case should be given consideration. Her point is that strong youth programs tend to isolate youth in their own ghetto, rather than integrating them into the overall life of the church. When they graduate from high school, young people no longer have a connection to the church. Read her essay and see if you don’t agree with the problem she identifies. Is our youth program on the right track?

Saturday, October 5, 2013

On Feeling Needed and Being Yourself at Church

A recent issue of Episcopal Journal, a privately published monthly newspaper that tries to replace the defunct Episcopal Life, carried two essays by Lisa Fox. The essays first appeared on Fox’s blog, My Manner of Life, where they carried the titles “No one needed me there” and “Ministry of denim/ministry of pearls.” In Episcopal Journal, they appeared under the title "On feeling needed and being yourself at church.”

These thoughtful essays make interesting reading for St. Paul’s parishioners. “No one needed me there” argues that we should not only welcome newcomers but should also give them something to do, so that they can get to know others and feel a part of the parish community. “Ministry of denim/ministry of pearls” tells the story of ushering in jeans with a companion usher dressed to the nines. Fox’s message: “If we want to claim to welcome everyone, we need to make that visible.”

Monday, August 26, 2013

Sound System for Dummies

Choir members have been quietly grumbling about the inability to hear what is going on in church. The new sound system has two small speakers in the chancel, but the sound level they produce is clearly inadequate. It is difficult to hear the scripture readings or sermon. Yesterday, I finally decided to say something about the problem, but before I did so, I took a look at the new equipment in the ambulatory. Although there are level controls accessible for sound system inputs (wired and wireless microphones), I could find no output level controls either on the front panel of the system or in back. Instead, there are pushbuttons for soft, medium, and loud sound.

I spoke to Paul Barker about the problem with the level of sound in the chancel, and he said that it was necessary to call in a technician to change the balance of the system. (Making the overall sound louder was clearly not the right solution.) This is ridiculous. Our new sound system seems designed for dummies who cannot be trusted to make even the most minor adjustments to the system. Instead, we have to call in a technician, who,  I assume, we have to pay for.

I was audio-visual coödinator at St. Paul’s for nearly two decades and often thought about what a new sound system should look like. I even served on two committees that solicited bids for a new system. The system we have now is nothing like what I thought we needed or what was bid by the vendors we spoke to.

The new sound system has its virtues, but it also has some serious limitations. That it was designed under the assumptions that we’re all idiots at St. Paul’s is certainly one of its faults.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Heretical Creed

From the viewpoint of one who loves The Episcopal Church, its prayer book, and its liturgy, St. Paul’s’ 8:45 Sunday service has little to recommend it. For a service described as “Family-Friendly,” it does little to inculcate appreciation for our Anglican heritage in young people.

Perhaps the most depressing aspect of the service is the singing of “The South African Creed” in lieu of reciting the Nicene Creed. The words to this song are the following:

I believe, I do believe, truly I believe it,
Truly I believe it, truly I believe it.
I believe, I do believe, truly I believe it,
Truly I believe it, truly I believe it.

I believe in God the Almighty Lord Creator,
Mighty Lord Creator, Mighty Lord Creator.
I believe in God the Almighty Lord Creator,
Mighty Lord Creator, Mighty Lord Creator.

I believe in Jesus the Savior of the people,
Savior of the people, Savior of the people.
I believe in Jesus the Savior of the people,
Savior of the people, Savior of the people.

And I do believe in the Power of the Spirit,
Power of the Spirit, Power of the Spirit.
And I do believe in the Power of the Spirit,
Power of the Spirit, power of the spirit.

As a statement of faith, this formulation is both boring and nearly devoid of content. In four verses, it articulates three concepts. The Nicene Creed offers more content in its first sentence. Even if one harbors reservations about orthodox Christian dogma, we are hardly doing our children a favor by “protecting” them from knowledge of it. All this creed does is acknowledge the Trinity, and that imperfectly.

David Mills, writing for Touchstone, had this to say about the South African creed:
At any rate, the South African creed is certainly sung to a very singable tune and does get the singers to declare their belief in God. It suffers only in being heretical. For though it has a trinitarian form, it does not say anything about the nature of the Trinity itself and the relations of the three Persons. God is Father before he is Creator, and Jesus is Son before he is Savior, and the Holy Spirit is he who proceeds from the Father before he is the giver of power to men.
I recommend reading all of Mills’ essay.

Somehow, the use of “The South African Creed” seems to have become an essential feature of the 8:45 service, a fact that provides an excellent reason to avoid the service and to keep our children away from it as well.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Summer Singers and the Bulletin

The Summer Singers, a group of professional musicians that rehearse at St. Paul’s in the summer, provided an exciting prelude and postlude last Sunday. I heard the group rehearsing “Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho” just before the choir rehearsed in the church. I was impressed, though I couldn’t hear the group as well as I wanted to from my chair behind the singers. I was hoping to hear them better when they sang during the service.

I checked my bulletin to learn when “Joshua” was going to be sung. I could not find the spot in the service order. As it happens, the postlude was left off the bulletin. (It was later pointed out to me that the information I was seeking was mentioned under “Music Notes,” though it should have been listed after the dismissal as well.) Anyway, the more I stared at the order of service, the more confusing it seemed. As it happens, the problem was that the music for the Memorial Acclamation and The Great Amen were simply in the wrong places.

The errors in the bulletin were surprising, since we used Eucharist Prayer A both this week and last, so the only differences between the two bulletins should have involved music. However the problems crept into the August 11 bulletin, here is the offending text (click for larger image):

Panel from August 11 10:45 bulletin

I rushed out to the nave after the dismissal, and was in a good position to hear the very exciting rendition of “Joshua.” The Summer Singers are presenting a concert at St. Paul’s at 7 PM next Sunday (August 18). It should be well worth attending.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

New Doors

New door
New door nearest elevator lobby
(click on image for larger view)
I was excited to read in the weekly electronic newsletter from St. Paul’s that new doors had been installed to the parking lot. I had to stop by on the way home to see how they look.

There are three new doors, each of which is perforated by and flanked by large glass panels. The doors are sturdy and seem to seal particularly well. The expanse of clear glass is a bit disconcerting, but the new doors, qua doors, are quite attractive.

I’m sure parishioners (and certainly our sextons) will appreciate the latest building improvement. I do have three concerns about them, however.

First, there is the color. The doors are brick red, not the scarlet typical of Episcopal churches and the color used on the doors at the front of the church.

Second, I was disappointed that the door nearest the elevator lobby does not sport an electric door opener, a feature I expected and one that would be very helpful to the handicapped or to visitors carrying bulky loads into the church. I don’t know if a door opener is in the works. I hope it is.

Finally, however attractive the new doors may be in the abstract, they appear to be a Bauhausian addition to an English Gothic church. No doubt, we will get used to them. For me, now, however, the doors seem shockingly out of place.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Bye-bye Coke Machine

I was surprised to see Sunday that the Coke machine was gone from the cloakroom off the undercroft. The vending machine had lots of customers several years ago, when St. Paul’s offered after-school snacks and (occasionally) conversation. Apparently, the machine was getting little use of late, however.

 I am not going to lament the loss of the Coke machine, as I used it only once in a blue moon myself, and I don’t recall seeing others using it either.

Of course, the departure of the Coke machine frees up a bit of space in the cloakroom, though it isn’t an area with an obvious use. On Sunday, it was already occupied by a ladder and dolly. Alas, the cloakroom still seems to be thought of more as extra storage space than a welcoming place for members and visitors. (See “Cloakroom.”)

Monday, July 29, 2013

Air Conditioning Side Effects?

My seat in the choir puts me behind the organ console. This limits what I can see of the church. What I can see well are the lamps on or hanging from the ceiling, as well as lamps on the roof trusses.

Yesterday, I noticed something I had never seen before, namely significant swinging of the nave lanterns. Three of the lanterns on the font side of the church exhibited very conspicuous swinging, and two others swung almost imperceptibly. The movement was not constant, however; it came and went. I cannot say that the swinging was synchronized with the cycling of the air conditioning, but I suspect that it might be. Curiously, I saw no such motion on the pulpit side of the church, even though the church (and the air conditioning vents) are symmetrical.

The motion does not seem dangerous, though it is a bit distracting, at least if you’re trapped behind the organ console. Do you suppose the new air conditioning is responsible?

Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church

I don’t usually use a blog post simply to call attention to a story or essay elsewhere, but I’m making an exception here.

Although I can enumerate the things I like to see in a church, I don’t trust my instincts about what others are looking for, particularly what young adults are seeking. A CNN blog post by Rachel Held Evans seems pretty credible, however, and I recommend reading it for whatever lessons it might hold for St. Paul’s.

You can find “Why millennials are leaving the church” here.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Mission Trips

Youth mission trips have become quite popular at St. Paul’s. Many events help fund these trips. No doubt, much good work is done on these trips, and they seems to be much appreciated by the kids who participate.

I have long asked myself, however, if it would not be better to have our youth doing work in the Pittsburgh area. Not only would this help build our own community. It would also be an eye-opener for St. Paul’s youth, who might find that, say, Wilkinsburg is rather different from Mt. Lebanon. Additionally, although a mission trip in Greater Pittsburgh would lack the glamor of a trip out of town, the funds expended on such an enterprise would go a lot further with fewer travel-related expenses to fund.

A Facebook friend posted an article about mission trips that echoes my concerns. it also suggests another advantage of mission projects close to home—such a project can continue beyond a single week in the summer. Here is a sample paragraph from “Rethinking the $3,000 Missions Trip”:
I believe in missions. I also believe in short-term mission trips. Yet the longer I work in the resource-poor inner city, the more frustrated I become with the amount of money God’s people spend on these brief trips. We seem so eager to spend thousands of dollars sending our people overseas for one week without stopping to ask, “Would some of this money be better invested in my own community?”
You can read the whole article here.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Air Conditioning Operational

Tomorrow promises to be hot. It may be an ideal time to test the new air conditioning in the church. The new air handler, which will service the undercroft nearest Washington Road and the nave nearest Washington Road, is in the storage area at the back of the undercroft. The new air conditioner has a greater capacity that the one it is replacing. Below are pictures of the new installation.

The new compressor outside is hardly larger than the old one and sits on the same concrete pad.

The installation in the storage area is impressively neat. The insert
shows the electronic controls not visible in the main photo.

Temperature control panel
This switch controls what area is air conditioned. Of course the “Parish Hall” label should read
“Undercroft” and the “Sanctuary” label should read “Church” or “Nave.”

Equipment visible in undercroft
Servo-controlled dampers have been installed on undercroft registers, so that air flow can be decreased to the
undercroft and increased to the nave. Cosmetic additions will make this look more attractive eventually.

Rear of the Nave
Finished installation at the back of the nave. A new electronic thermostat can be seen at the right above the
literature rack. There is also a new thermostat on the landing at the bottom of the circular stairs.

For tomorrow at least, all three portable air conditioning units will be used. It is not clear whether the one at the back of the nave will be needed. The last few pews in the church may be very cold (or not).

Sunday, June 9, 2013

“Earth and All Stars” Revisited

Last Sunday, we sang “Earth and All Stars” (Hymn #412) at the 10:45 service. Some love this self-conscientiously “modern” hymn that was written for St. Olaf’s College. Others loathe it. I am in the second category. The tune, however, isn’t at all bad. Frustrated that we sing “Earth and All Stars” much too often—at all, in fact—I decided to offer a different text for the tune, keeping at least some of the ideas behind the existing hymn.

I have added my hymn, which I call “Heavens and Earth, All of Creation” to my Web site here. On that page, you can all listen to a rendition of “Earth and All Stars” and find links to my blog posts about that hymn and mine.

Comments on my latest effort at hymn-writing effort would be greatly appreciated.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

More on the Air Conditioning

The framing around the new air conditioning ducts in the church is now complete, though its surface is still unfinished. (See “Surprises at Church.”) I was assured that the installation would be more attractive at this point, and indeed it is. Some, but not all, of the asymmetry has been eliminated. Below is a view from the nave. (Photos were taken tonight. Click on photo for a larger image.)

The picture below give a sense of how big the duct coming up from the undercroft is.

Of course, even if the new installation qualifies as not horribly ugly, one still has to ask if a project that altars the aesthetics of the church while only cooling part of the church is really worth the effort and expense.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Surprises at Church

I attended Saturday Bible Study at St. Paul’s today and found some surprises. Well, the first surprise was really no surprise at all. The late service tomorrow has been postponed from 10:45 to 11:00 because of the visit of Bishop McConnell. So, did we change our sign on the front lawn? Do you have to ask? Below is a picture from this morning of what has become our set-it-and-forget-it sign.

St. Paul’s sign

I did not attend church last Sunday and so did not hear the announcement that we were actually installing air conditioning in the church. This morning, I saw the results of the installation so far.

The first thing I saw was duct work visible in the undercroft. Because I just posted a picture of the newly renovated undercroft, it seems appropriate to begin with this picture. Notice the new duct work at the end of the room covering part of the rightmost air conditioning register in the bulkhead.


Here is a close-up view:

New duct work in the undercroft

Presumably, this will be prettied up some, but the bulkhead will surely be asymmetric in the end.

The duct in the undercroft goes through the floor at the back of the nave.

Duct through nave floor

This is how the back of the nave looks now:

Ducts at the back of the nave

Doing a little checking around, I can report on details of the air conditioning plan, which has not been explained to the congregation and may not be completely clear to everyone on Vestry. (Apparently, the Vestry has been presented with a number of air conditioning plans recently.)

Parishioners may be surprised to know that the new air conditioning being installed will be supplemented by the portable units we have used it the past. One doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to realize that the four registers at the back of the nave cannot cool the entire church, at least as long as the air isn’t being pushed through at supersonic speeds.

I am told that the existing air conditioning at the back of the undercroft is more powerful than is necessary. It will be replaced with new equipment with even greater capacity, a smaller footprint, and greater efficiency. The upgraded equipment will be used to cool both one end of the undercroft and one end of the church.

Why are we implementing this particular air conditioning plan, which will not eliminate our use of portable units and may have other disadvantages? (More on this later.) The simple answer is money. To do the job right apparently would cost about three times the estimate suggested in the capital campaign literature. (I never thought the numbers were credible.) Apparently, however, we said we were going to air condition the church, so our leaders felt it was necessary to do so, even if it had to be done on the cheap.

Frankly, my reaction  to seeing the work being done was one of disbelief and dismay. Let me begin by stating the obvious. The new duct work is very obtrusive and, although it will be enclosed eventually, it will mar the symmetry of the undercroft and greatly alter the back of the nave. My understanding is that a new wall will be built in front of the ducts, but this will require people moving from the narthex to the nave to walk through a kind of tunnel. Furthermore, the balcony will be offset from the new rear wall, which will look odd. (One could take the opportunity to increase the size of the balcony, which would be helpful, particularly for the choir, but that would entail more expense.)

I have never been a fan of the portable air conditioning units, but, though less than ideal, they made summer worship in the church bearable, bordering on comfortable. St. Paul’s is now spending a good deal of money on what is an obviously temporary expedient likely to improve summer cooling only marginally. We will, however, have increased the incentives to sit at the back of the church, rather than at the front.

I believe it would have been wisest to admit that we do not have the money to air condition the church properly and to continue using the portable units until the job can be done right.

If money were no object, I’m not sure what would be the best plan for putting cold air into the building.  Retrofitting a building like St. Paul’s is not at all straightforward. I suspect, however, that one of the best plans might have been to run ducts along the roof trusses, thereby supplying cold air from above. One can offer aesthetic objections to such a plan, but it is commonly used in restaurants and other public buildings and often goes unnoticed.

Church celing
Would ducts above the congregation be too obtrusive?

Update, 5/7/2013: I may have misunderstood just how the ducts in the nave are to be sheathed. The intention may simply be to box in the ducts, rather than create a new wall at the back of the church. (I have not actually seen any plans.) I fear that we could end up with a wall that looks like it is being parasitized by some giant fungus.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Another 1992 Picture

I discovered the photograph below hiding behind the photo I posted earlier today. It is of a principal Sunday service after lighting improvements were made in the church. For many weeks, there was scaffolding in the church, which was a particular burden for the choir. Choir members made jokes about needing miner’s lamps to read their music.

Of course, the new organ was installed only later, so there are no exposed organ pipes visible in the photo, and the choir is still singing from choir stalls running parallel to the long axis of the church. More women seem to be wearing hats than one can see in 2013. (Click on photo for larger image.)

Worship service after lighting improvements

Our Shiny New Undercroft

Going through old photographs today, I ran into the picture below. It was taken just after renovation of the undercroft had been completed, financed by the Building the Vision campaign. I had been documenting the renovation in the building with my Construction Update Bulletin Board. The photo was taken sometime in the spring of 1992. (Click on it for a larger image.)

How many people remember the old undercroft? It was very gloomy, and our shiny new undercroft was in sharp (and welcome) contrast. I find it hard to believe that Building the Vision happened more than twenty years ago.

Lionel in the brand new undercroft

Help Washington National Cathedral Win a $100,000 Grant (at no cost to you)

Partners in Preservation is distributing $1 million in grants to non-profit organizations in and around Washington, D.C., for preservation and restoration. Washington National Cathedral is seeking a $100,000 grant to allow safety netting inside the building to be removed. The netting was erected to protect worshipers from falling debris caused by the 2011 earthquake. You can help the cathedral win its grant by voting on the Web. Details can be found on my other Web site here. You may vote once a day through May 11.

Netting in cathedral nave

Update, 5/15/2013: Washington National Cathedral did win the $100,000 grant. Read the announcement here.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Worship Style

Thinking Anglicans has called attention to a blog post by David Murrow. The title of the post is “Why traditional churches should stick with traditional worship.” Murrow is an Alaskan who usually worships in an Anchorage megachurch. He claims to like his church, though he offers some criticisms of megachurches generally.

Murrow’s essay is about a church offering traditional worship in his hometown of Chugiak. (For some reason, Murrow doesn’t identify the church, though I suspect it is Lutheran. He calls it St. Mark’s.) Here is his description of a typical service at the Chugiak church:
We’ve been enjoying our Sundays at St. Mark’s. The richness and rigor of the liturgy is refreshing after years of seeker-sensitive services. It’s an eight-course meal, carefully measured out for us by church fathers—confession, forgiveness, praise, instruction, communion, giving, fellowship and benediction. It’s like a spiritual multivitamin in an easy-to-swallow, hour-long pill.
Once a month, however, St. Mark’s conducts a “contemporary” service. Lacking the appropriate resources, however, it does not do it well. This is what Murrow has to say about the service:
People come to church to encounter God. A good worship service is transcendent; it helps people detach from this present world to connect with the divine. But when traditional churches try to be contemporary it usually comes across as forced, stilted or artificial. This dissonance jerks people back into the mundane world. Worshippers focus on the distraction instead of the Lord.
Murrow urges churches offering traditional services to continue doing traditional services well. He concludes his essay saying, “I firmly believe there’s still a market for traditional worship—even among the young—if it’s done in Spirit and in Truth.”

There is a message for St. Paul’s here. When I first came to St. Paul’s, our identity was very much tied to excellence in worship. In recent years, however, our traditional worship has deteriorated in many small ways, and we have flirted with more “hip” worship. As we try to be all things to all people, our identity becomes confused, and true excellence is worship becomes increasingly difficult to identify.

Read Murrow’s essay, and see what you think.

Friday, April 19, 2013

A Video on Church Architecture

Clearly, the current 8:45 service and the now retired Refuge service represent attempts to make worship more meaningful to modern Americans. Even the Saturday evening service might be said to have such an objective. I personally find none of these services attractive for regular worship. Some agree with this view; others do not. If there is a way to attract crowds of new worshipers to services at St. Paul’s, we have not found it.

I will be the first to admit that I do not know how to make worship at St. Paul’s  more “relevant” to people who do not regularly attend existing services. What moves me does not necessarily move others. Whereas I do not believe that every American Christian should be an Episcopalian, I do think there are more people out there than we sometimes realize who could happily join our church given the right circumstances.

What has me thinking about this is a video I found on Bosco Peters’ blog. Bosco is a priest in Christchurch, New Zealand, where the diocese is considering how it should rebuild its cathedral, which was largely destroyed by an earthquake two years ago. The video, which appears below, is narrated by Richard Giles, the former dean of Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral. That church made extensive architectural changes that facilitated liturgical changes. St. Paul’s, of course, has also made changes to its building, namely by modifying the chancel and building a platform extending to the crossing to accommodate a freestanding altar.

Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral made more significant architectural changes. I don’t mean to be endorsing such changes necessarily, but the video is thought-provoking. See if you don’t agree.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

2013 Easter Vigil

As many of my friends know, the Great Vigil of Easter is my favorite church service. It is, of course, the highlight of the church year. The resurrection is clearly the most important event celebrated by the Christian church. Significantly, The Episcopal Church has no special Easter Sunday liturgy, but there is a unique liturgy for the first Eucharist of Easter, which is celebrated at the Easter Vigil.

I first attended an Easter Vigil at St. Paul’s, and I was very impressed. (See “An Easter Vigil Memoir.”) As a long-time member of the Worship Commission and Audio-Visual Coördinator, I became the keeper of the corporate memory of how we orchestrated the service. Over the years, I felt that we had gradually made a fine service even better, nearly perfect even. The only Vigil I have ever attended that came close to rivaling the St. Paul’s service in its heyday was that of Washington National Cathedral, and that only because it is exciting to be walking from one venue to another in a huge, dark building.

Under Lou Hays, services generally, and the Easter Vigil particularly, were simplified. I resigned as Audio-Viosual Coördinator, as it was clear that the new rector had little that he wanted me to do. I was so disappointed in the first Vigil after he arrived—I was in tears at its conclusion—that I began attending Vigils elsewhere in the diocese. (Several local Episcopal churches do a good job with the resources available to them. I particularly recommend the Vigil at Church of the Redeemer, in Squirrel Hill.) This year, I decided to have another look at what St. Paul’s was doing.

In all honesty, I have to say that St. Paul’s put on a perfectly adequate service this year, but it cannot compare to the glory of the past. Let me explain.

Scheduling and advertising for the Vigil could have been improved. The banner in front of the church read “Holy Saturday: 7:30 p.m. The Great Vigil of Easter.” The Vigil is not technically a Holy Saturday service, though it might be said to be an Easter Eve service. (Compare this with Christmas Eve services.) The prayer book (p. 284) describes the Vigil as “the first service of Easter Day.” (Recall that the Jewish day begins at sundown.) The prayer book liturgy for Holy Saturday takes up about half a page and begins with the rubric “There is no celebration of the Eucharist on this day” (p. 283). Moreover, the instructions for the Vigil (p. 284 again), declare that the service is to be “celebrated at a convenient time between sunset on Holy Saturday and Sunrise on Easter Morning.” Sunset on Easter Eve in Pittsburgh this year was at 7:43 PM EDT. The St. Paul’s service began 13 minutes too early. (The Vigil at St. Thomas, Oakmont, was also scheduled for 7:30, but services at Calvary and Redeemer began at 8:00 PM.)

Lawn sign
Lawn Sign. (Click for larger image.)
Starting time for the service actually matters. At 7:30, the church interior was reasonably dark, but the first fire of Easter was lit outside the front doors of the church, an action that would have been more dramatic had it been dark outside. (Redeemer actually lights a bonfire outside the church; worshipers light their candles and then go inside. It is striking in the dark.) I am actually pleased that the lighting of the fire and the candles of worshipers now takes place outside St. Paul’s, but much of the drama is lost by doing it in broad daylight.

Another change I noted immediately was the lack of pew candles. Not only do the pew candles enhance the atmosphere of the church, but they actually provide useful illumination. (More on this presently.) Over the years, we had devised a procedure for lighting the pew candles so that the candlelight began at the back of the nave and slowly moved forward with the Pascal Candle. It was an impressive sight. What was done last night was that the Pascal Candle was carried up the center aisle as choir members moved in parallel up the side aisles. Worshipers followed. It was not ineffective.

Doug had warned the choir that we would be singing by candlelight. That was adequate in the chancel. I cannot say what visibility of the service booklet was in the nave. (The service booklet was a good innovation, by the way, though I don’t know why we did not use color on the cover, as we regularly do for the 8:45 service.)  Because the track lights in the side aisles were on low and people in the pews did have their candles, I suspect that most people could read the booklet adequately, though pew candles would have helped. I was surprised, when it came time to sing the first hymn. Rich Creehan increased the lighting suddenly. (If that was to be done at all, a delay should have been used.) Clearly, he and Doug were not on the same page. When it happened, I uttered an epithet that, mercifully, I do not remember. The chancel was unnecessarily bright; the choir could easily have sung by candlelight. The nave lighting was also increased, but, as best as I could tell, not so dramatically. The lighting change was jarring and gratuitous, rather than helpful. It was something we had carefully avoided in the past.

Over the years, I had always argued for as many Old Testament readings at the Vigil as possible. More readings make the story of God’s dealings with his people more complete and compelling. There are nine readings; at least two are mandatory. In past years, we have used as many as five. This year, we used three, the number we have used most often. Moreover, we seem to have used the same ones almost every year, so that parishioners never hear many of the OT passages. (Israel’s deliverance at the Red Sea is a required reading, and we inevitably seem to read the story of Creation and the valley of dry bones. I always feel sorry for the Egyptian chariot drivers, by the way.)

The greatest loss the service at St. Paul’s has suffered comes at the end of the OT readings. In years past, after the collect following the final OT reading, the church was made as dark as possible. The Altar Guild brought candles, kneelers, and other liturgical furnishings that had been removed on Maundy Thursday back into the church and, at the same time, removed black veils from the Easter flowers. No longer are the veils used, however, and the candles, etc., were in the church at the beginning of last night’s service. Formerly, while the Altar Guild worked in the darkness virtually unseen, the clergy, who had been clad in black cassocks, went downstairs, changed into the vestments they would normally wear for a Eucharist, and returned to the church via the undercroft and narthex. (Last night, there was no need to change, since all the clergy were already vested for a Eucharist.) What used to come next was a dramatic addition to the liturgy. This is how it is described in my notes:
From the narthex, someone knocks loudly at the door.
Inside, someone asks: “Whom do you seek?”
From the narthex: “Jesus of Nazareth.”
Inside: “He is not here. Alleluia. Christ is risen.”
Congregation: “The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.”
At this point, the lights are instantly raised to their full intensity and music, including trumpets, is heard. We may want to encourage worshipers to bring their own bells The Gloria follows an organ and brass fanfare. As the fanfare is played, a second procession comes up the center aisle with clergy fully vested.
Agape Feast
Agape Feast. (Click for larger image.)
Of this, only the fanfare has survived, and people have indeed been invited to bring their own bells. Last night’s bulletin mistakenly listed a Johann Christoph Pezel fanfare. In the past, I think Doug has used his own fanfare for organ and brass, and it has been marvelous. What was used last night, however, was Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man.” This was wrong on two fronts. First, we are supposed to be celebrating Jesus’ resurrection, not the “common man.” Perhaps more importantly, however, music, particularly instrumental music, is generally used liturgically to cover movement. Lacking the second procession, there was no movement to cover, and everyone was left standing simply waiting for the fanfare to end.

There is not much more to be said about the service, as what followed was simply your basic Eucharist with Renewal of Baptismal Vows. (I’m always disappointed when there are no baptisms at the Easter Vigil, but one can do only so much about that. I know that Lou asked if anyone wanted someone baptized at the service.) It is perhaps worth noting that the stage directions Lou insists on giving were more irritating than usual, at least for people used to the 10:45 service, since the service bulletin made crystal clear the sequence of events in the liturgy.

Of course, the service was followed by our usual Agape Feast in the undercroft, and I think it fair to say that it was a very pleasant affair with food and drink both pleasing and adequate.

Epilogue. A number of years ago, our interim—now deceased—Michael Randolph, delivered John Chrysostom’s Easter sermon (from about 400 CE) at the Easter Vigil. That sermon is joyful and mercifully brief, and Michael, who was really an actor at heart, delivered it with panache. For several years, I tried to convince whoever was preaching at the Vigil to use that sermon, but I was never successful. Michelle Boomgaard gave a sermon that was good enough, but that of the fourth-century Archbishop of Constantinople is hard to beat. Read it for yourself and see if you don’t agree.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Sexuality Dialogue

Bishop McConnell is sponsoring a structured dialogue on sexuality in which, it is hoped, 500 or more Pittsburgh Episcopalians eventually will participate. The first two sessions, which are something of a trial run, involve invited participants, but everyone will have an opportunity to sign up later. On Lionel Deimel’s Web Log, I have described my experience in the initial dialogue. If you’re interested in the conversation, you can read my post here.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Why Chant?

Today’s 10:45 service was a musical mixed bag. Among other things, the choir sang Herbert Howells supremely beautiful “O Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem.” There were other musical highlights as well. Also, there was Michelle Boomgaard’s chanting at the beginning of the Eucharist.

The Rev. Michelle Boomgaard
It is thoroughly inadequate to say that Michelle’s nervous chanting was bad. It was, in fact, excruciating. It was not only inadequate, but also distracting. It took one’s attention away from the text of the liturgy and surely caused many to think, “When is this agony going to be over?”

Now, I like Michelle. I like her the more I know her, in fact. Moreover, I understand that she practiced diligently for today’s assignment. She was not, however, ready for prime time. Why was she allowed to chant today? Her performance was particularly distressing in comparison with Lou’s chanting, which, as I recently noted, is quite good. That you don’t chant well doesn’t mean you aren’t a good priest or that you shouldn’t be one in the first place. Why was Michelle allowed to embarrass herself?

Why, in fact, do we chant at all at St. Paul’s? I have heard that chanting was developed because it allowed for greater intelligibility in large spaces without the benefit of sound systems. We chant now out of some sense of tradition, I suspect, but we don’t do it regularly. We don’t chant the whole service. If we are going to chant at all, why do it half way? But we are chanting in Lent. Are we doing so because this is a penitential season? If we were less sinful, could we dispense with Michelle’s chanting? Do any parishioners even like chanting, even if well done? I doubt it.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Good News/Bad News on the First Sunday in Lent

First, the good news. As usual, the 10:45 service began with the Great Litany. (This led me to do some research, which I report on my main blog in the post “Persons of the Trinity.” But I digress.) Lou and Annette Tierney alternated in chanting the part of the celebrant in the long Litany, and they each did a very good job. Lou definitely chants better than most priests I’ve known.

The postlude was performed by Bill Owens on trumpet, Curtis Starr on trombone, Tommy Starr on timpani, and Doug Starr on the organ. It was a quite wonderful arrangement by Doug of Copland’s well-known “Fanfare for the Common Man.” It helped that our organ has some magnificent trumpet stops. What was particularly remarkable was the fact that I did not see one person leave after the dismissal. Everyone stayed to listen to the postlude, and they clapped enthusiastically when it was over.

Bill, Curt, Tommy, Doug, and Bryan Sable played at a Friends of Music concert at 3 o’clock. It was surely an unusual all-instrumental concert. They again performed “Fanfare for the Common Man,” as well as some Copeland songs, less the actual singing. Much of the program was devoted to early music, however. The audience was small, but appreciative.

Now, the bad news. The 10:45 service began with a problem. We had only one acolyte, and we were doing the most complicated procession we ever do. (Informally, the path taken by the choir as we sing the Great Litany is referred to as “the pretzel.”) The procession down the (liturgical) north aisle was led by a crucifer, but Annette, in the south aisle, was on her own. The choir improvised nicely, and I’m sure most worshipers were unaware that anything was amiss. By the time we were a few minutes into the service, another two acolytes had materialized from somewhere. I long for the days when St. Paul’s reliably had seven acolytes at each principal Sunday service. We are enlisting ever younger acolytes, but we cannot seem to get them to show up.

The choir sang two anthems—well, I think, but I may not be objective. One of the anthems, Farrant’s “Call to remembrance,” a favorite of mine, was sung just after we had sung the Angus Dei. At this point, the Chinese fire drill began. We had been told to abandon our sections and take up positions in which choir members singing different parts would be mixed up. We didn’t quite execute this as planned, and I fear the effect was chaotic. Then there was confusion about when we should be taking communion ourselves, and more chaos ensued. Doug began playing the communion hymn before most of us had returned to our places. I hope worshipers were concentrating on their own trip to the communion rail and not watching the choir, whose comings and goings were not a pretty sight.

Finally, there was this afternoon’s concert. The concert itself was fine, actually, but the church was inordinately cold. The church had been comfortable in the morning, though the choir room registered 52°F when I showed up for rehearsal at 9:30. (I had nearly frozen to death in Bible study in the lounge Saturday morning, when that room was also in the 50s.) Anyway, I had meant to put on my sport coat before I left the house, but I only grabbed my parka, which I left in the cloakroom downstairs when I returned to the church for the concert. It was a cold concert indeed, and I was jealous of concertgoers wearing sweaters or coats. On cold days, why can’t we heat the building enough so that it is only mildly chilly?


Saturday, February 2, 2013


I was  at the church this morning for Saturday Bible Study. There was not yet any sign of an Annual Report or brochure about Vestry candidates. As I was leaving, however, I noticed a listing of current Vestry members and the commissions to which they are assigned. I was surprised that the number of commissions is reduced from what it once was, and two Vestry members are assigned to a number of commissions. The current commissions are as follows (number of Vestry members assigned are shown in parentheses):
  • Children & Youth (2)
  • Fellowship (2)
  • Outreach (1)
  • Stewardship (2)
  • Welcoming (1)
  • Worship (1)
By contrast, here is the commission list from the 2003 Annual Report:
  • Children and Youth Ministries (1)
  • Communications (1)
  • Fellowship (1)
  • Outreach (1)
  • Pastoral (1)
  • Spiritual Growth (1)
  • Stewardship (1)
  • Worship (1)

Some Observations

 Currently, 9 Vestry members are assigned to commissions; in 2003, only 8 were. Both then and now, of course, the property has been the primary responsibility of the junior warden. Other roles that need to be filled are those of senior warden, treasurer, and secretary. The treasurer, secretary, and junior warden may be, but need not be among the 12 lay Vestry members, which I assume accounts for the 8 versus 9 commission members in 2003 versus 2012.

What I find especially interesting is the disappearance of the Pastoral and Spiritual Growth commissions. I assume that clergy have taken over these responsibilities and operate largely without Vestry oversight. One conspicuous result of this is that Adult Forum seldom hosts outside speakers, and the topics covered are more circumscribed than formerly.

The disappearance of the Communications commission is unsurprising. It was actually short-lived. The need for it is no less pressing than in 2003, but the commission was problematic, since it attempted to oversee and influence paid staff members. (Maybe there is an insight to be had about the Pastoral and Spiritual Growth commissions here as well.)

It is, no doubt, a good idea to have two Vestry people assigned to Stewardship. The job of the Stewardship commission is important, difficult, and—dare I say it—unpopular.

On the other hand, I am perplexed by the assignment of two Vestry members to the Fellowship commission and one to the Welcoming commission. Do we really need three people devoted to hospitality? Of course, people on Fellowship are subject to burnout, as parishioners seem to think that their job is to run events personally, not simply organize them.

It isn’t clear just how many non-Vestry people are involved with commissions. At one time, at least a handful of people were on each commissions, and the commissions met on the same night once a month. That doesn’t seem to be the case any more. That’s a pity, since the commissions provide a means to involve more people in running the church and to lighten the load of Vestry members.

One commission whose demise is to be lamented is the Property commission. In recent years, the junior warden seems to have acted largely alone, but it would be helpful if a small representative group of parishioners provided  regular advice to the junior warden. I have written about what I think is needed here—my suggestions go somewhat beyond a Property commission as it has been constituted in the past—and I commend to you what I wrote on the subject about two years ago. (See “Managing Change in a House of Worship.”)

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Vestry Candidates

Vestry candidates? What Vestry candidates? This week’s e-mail newsletter from St. Paul’s includes the following:
2013 Vestry Candidate Forum and Budget Presentation
Please join us this Sunday, February 3 at 9:40 a.m. to meet the Vestry candidates for 2013, and to hear a presentation on the 2013 budget. There will also be an opportunity to meet the candidates after the 10:45 Service.
Not so many years ago, advertising for Vestry candidates began at least by December. Candidate names were announced weeks before the Annual Meeting, and parishioners were provided with a brochure containing names, photos, and biographies to study. At times, we have held a candidate forum at which candidates spoke in support of their candidacy and answered questions from parishioners. This year’s “Vestry Candidate Forum and Budget Presentation” is clearly going to be rather perfunctory. A truly adequate discussion of the budget alone would likely take up considerably more than the allotted hour. Note that we are told only that we will have an opportunity “to meet the Vestry candidates for 2013,” not hear them or quiz them.

Why has the schedule slipped so much? The Annual meeting is on February 10, and parishioners have no idea who the candidates are. Very likely, there are only four candidates for four positions, so I suppose it really doesn’t matter, but it certainly doesn’t appear that our church leaders are taking the process of electing what amounts to St. Paul’s’ board of directors very seriously.

As I am writing this, it is Thursday. The announced event is on Sunday. Is there a reason the names of the candidates were not announced in today’s newsletter? Do we actually have four candidates yet? Will we by Sunday?

Monday, January 28, 2013

Week of Prayer for Christian Diversity

An Anglican priest in Christchurch, New Zealand, has declared January 27, 2013 – February 3, 2013, to be the Week of Prayer for Christian Diversity. This does the well-established Week of Prayer for Christian Unity one better. See details on my blog, Lionel Deimel’s Web Log.

I believe in Christian diversity logo

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Stage Directions Again

I have complained more than once about the stage directions to which worshipers at St. Paul’s are subjected  at every service. Lou tells us that we should stand and sing a particular hymn or continue reading at the bottom of a page to which everyone’s prayer book is already turned.

These instructions are intended to be helpful and “welcoming.” They are, in fact, annoying, insulting, and distracting. I don’t intend to give a complete defense of this view here, but only to point out how inconsistent the rector’s practice is.

We invariably announce the numbers of the hymns we are about to sing, even though those numbers are shown in proper sequence in the bulletin. Even someone from a different denomination (or no denomination at all) can probably figure out where to find, say, “Processional Hymn 255,” and at what point in the service it is to be sung. If he or she cannot, saying “we will now sing Hymn number 255” is unlikely to help.

What are never announced are the Gloria, the Sanctus, the Memorial Acclamation, and the Great Amen. The first two are in the beginning of the hymnal. An Episcopalian—one coming from a church that actually uses the prayer book rather than PowerPoint slides or a bulletin containing the complete service, anyway—would have no trouble finding them, but a visitor might. (A conscientious visitor would read the explanation under “Worship Materials” in the bulletin and would indeed find these pieces of service music.) The Memorial Acclamation and Great Amen are in the bulletin, of course, but this service music is unique to St. Paul’s and might trip up even an Episcopalian visitor.

This is not an argument for announcing more music, but for announcing none of it. Such announcements interrupt the continuity of the service to no good purpose. Moreover, we announce what needs no announcing and say nothing of the music most likely to trip up a visitor. How sensible is that?


It was cold this morning when I left for church. When I arrived, I took off my parka and placed it on a hanger in the cloakroom off the undercroft. The cloakroom is a truly unwelcoming place. The overhead light was switched off, the shelf, which should be available for hats, books, or packages that people may have brought with them, was largely being used for storage space. Even much of the area below the coat rack was taken up with a miscellaneous collection of stuff that, apparently, no one could find a better place for.

The state of our cloakroom is usually, as it was today, a disgrace. Can we not do a better job of providing a convenient and pleasant place for visitors to hang their coats and park their hats and other belongings?

St. Paul’s Cloakroom this morning
(Sorry for the poor quality of the picture.
My cellphone camera doesn’t have flash.)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Philip Wainwright to Speak on Conservatives in The Episcopal Church

The Rev. Dr. Philip Wainwright
The Rev. Dr. Philip Wainwright
Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh, an organization as important as Calvary Church in resisting the program of our former bishop, Bob Duncan, and helping put the diocese back together after the schism of 2008, is refocusing its energies. In the new, friendlier environment we have under Bishop Dorsey McConnell, PEP will strive to increase understanding and tolerance among Pittsburgh Episcopalians holding diverse viewpoints, while advocating for justice and inclusion in our diocese and region. Inviting speakers to PEP events will be a major part of this initiative.

On February 11, 2013, at Calvary Church, the Rev. Dr. Philip Wainwright, a retired but very active priest working at St. Andrew’s, Highland Park, and the University of Pittsburgh, will give a talk at a PEP meeting. (Don’t expect much business at the meeting, by the way; the Rev. Dr. Wainwright is the main event.) The topic for the evening is “Flavors and Tenets of Episcopal Church Conservatives.” Here is a description of the talk:
Progressive Episcopalians easily fall into the habit of thinking of their conservative brothers and sisters as a single, coherent group. Conservatives, however, are more discriminating, making distinctions among themselves. If progressives want to conduct meaningful dialogue with church conservatives, it will be useful to understand both the differences and commonalities among them. The Rev. Dr. Philip Wainwright, a self-described conservative, will help his listeners distinguish one conservative group from another.
Our speaker has a reputation as an excellent lecturer, and I urge anyone who is concerned about the need to build community—bridges, as our bishop suggested at his consecration—in this diocese to join us for his talk.

Additional information about the February 11 event can be found in this flyer. Please make others aware of of the Rev. Dr. Wainwright’s talk and plan to join us at the next PEP meeting.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Scheduling Baptisms

Readers may be interesting in the post on my other blog titled “Days for Baptisms.” I have complained in the past about our conducting baptisms at just any service, rather than saving them for the special occasions listed the prayer book. In “Days for Baptisms,” I offer a perhaps unusual reason for adhering to the prayer book suggestions.

That said, my own poll of priests I know, both in the U.S. and elsewhere, suggests that, in practice, the convenience of the family tends to trump the prayer book suggestions. Thus, although I would like to see St. Paul’s restrict baptism dates more than it does, our church is in good company.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

St. Paul’s Handbells in the News

Today’s Post-Gazette carried a story titled “Hand bell ensembles get ringing endorsement from members.” Although the article is not primarily about St. Paul’s, our handbell choir is mentioned, and Bryan Sable, its conductor, is quoted.

You can read the story by Margaret Smykla here. The picture below, by the way, is from that article. It shows the Bonnie Ross Ringers from Greensburg First United Methodist Church. (The photo is by Bob Garris.)