Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Lessons & Music

Service booklet cover from King’s College
The 10:45 service on the First Sunday after Christmas was described as “Lessons & Music,” which has become our usual label for a version of “A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols,” the service made famous by King’s College Cambridge. The King’s College service is always held on Christmas Eve. Because I had listened to the service on the radio and had experienced a version of it at Christ Church, Indiana, that same evening, I was more attentive than usual to details of the service that St. Paul’s does the Sunday after Christmas. That service is largely the responsibility of the music department, and choir members read all but the final lesson, which is read by the rector. (At King’s College, the final lesson is read by the provost, who, as best I can tell, is the analogue of an American college president.)

Doug always distributes the readings to choir members, but it seems that every year there is some confusion about what readers say before and after their passage of scripture. I had been assigned the first reading, so I couldn’t simply rely on doing whatever the previous reader did, so I decided that we couldn’t go wrong by following King’s College. As you can see from the service bulletin (see link above), each passage is described briefly, and the lesson is concluded with “Thanks be to God.”

I prepared a handout with all the lesson descriptions and the instruction about how the readings should be concluded. When I saw the St. Paul’s bulletin, however, I discovered that (1) we were only reading six lessons, and (2) the bulletin included descriptions of the passages. Our descriptions differed from those I had compiled, but they were serviceable, so I told readers to preface their readings with the descriptions from the bulletin. This worked out fine.

I suppose that, in previous years, I concentrated on what the choir had to sing and somehow missed the fact that we read fewer than nine lessons. I was aware of a fundamental problem with the service, however. It is not a communion service, and, if done at a time when people would normally expect communion—on Christmas Eve or on a Sunday morning—this is something of a problem, however beautiful the service is. Some years ago, we just did our version of the King’s College service, and I felt ambivalent because of the lack of communion. Now, apparently, we shorten the special service and tack on communion at the end. In fact, on Sunday, the service ended earlier than usual.

So what have we cut from the English model? St. Paul’s dropped the reading from Isaiah 11 (no rod out of the stem of Jesse), the second lesson from Luke 2 (no shepherds), and the lesson from Matthew 2 (no wise men, either). You can decide for yourself how essential these readings are.

I have always wondered, by the way, why we insist on calling the service “Lessons & Music,” rather than “Lessons & Carols.” Arguably, all the music paired with the lessons are carols. (Well, I suppose the duet from Vivaldi’s “Gloria” is not actually a carol, but that’s only one ringer.)

Anyway, the service largely went smoothly, although I did have a slight problem. I had misplaced the copy of the lesson (Genesis 3:8–15, 17–19) that Doug had given me at our last rehearsal. When I asked Doug on Sunday morning if I could have another copy, he said he didn’t have one and suggested that I could simply read from a Bible. Happily, I had a backup plan. I had taken my tablet to church and was prepared to read the lesson from my copy of the NRSV on the device. This worked well—almost. In walking to the pulpit, I did not keep my tablet upright, and, when I placed it on the lectern, the device had rotated the text from portrait to landscape orientation. (I had not thought to  lock the display.) I read the introduction to my lesson and turned the tablet 90 degrees. Unfortunately, it seemed to take forever to redraw the screen in portrait mode. I’m sure everyone was wondering why I had inserted such a long pause. I hope I made up for any discomfort I caused by reading the passage reasonably well.

You may have noticed that we did not read Genesis: 3:16. This verse was not omitted by King’s College, although I did do a double take when I heard it on the radio. When I saw that it was not part of the first lesson, I knew immediately why. Here it is from the NRSV:
To the woman he said,
   “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing;
      in pain you shall bring forth children,
   yet your desire shall be for your husband,
      and he shall rule over you.”
The verse is a feminist’s nightmare, but its omission is almost as problematic as its inclusion. Beginning in verse 14, God addresses the serpent after the forbidden fruit is eaten. God addresses the woman in verse 16. God address the man beginning in verse 17. By omitting verse 16, it seems that God is ignoring Eve, who is, after all, an important player in this little drama. God’s ignoring Eve hardly advances the cause of gender equality.

The choir readers were on board with how the lessons were to be read. No one spoke to Lou, however. I assumed I was not going to convince him to do what everyone else was doing unless it suited him. We hoped that he would observe what we did and choose to read the final lesson in like manner. That didn’t happen. He cited the passage and ignored its description. He ended with “The Word of the Lord,” to which the congregation duly responded with “Thanks be to God.” Sigh.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Do We Welcome LGBTQ People?

The image below shows both sides of a cardstock handout from Integrity Pittsburgh that I was given at last month’s diocesan convention. (Sorry about the crease. I had to fold the card to put it into my pocket.)

I am told that the Integrity chapter contacted every church in the diocese to ask if the church wanted to be listed on the card. Why is St. Paul’s, Mt. Lebanon, not listed. If we are such a welcoming church, shouldn’t we stand with Calvary, Redeemer, St. Brendan’s and other diocesan churches? Perhaps this is a question you should ask our leaders.

Click on the image for a larger view.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Sign Messages

As I mentioned in my last post, I noted that our new electronic sign displays multiple messages. As of yesterday, all the messages were generic, however, as opposed to referring to special events. One of the advantages of our sign is that it can be easily changed. Difficulty of use, after all, was at least one factor that resulted in our manual sign’s having fallen into disuse. The big question now is whether changing our new sign will be seen as too much trouble. After all, we are now showing the name of the church, our (questionable) tag line, our worship schedule, and a notice about church school.

What led me to thinking about the use of our sign was the incorporation of a performance of J.S. Bach’s Cantata #28 into yesterday’s 10:45 service. The music was glorious. (Disclosure: I was one of the singers.) In general, Bach cantatas, despite being a treasure trove of marvelous church music, are seldom heard. There is reason to believe that more publicity, including notice on our new electronic sign, might have brought visitors into the church. Why didn’t we post a message on the sign like the one below?

Bach Cantata #28
at 10:45 AM Service
Sun., Nov. 16

We missed an opportunity. How many more such opportunities will we miss?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

New Sign

By now, most parishioners will have seem our redesigned sign outside the main entrance of the church. The old-fashioned black interior with moveable white letters has been replaced by an electronic sign with bright—very bright, as it turns out—yellow lettering. The custom frame has been reworked to accommodate the electronic insert and has in other was been spiffed up. Take a look; the redesign has been very nicely done.

There are a few problems with the sign. One is that it is virtually invisible to cars traveling south on Washington Road, as a large equipment box for the traffic signal is in the perfect place to hide the sign. This is not a surprise; we know about the problem going in, but Mt. Lebanon insisted on keeping our sign in the same location. At some point, we might be able to get the equipment box moved (across the street, say), but doing so would be expensive.

I don’t know all the capabilities of the display, but I suspect that we can adjust the size of the letters, as well as their thickness. At the moment, we are using big fat letters that not only restrict how much text can be displayed but also, curiously, are hard to read. One hopes that, with experience, we will get smarter about this.

An advantage of an electronic sign, of course, is that the message can be constantly changing, a capability we are already using. One of the messages is “St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.” Someone remarked, however, that when this message is not being displayed, there is nothing identifying the church at all. Perhaps, the same message could be displayed in small letters at the top of every message; or perhaps not.

Alas, my worst fear (and that of many parishioners) has been realized. Our boast about being a welcoming church has made its way to our newest advertising medium. I have complained more than once about the tag line “The most welcoming congregation in the South Hills for all generations.” (See, for example, “Our ‘Welcoming’ Congregation.”) It seems to show up everywhere. Here it is, for example, posted next to the elevator:

Poster near elevator

On our new sign, our slogan has been abbreviated:

Message on new sign

Our arrogance has grown. We now not only insult every church in the South Hills; we slander every church in the world! I am assured that the rector is responsible for the messages on the sign. He should be ashamed. This message is an ecumenical disaster, and it should be deleted, never to be seen again.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Inequality for All

Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh believes that our commitment to Jesus’ message should cause us to be concerned about the growing income inequality in America. To encourage Episcopalians to recognize this problem, PEP is hosting a free screening of the award-winning Robert Reich documentary Inequality for All on November  14. Details can be found on my other blog here.

Monday, September 29, 2014


Readers from St. Paul’s may have heard or sung some of the hymns I’ve written.  For the benefit of those who like my hymns (or might like them—I hope there are such people), I have listed all my serious hymn compositions on my other blog. You can read the post about my hymns and see the list of them with links to words, music, and annotations here.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Zombie Threat

I have taken to reading Vestry minutes from St. Paul’s. Minutes for the past few meetings are posted on the bulletin board outside the church office, which assures that few parishioners will ever read them.

One item from the June minutes caught my eye. Under the label “Other Reminders” in the Senior Warden’s Report, we find this:
  1. We need owners for the Vestry Retreat Action Items
    1. Consider modifying our current services to incorporate some of the elements of Refuge.
Regular readers know that I was never a fan of Refuge, and I’ve written numerous posts about the service. (See, for example, my essays on the first and last Refuge services.) In reviewing my many comments about Refuge, I was struck by the fact that, over two years, Refuge never really got better and never developed a substantial constituency. It certainly never became the region-wide destination of which its backers dreamed.

In 2012, in my post on the last Refuge service, I wrote, with a certain sense of relief,
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.)
Well, the failed (and ill-considered) experiment that was Refuge is not resuming. However, the senior warden’s report for June suggests that there is a threat that, zombie-like, Refuge (or “elements” of it) may return to infect other St. Paul’s services.

What is this all about, and who is its champion?  Why is the issue being raised now? Which of our “current services” is vulnerable to the Refuge zombie?

The rector is responsible for Vestry retreats, and the senior warden is his right-hand man. Moreover, Lou was champion of Refuge and is responsible for the liturgical abomination that is the 8:45 service, so it is a fair guess that Lou is animating the zombie.

Because the venue for the service changes and because its two venues are very different, I suspect that the Saturday service is safe. The 8 o’clock service is a bare-bones, time-limited affair with a congregation not looking for innovation. Surely it is immune to the depredations of the zombie. That leaves the two principal Sunday services as zombie targets.

The 8:45 service already resembles Refuge in some respects, such as in its use of a full service booklet and its commitment to non-traditional music. This service, too, is under severe time constraints, so that, other than adding decoration and turning down the lights to make it harder to see, it is unclear what Refuge elements could be added. (On the other hand, could the service really be made worse?)

That leaves the 10:45 service naked of zombie immunity. As the final Sunday service, it could run longer without serious difficulty, and it is the service least changed by the arrival of Lou at St. Paul’s. (Lou has altered the time of the service, eliminated lighting changes, introduced unnecessary stage directions, and varied the presentation hymn, but the service remains a prototypically Episcopalian.) What elements of Refuge could be incorporated into it? We could, I suppose, print the full service in the bulletin, thereby assuring that hardly anyone at St. Paul’s uses or learns the prayer book. We could change the music. (This is the scariest prospect.) Given the number of worshipers, I think it unlikely that we could change our method of distributing communion elements or encourage people to wander around trying to make sense of inscrutable displays of unlikely objects. Might we place candles everywhere? Is anyone thinking of projecting images during the service? Heaven forbid!

I don’t really know what might be proposed at the Vestry retreat, but I hope that the Refuge zombie can be put out of its misery. The best advice I can give Vestry members to dispatch the zombie comes from Max Brooks’ The Zombie Survival Guide: “The brain must be obliterated, by any means possible.” Good luck with that.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Ultreya this Saturday

Pittsburgh Episcopal Cursillo will be holding an Ultreya this Saturday, September 20. I know that there are a number of Cursillistas at St. Paul’s, though I don’t have a list of who they are. I hope that some will be able to attend.

The Ultreya will be at St. Michael’s of the Valley, Ligonier, at 3 PM. Bring a friend.

Details can be found on this flyer.

Note that Pittsburgh Episcopal Cursillo has a Facebook page here.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Martha Eilertsen’s Obituary

Martha Elizabeth Hay
February 13, 1962 – September 11, 2014

Martha Elizabeth Hay, 52, died peacefully in Spokane, WA, on September 11, after living with cancer for two years.  She was surrounded by her family.

Martha was born in Dillon, Montana. Her early years were spent in Montana, Kenya, and Spokane. Martha graduated from Ferris High School, enjoyed summers at Camp Cross on Lake Coeur D’Alene, and was an active member in her father’s Episcopal congregation, St. Stephen’s.

Martha attended Whitman College and graduated in 1984.  There, she met Jeff Eilertsen and in their 27 years of marriage, they raised two children and lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, Pittsburgh, and Spokane. Martha’s professional path led to the Episcopal Church. She earned a Master of Divinity from the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, California, and was ordained as an Episcopal priest in 2003. Martha enjoyed and succeeded in the many aspects of ministry. She served as an Associate Priest at St Paul’s in Pittsburgh, PA and for three years led and grew her own congregation at St. Thomas in Canonsburg, PA. She had a special place in her heart for children’s ministry.

Martha found great joy in raising her children, spending summers in Montana, and creating art and beautiful spaces. She cherished time with the people she loved and her friendship circle was wide and diverse. The many friends and family who extended love and kindness throughout Martha’s illness are a testament to her ability to create meaningful relationships. Every helping hand and generous gesture was greatly appreciated and formed a true community of support for Martha and her family.

Martha is survived by her children Anna and Thomas Eilertsen, parents Rev. John and Marj Hay, sisters Julie Hay and Jennifer Steward, brother Michael Hay, Jeff Eilertsen, and her many nieces, nephews, and cousins.  

A memorial service will be held Friday, September 26th at 11am at The Cathedral of St John the Evangelist.

Those wishing to make a donation in Martha’s honor are encouraged to support Hospice of Spokane and continue the ministry of grace, comfort, and nourishment to which Martha was always committed.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Martha Hay Eilertsen Dead at 52

Many readers will remember St. Paul’s parishioner Martha Eilertsen, who became a priest at St. Paul’s in 2003 and served for a short time at St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church in Canonsburg. (I wrote a poem for Martha’s ordination, which you can read here.)

I received a message today from Jacqui Och, a good friend of Matha’s, that read, in part
I just wanted to let you know that Martha died yesterday at Hospice of Spokane, after 2 years of dealing with cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer)—an incredibly rare, aggressive and fatal form of cancer  She was only in hospice about 10 days—she began failing rapidly and was largely unresponsive much of the time. Since she was young her organs were strong and it took some time. Her family was all there—both elderly parents, Anna & Thomas, her brother & sister, and Jeff (who has stepped up to care for Martha and be with the kids in spite of the divorce). Jeff said her passing was “very peaceful and graceful.”  
Jacqui visited Martha this summer and took the photograph below in July.

Martha Eilertsen

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

One More Maintenance Issue

After church, I wanted to check whether certain lights were working properly. I used to remember what lighting controls did what. After half a dozen years of having no responsibility for lighting, however, my memory was a bit fuzzy. What struck me, however, was that many—perhaps all—indicator lamps were burned out.

There are four banks of controls for the lights in the church. Three of these consist of six buttons for selecting Preset 1, Preset 2, Preset 3, Preset 4, Work Lights, and Off. These are located on the back wall of the nave, at the pulpit, and on the wall near one of the side doors in the chancel. Located in the niche in the chancel—the niche was intended as the location of the organ console, but I don’t think any organist wanted to play from there—is the master control panel. In addition to the functionality available at the satellite panels, one can design the presets and engage or disengage fades from that panel. In addition to numerous slider controls, the panel sports seven buttons.

In total, there are 25 buttons in the church that are supposed to be illuminated when corresponding functions are activated, but few if any of the lamps behind the button caps are working. Apparently, no one has noticed or cares. The lamps themselves are odd and cumbersome to change. Perhaps one can find them locally, but I don’t know if that’s the case. They can be ordered from the manufacturer of the lighting controls and cost, the last time I ordered them, about a dollar apiece. Without the lamps functioning, one never knows what lighting setting is active.

The picture below shows the master control panel. I have pointed out one of the seven buttons.

Master lighting panel
Unlike the maintenance items I noted in my last post, fixing the button lamps in the church is relatively easy and cheap.

Maintenance Issues

When I arrived at church Sunday, I parked near the clergy parking spaces. I knew the paving in our parking lot had some problems, but I had not realized that the lot was in very bad shape in places. The picture below shows the paving at the south edge of the lot. (Click on the image for a larger view on any of the pictures below.)

Parking lot
Later, I left the undercroft and stepped out the door to Mayfair Drive. I wanted to use my phone, and there seems to be no effective cell phone service inside the building. (I don’t quite understand this phenomenon, but I doubt anyone can do much about it.) My gaze first went to the plantings on either side of the sidewalk and then to the metal railing. I was distressed that the railing is much in need of maintenance. It is rusting and, without attention, will simply rust away. (See view of the railing below and a closeup of it.)


Railing (detail)
I also noticed that the mortar between the stones on the side of the steps was deteriorating (see below).

St. Paul’s is a big building, and keeping it is good repair is a never-ending task. Do we inspect the building periodically to find problems? Probably not. In any case, I think it more important to maintain what we have before we spend money on “improvements.”

Monday, August 18, 2014

Inaudible Sermon

Senior warden Mark Vito delivered the sermon at the 10:45 service yesterday. No doubt, he delivered a fine address. Unfortunately, I have no idea what he said. I don’t even know what the topic of the sermon was or why Mark was preaching at all. The reasons for my ignorance are sinple:
  1. I sing in the choir and was therefore sitting in the chancel.
  2. Mark appeared to be relying heavily on the pulpit microphone and was making no special effort to project his words.
  3. The new sound system employs two small speakers facing the chancel. No sound seemed to be emanating from them, however.
Aging does not seem to be a factor in my not being able to hear Mark. None of the choir members around me could hear anything, either.  After several minutes of fruitless attention to what few sounds reached me from my seat behind the organ console, I decided to do something more productive and took a bathroom break. I returned long before the sermon was over.

Having spent so much money on a new sound system, has anyone thought to investigate how well it works?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Undercroft Windows

Windows were replaced in the undercroft last week. The old windows with colored glass have given way to windows with clear glass panes that, according to an announcement, “have a slight tint and are low-E.” The tint must be very slight indeed, as the glass looks perfectly clear. I had to look up low-E glass, which I had never heard of and still do not completely understand. Apparently, low-E glass has better insulating properties than regular glass and filters out some UV rays. (For more information, this Web page may help.)

The windows are certainly more attractive than the old ones and provide more light during the day. One can quibble about the view through the glass and the fact that more light is not always a good thing. A slide show at an Adult Forum will certainly not benefit from more light in the room. And, of course, the shape of the undercroft windows does not facilitate the use of any straightforward shade. I don’t know if there is any plan for how to deal with this occasional need.

Some windows no longer open; others do. I assume that there is some reason for this, but I don’t know what it might be. Anyway, shown below is a window that opens and one that does not. Make of it what you will. Click on an image for a bigger view.

Windows that opens
Window that opens

Window that does not open
And one that doesn’t

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Odds and Ends

At the 10:45 service this morning, the choir sang from the balcony. The conventional wisdom is that the choir sounds best when it sings there. I did hear comments from those who sat in the nave that the choir sounded unusually good. Unfortunately, I was also told that, from the transept, the choir could not be heard well. Oh, well.

There are other disadvantages to having the choir sing from the balcony. It is hot and crowded; having to navigate the stairs is difficult for some singers; and communion is cumbersome. The balcony has never been renovated to provide comfortable seating, whether for the choir or for ordinary worshipers. Some day, we should tackle that project.

Burned-out bulbs in lanterns
Lanterns seen from the balcony showing some of the burned-out light bulbs. (Click on
photo for a bigger view.)
Being in the balcony, I got a good look at some of the lanterns above the nave. As I mentioned earlier, quite a few bulbs in the lanterns are burned out and have been so for some time. Although some of the burned-out spotlights in the chancel have been dealt with, no attempt has been made to replace the multitude of dark bulbs in the lanterns. The picture at the right illustrates how one can identify offending bulbs. I did not attempt a complete count today, but I estimate that about a dozen light bulbs need replacing. (Note that the photo is mostly dark to show the shadows of inoperative bulbs cast by working bulbs.)

I took a few moments to read the Vestry minutes from May posted on the bulletin board outside the church office. I found this item in the report of the Junior Warden Eric Linn to be very interesting:
Eric reported that the sign committee met yesterday and reached an agreement about a new design for the electronic sign which will comply with Mt. Lebanon’s zoning laws. The electronic sign will now be housed within the framework of the existing sign and will sit upon the existing base. There was concern expressed about the sign’s visibility because of its location on the lot and the existence of PennDOT’s utility box on the corner of Mayfair and Washington. The sign cannot be relocated without a variance which the Church is highly unlikely to be granted. A suggestion was made to raise the height of the sign to increase visibility. Eric will email the municipality about the possibility of having PennDOT move the utility box.
Generally, I take this to be good news, though having the utility box moved may be expensive. Our custom sign is quite lovely, its only problems being that it’s hard to read, and we don’t update it anyhow. The space available inside the sign for an electronic insert is smaller than we would like, but that may be something we just have to deal with.

There was also this from Eric:
The municipality has requested that the Church move the banner in front of the property away from the intersection of Mayfair and Washington.
This, too, is good news. Our banners are horribly tacky and have been left up much too long. It is to be hoped that special messages will appear on our electronic sign in the not-too-distant future and tacky banners will be a thing of the past. Stay tuned.

Finally, there was this rather bizarre item in the minutes:
Michelle distributed an article about addressing sabotage which sometimes shows up in times of stress, such as when the rector is on sabbatical. The Vestry should be aware of grievances which might arise due to anxiety within the parish and work to resolve them.
I see no evidence that Lou’s absence has caused any particular anxiety within the parish. (The prospect of his return is perhaps more likely to cause anxiety.) In any case, St. Paul’s parishioners tend to be articulate and well-behaved, and I find Michelle’s “warning” patently offensive.

In fact, there seems to be a PR campaign afoot to convince everyone that Lou is indispensable and that Michelle is somehow not up to the job that has fallen to her in his absence. To be sure, she has had her missteps, but St. Paul’s is getting by just fine, thank you very much. As evidence of the offensive, I cite Lou’s insistence that Michelle take time off this summer to avoid burnout, the above warning about sabotage, Lou’s returning early to relieve stress on Michelle, and the constant reminders of what Lou is about and pleas to pray for him.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Interesting Worship Advice

Someone on Facebook posted a link to an essay titled “Why traditional churches should stick with traditional worship.” I found this to be an interesting read, and you may, too.

The essay contained a link to another post, this one called “How a traditional church can grow again.” This is basically an introduction to a 14-minute video, “Amazing Grace: A church for men.” It tells the story of a Midwestern United Methodist Church that made subtle changes in its worship to be more man-friendly. Right! That seemed strange to me, too! The claim, however, is that the changes brought in more men and, with them, more women and children.

Call me skeptical, but the 14 minutes spent watching the video can certainly be thought-provoking.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Praise for the Hymnal

Methodist Jonathan—he doesn’t reveal his last name on his blog—has written a thoughtful essay promoting hymnal use rather than words projected on a screen. Happily, St. Paul’s is not using projection to replace the hymnal—not even at the 8:45 service—but the article does make arguments for using the hymnal you may not have thought of. If you are interested in singing in church, do read “15 Reasons Why We Should Still Be Using Hymnals.” Read the comments as well, some of which promote an opposing view.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Another Video from Bishop McConnell

Bishop Dorsey McConnell has released another video. This one is titled “The Iron City Bishop Reflects on the ‘Fault in Our Stars’ Movie About Cancer.” He reveals that he is a cancer survivor, something I don’t think is widely known in the diocese.

Monday, June 23, 2014


St. Paul’s worshipers were greeted by new and repaired sidewalks Sunday. The photos below illustrate the improvements. Our sidewalks are now in very good shape. The same cannot be said for our parking lot, however, which continues to deteriorate. (Click on the photos below for larger images.)

Sidewalk outside automatic door
The sidewalk immediately adjacent to the parking lot and in front of our new automatic door was in very bad shape. This posed a serious problem for people in wheelchairs. The offending slab has been replaced.

Joint between old and new sidewalk
The new sidewalk matches the existing paving quite nicely. The joint between new and existing paving is shown here. The new sidewalk is at the upper right.

New sidewalk to playground
New sidewalk has been laid to allow children to walk from the Nursery School to the playground without walking on the parking lot.

Repaired sidewalk along Mayfair Drive
For many weeks, the sidewalk along Mayfair Drive was torn up for some water-related repair. The sidewalk has now been fixed. Again, the new sidewalk matches the existing sidewalk well. The sidewalk along the side of the church is still a bit uneven and cracked in places, however.

Repaired sidewalk at front entrance
When I passed by the church on Thursday, I noticed that the sidewalk in front of the front steps of the church was torn up. This is how it looked Sunday morning. Again, the new sidewalk matches the existing paving quite well.

Damaged lawn
The front lawn was showing the effect of heavy equipment needed to replace the sidewalk in front of the church. We were told in church that this damage will be repaired soon. Under the circumstances, the damage to the lawn is minimal.

Front steps
Unfortunately, the new sidewalk has not completely repaired the church’s front entrance. There are significant gaps between the limestone blocks that make up the front steps. Most obvious are the gaps between the lower steps and the sidewalk. Notice that the steps are level, but the sidewalk slopes. It is not clear how the steps are supported. Also, the limestone is cracked where railings are installed. (I assume that the railings are not original.) I do hope these problems do not provide an excuse somewhere down the line to replace our stone steps with concrete steps, as was done at the front Mayfair Drive entrance.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Meet the Bishop

On Monday, June 16, 2014, Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh will be hosting Bishop Dorsey McConnell at a meeting at Calvary Church. The bishop will be speaking on the state of the diocese and will answer questions from the audience. This is a great opportunity to meet Bishop McConnell and to explore his vision for the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. All are welcome.

Details of the event are in the graphic below. You can obtain a PDF version of this flyer by clicking here, or click on the image below for a larger view.

Update, 6/21/2014. I reported on the event on Lionel Deimel’s Web Log. You can read that report here. Bishop McConnell  explained how the diocese is trying to figure out exactly what it needs to do to allow for same-sex marriages in Pittsburgh churches.

Red Carpet Gala Pictures

Pictures from the Red Carpet Gala for The Fault in Our Stars have been posted on the church’s Facebook page here. You need not need to be a Facebook member to view the photos.

Lisa Brown at Gala
Lisa Brown at The Fault in Our Stars Red Carpet Gala

Monday, June 9, 2014

An Insightful Review of The Fault in Our Stars

David Edelstein has produced a particularly helpful review of The Fault in Our Stars. I highly recommend reading or hearing it. You can find it here on the NPR Web site.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Pentecost 2014

St. Paul’s celebrated Pentecost today, and Doug offered a musical spectacular, albeit one for which choir members were a bit uncertain about what was supposed to happen until it actually did. Everything seemed to go off well, however.

I complained recently—see “Lights Going Out”—about burned out light bulbs in the church. The situation has become particularly burdensome for choir members seated behind the organ console, and singers were complaining this morning about the difficulty they were having reading their music. (The other side of the chancel, at least for now, is better lit.) I don’t know how dark the church has to get before we realize that light bulbs really have to be replaced.

Perhaps we cannot deal with church lighting until the rector is around to tell us to do so. After all, when I suggested to Michelle that we try not announcing hymn numbers, which is the practice in virtually all the Episcopal churches I have visited over the years, she told me that Lou is her boss, and she cannot alter the way Lou does things. Apparently, Michelle has responsibility but no authority, not really a good training regimen for a young priest. Nevertheless, Michelle made a point last week of using a birthday prayer different from the one Lou always uses. Go figure.

One final item: Having complained a few weeks ago to a Vestry member about the automatic door to the parking lot not working—see “Various Updates”—I had harbored some small hope that the door might be functioning today. Of course, it wasn’t, so I flipped the toggle switch on the door opener and used the hex key hanging next to the door to lock open the door latch. (Both operations are needed if the automatic door is to operate properly.) As I was leaving the building, I noticed that no one tried to use the door opener, probably because they have learned through experience that it never works.

Welcome to the most welcoming congregation in the South Hills for all generations.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Reaction to the Movie

I attended the gala showing of The Fault in Our Stars at the Galleria Thursday. I wrote about it on my main blog here for anyone who’s interested.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

John Green Again

John Green seems to be getting as much publicity as the movie The Fault in Our Stars, which brings his bestselling young adult novel of the same name to the silver screen. (See my previous post “John Green in Time.”) In fact, he has become something of a rock star. He was the subject of an NPR report on Morning Edition today. You can read and listen to the story here.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

John Green in Time

Movie poster
The Fault in Our Stars, the movie filmed in Pittsburgh (and at St. Paul’s) is receiving an enormous amount of publicity. Time has published a story in the current issue about John Green’s being on the set as the movie was filmed. Unfortunately, the full piece is available on the Web only to subscribers. It begins on page 48 of the June 9 issue.

The movie enters general release on Friday. St. Paul’s’ Red Carpet Gala showing of the movie takes place at the Carmike Galleria Cinemas tomorrow night.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Fair Trade

I have had qualms about any connection with Uganda. Both the government and the leaders of the Church of Uganda have supported the anti-gay law that has been denounced by our State Department and my many other Western governments.

Among other things, St. Paul’s has been selling “fair trade” coffee from Uganda. Personally, I would rather have us sell coffee from elsewhere. That aside, however, I heard an interesting report today on the public radio program Here & Now. A recent report from the University of London, it seems, concludes that wages for seasonal workers in the production of fair trade goods are lower than in non-fair trade production. Fair trade products are instead intended to support small farmer, the “job creators,” as it were, not the lowest workers in society.

I don’t know quite what to make of this information, and I don’t know what to think about coffee sales by St. Paul’s. The radio segment was thought-provoking, however. You can find more information here.

Coffee being sold in the undercroft

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Lights Going Out

While at church today, I made a quick inventory of light bulbs in the church proper that were burned out. I counted at least 11. If we don’t get serious about maintenance soon, we will be worshiping in the dark. My survey was done hurriedly. I probably missed a few bulbs.

Burned out light bulb

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Worship Band

Someone posted the graphic below on Facebook. I thought it was very funny. The picture is from the Grumpy Orthodox Cat Facebook page.

We had some visitors at church last week and they asked where the “worship band” was, so I said get out.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Various Updates

This post provides updates on a couple of recent essays.

In my post “Indifference to Details,” I complained about the automatic door to the parking lot’s being turned off more often than not. This was the case last night when I went to church for choir rehearsal. I mentioned my concern to Jeff Dunbar, a Vestry member, who agreed to take up the matter with Dorothy. Stay tuned.

The Worship Commission met this week, and the matter of the summer schedule was raised. I don’t know that all my concerns, as expressed in “Sabbatical,” were brought up, but many certainly were. (Disclaimer: I did not attend the meeting, but I spoke with a couple of people who did.) A combination of deference to the absent rector and concern that a combined principal service would please nobody resulted, unsurprisingly, in no change to the schedule. (When the cat’s away, obsequiousness still holds sway.)

It never occurred to me that a combined principle service would retain elements of the 8:45 service. Instead, I saw it as an opportunity for the two congregations to get to know one another and for the 8:45 people to get a sense of what a traditional Episcopal service (and the prayer book and hymnal) looks like. There is good reason to believe that many 8:45 worshipers attend that service primarily for its time, brevity, and convenience with respect to Sunday School, rather than for the shape of the liturgy. Of course, we never ask people about their preferences as a way of determining how to satisfy them.

Given that we are unlikely to poll parishioners about their likes or dislikes, I would like to propose an experiment. This could be done at any time, but during the program year would be best. My experiment would require a little tweaking of the schedule, though not much. Switch the content of the 8:45 and 10:45 services, that is, have the traditional Episcopal service at 8:45 instead of at 10:45. My hypothesis is that, after a time, attendance at 8:45 would be substantial and attendance at 10:45 would be meager. What do you think?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


I learned just before the May issue of The Messenger went to press that the rector was going to be going on vacation/sabbatical in mid-May. As Lou explained in his page-one essay in the newsletter, it is conventional to offer rectors a periodical sabbatical. In fact, it is sometimes difficult to get rectors to take sabbaticals due them. That said, one has to wonder why parishioners were given less than two week’s notice that the rector was about to disappear for three months. I can think of no explanation for such short notice, which seems less than courteous.

If I were not shocked at Lou’s going on sabbatical, I was shocked at the summer schedule he has chosen to use over the summer. The Rite I, 8 o’clock said Eucharist is not only a longstanding St. Paul’s tradition, it is a tradition throughout The Episcopal Church. A number of longstanding parishioners attend this service, and it seems insensitive to eliminate this service with no warning or consultation with the affected congregation. (But this is the way the most welcoming congregation in the South Hills for all generations operates, I guess. Well, maybe not for the older generation who make up most of the 8 o’clock congregation.) The suggestion that 8 o’clock parishioners can attend the Wednesday midday service is ludicrous and insulting.

In the past, the two principal services have been combined in the summer, which most people saw as a reasonable strategy. Combining the services has many advantages:
  • It reduces the clergy workload, even if the 8 o’clock service is retained.
  • It reduces the workload of laypeople—acolytes, readers, etc.
  • Because attendance falls off in the summer, combining the services yields a single, well-attended service, rather than two poorly attended ones.
  • The congregations for the 8:45 and 10:45 services, which have even fewer members in common than formerly, could get acquainted with one another. I have heard more than one complaint from 10:45 attendees that they know no one who attends at 8:45. Since I don’t know anyone who attends the 8:45 service myself, I have no idea what those people think.
  • Time and effort could be saved in the production of bulletins.
  • Members of the 8:45 service could be exposed to a more conventional Episcopal service. They might even learn to use the prayer book and hymnal. (There is no need for a program containing the entire service.)
  • A single principal service could be scheduled to let everyone finish church long before noon.
Michelle health is less than excellent, and combining the two principal services would be particularly helpful to her. Were she to change Lou’s scheme in his absence, I think she would have substantial support from parishioners. Lou, of course, would not be pleased.

As if being saddled with a dysfunctional schedule were not enough, I have learned that $10,000 received from the movie company that filmed at St. Paul’s was given by the Vestry to Lou for his sabbatical. (Additional money was given to the Nursery School, which had to cancel school for the filming.) I don’t know if this was accounted for in the annual report—I don’t have my copy handy—but it surely was not clearly indicated. Many parishioners thought that money from the movie would help us balance our budget, which always seems to be in need of a few more dollars. Will these same parishioners be pleased to learn that the money has gone to enriching the rector?

Update, 5/13/2014, 7:00 PM. On reflection, the $10,000 given to Lou may not be out-of-line. Churches often pay for education for priests on sabbatical. Responsible churches also create a fund for the purpose to which they add every year. St. Paul’s had not done that, though I understand that they plan to do so in the future. The annual report—I found a copy in my files—indicates a $10,000 contribution to the Sabbatical Fund last year.

What I could not find in the annual report is any entry for the money earned by the church from The Fault in Our Stars. If the revenue is supposed to be the “contribution” to the Sabbatical Fund, it appears that the income is being obscured in order to avoid its being considered an operating expense for purposes of diocesan assessment.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Indifference to Details

As usual, I attended the 10:45 service at St. Paul’s this morning. I noticed several operational/maintenance issues that were upsetting.

When entering the building, I tried using the automatic door opener. As is often the case, it didn’t work. I have complained about this before. (See “Handicapped Access.”) There is a toggle switch on the opener mechanism that sits above the door. The switch was off at 9:15 this morning. I turned it on, and the door worked, sort of. The opener seemed defeated by the striker of the door lock. (I didn’t stay around to investigate this.)

Why can’t the automatic door opener be activated whenever the church is open? Turning it on and assuring that it is working should be a standard part of opening the building for visitors. Apparently, the most welcoming church in the South Hills can’t get this right.

We had a baptism at the 10:45 service today. (I wondered why the baptism had not be performed at the more appropriate Easter Vigil, but I won’t belabor that point.) It struck me that the font seemed darker than it should have been. After the service, I noticed that the two spotlights that are supposed to illuminate the font and the two spotlights that are supposed to illuminate the pulpit were all pointed in the wrong direction. Since bulbs seem to have been replaced recently—see “Easter”—I would guess that their aim was adjusted in ignorance of the purpose of the spotlights. Since we seldom change the lighting in the church anymore, it is not surprising that no one seems to understand how our lighting system is supposed to work. (I am constantly irritated that we illuminate an evening service just as we do a daytime service, thereby virtually disguising the fact that the service is an evening service.)

Two related issues are worth noting. I have remarked elsewhere that having the font cover off the font at the beginning of a baptism service eliminates the drama of revealing the font during the service. (See “Unnecessary Change.”) As we have done with our sophisticated lighting system, have dumbed down the use of our font. Too bad.

Finally, I noticed that the indicator lights for the lighting system—there are four sets of illuminated control buttons in the church—are mostly burned out. No one seems to have thought of replacing them. Of course, since we almost never use the buttons, there is perhaps little reason to care any more. The lamps are very unusual ones, but they can be ordered from the manufacturer of our dimmer equipment, something I did more than once over the telephone when I was Audio-Visual Coördinator at St. Paul’s.

Why does no one at St. Paul’s seem to pay attention to details anymore?

Update, 5/13/2014. When I originally wrote this post, I stated that a wall switch needed to be on for the door opener to work. This was incorrect. The switch in question operates the lamp over the door.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Charlie Appel Sentenced

Some St. Paul’s know Charlie Appel, a former Episcopal priest who has lately been a DJ. He has just be sentenced to five years in prison for downloading child pornography. Details are available here.

Monday, April 21, 2014


There was a lot to like in the Easter Sunday services at St. Paul’s yesterday. The flowers were lovely. We had enough acolytes that flags could be carried in procession. We sang a collection of great Easter hymns. The handbell choir played better than the ringers had a right to expect. Brass, choir, and organist acquitted themselves well, and the postlude was a tasty Easter treat.

As former Audio-Visual Coördinator, however, I continue to be disappointed by the current indifference of St. Paul’s to lighting. I’ll save for another day my general rant about our failure to use our lighting controls effectively. What I noted yesterday was that at least three light bulbs in lanterns were burned out, and some of these were at the front of the church where the situation was conspicuous. Equally appalling and even more obvious was the outage of three of the six lights on the high altar. (See the photo below. Two lamps are out on the left and one on the right.) There was a time when, before Easter or Christmas, making sure that all lamps in the church were working was an item on the preparations checklist. No more. Am I the only parishioner who cares?

Brass players in front of the high altar
Photo from Doug Starr’s Facebook page

Update, 4/24/2014. I was in the church this evening and discovered that: (1) Only one lamp was out on the high altar. (There are only four lamps, not six.) All lights on the high altar were working tonight. (2) The burned-out lamps in the lanterns that I noticed on Sunday have been replaced. I did notice one other lamp that is out, which I didn’t see on Sunday.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Vestry Changes

Nick Hays
Nick Hays
I received the weekly electronic newsletter from St. Paul’s earlier today. I thought I might perhaps see notice that Vestry member Nick Hays is moving out of the area and has therefore resigned from the Vestry. Alas, the church seems not to go out of its way to announce such things to parishioners, and, as far as I know, nothing has been said about the personnel change. My understanding is that Ann McStay, who recently ran for Vestry and lost, is replacing Nick.

Before writing this, I checked the St. Paul’s Web site to see who was listed as being on the Vestry. There are 11 people shown. Nick is not there, but neither is Ann. I also noticed that Mark Vito is senior warden. (Was this announced publicly?) Surely this is ironic. In the candidate forums, Mark advocated for voting for Bob Johnston, so he could again be senior warden. Anyway, I think it best for the parish and for senior wardens to change wardens every year.

I wish Mark, Ann, and the Vestry well.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Premiere of “Holy Eucharist”

Worshipers at today’s 10:45 service heard the choir sing my hymn “Holy Eucharist” for the first time. I recorded the performance, and I wrote about it and linked to the audio file on my blog, Lionel Deimel’s Web Log. You can read my post and listen to the hymn here.

Eucharist elements

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Welcoming St. Paul’s

I attended church today with no particular axe to grind, but because of choir rehearsal, I resigned myself to skipping the annual meeting. Besides, it has been many years since any real decisions were left to the parish at large. My main concern for the day was a new composition by Doug Starr that some of us would be singing at communion.

As has become my habit, I tried the automatic door when I entered the church from the parking lot. As usual, it did not work. When I got inside, I noted that the wall switch  that apparently controlls power to the door was stitched off. I turned it on. It made no difference. I later discovered that there is a switch on the door opener over the door that needs to be turned on. Why is this switch not turned on all the time (or at least whenever the church is open)? Have we neglected to train our sextons? Are we saving electricity at the expense of people who might need help entering the church? There are some things about St. Paul’s that I simply fail to understand.

My second encounter with St. Paul’s insensitivity came when I tried to grab some brunch before choir rehearsal. Doug asked the choir to meet in the church at 9:45, but brunch was to start only at 9:30. Some choir members, faced with this situation, simply decided to eat breakfast at home. Others, myself included, tried to make a difficult schedule work. By 9:30, lots of food was out on the table, and several choir members encouraged me to begin filling my plate. They were right behind me, but I was the designated sacrificial lamb chosen to try to get food first. Before I could put any food on my plate, however, Karen Viggiano, who apparently decided to play Food Nazi, insisted that I wait until she had put out two more dishes. I explained that the choir was under time pressure, but that cut no ice with Karen.

After the choir rehearsed, I had to use the bathroom. I’m not used to doing this with my choir robe on. (I got a new perspective of what women deal with.) Anyway, I spent half a minute or more trying to untangle the toilet paper from its complex holder. This was made more difficult than necessary by the extraordinarily thin single-ply tissue the church uses. Wouldn’t it be more welcoming to use double-ply tissue? Would that unbalance the budget?

Whatever my frustrations, the service was satisfying, and I enjoyed the two anthems we sang, both of which were new for the choir. I’d love to know how worshipers felt about the new anthem from Doug. (He probably would, too.)

I left church on a more positive note, in spite of the snow. The automatic door had been turned on and actually worked. I wonder if it will be work the next time I come to church.

Friday, February 7, 2014

New Hymn to Debut February 23

Communion elementsI was delighted to learn at choir rehearsal last night that Doug Starr has programmed my new hymn, “Holy Eucharist.” The choir will sing it as a communion hymn at the 10:45 AM service on February 23. This will be a world premier. I have written several hymn, some of which have been sung at St. Paul’s. “Holy Eucharist,” however, is the first inspired by a specific prayer book text.

Worshipers at St. Paul’s hear new music all the time, mostly by Doug or members of his family. (So far, only Lydia has not contributed music for worship at St. Paul’s.) I am not a professional musician, however, and am grateful for both the inspiration and opportunity for performance in my home parish.

You can get a preview of “Holy Eucharist” by checking out the page about it on my Web site. The page includes links to the sheet music and to a sound file of the tune.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Candidate Forum

I attended the forum for Vestry candidates Sunday. I was pleased that two sessions were offered, which allowed choir members to participate fully. (The choir usually rehearses on Sunday morning between 9:45 and 10:30.)

Candidate brochure
I can confidently say that we seem to have six fine candidates for the four available positions on the Vestry. That said, I didn’t hear much to cause me to think one candidate notably better than any other. I was a bit surprised that candidate Mark Vito made a pitch for voting for Bob Johnston, not because he didn’t want to win, but because he wanted Bob to be available to continue as senior warden.

I have no doubt that Bob has been a fine senior warden, but it is beginning to seem as though he has lifetime tenure. Is this really a good thing? Retaining the same senior warden year after year is comfortable for the rector, but I doubt it is best for the parish. I wish we would return to the practice of former rector Bill Pickering. The senior warden was always someone serving his or her last year on the Vestry, and that person served for one year only. The warden was thus someone with leadership experience, less inclined to burnout, could bring a fresh perspective to the office, and could not be embarrassed by failing to be asked to serve another year.

Under Bill Pickering, Vestry candidates who were not elected joined the Parish Council, a group of parishioner advisers who met with the rector once a month. Parish Council is provided for, but not mandated, by the parish bylaws. There has been no Parish Council since Bill left St. Paul’s. Bob Banse was urged to re-establish the group and promised to do so, but he did not carry through on that promise. Parish Council took advantage of the enthusiasm of people willing to run for Vestry and provided the rector an independent council of advice with no decision-making responsibility.

But I digress. I was struck by a common theme among the candidates—bringing more people to St. Paul’s. There is nothing wrong with that goal, of course, but it is an institutional objective, rather than a religious one. No one mentioned anything about bringing people to Christ. Think about that. Nobody mentioned the three priorities for the diocese set forth by Bishop McConnell in his convention address: Public Gospel, Missional Communities, and Leadership Formation. I don’t mean to suggest that parishes should slavishly follow the lead of their bishop, but it might be worth considering whether priorities articulated by him could offer insight into the formulation of parish objectives.

Following the rector’s lead, candidates emphasized the strengths of our parish. In my role as perpetual gadfly, I asked what the candidates saw as St. Paul’s’ greatest deficiency. Not surprisingly, the panelists were not elbowing each other to be the first to answer this question, and not everyone did. It has been many years since the parish made a serious attempt to evaluate its weaknesses as well as its strengths.

Nonetheless, two ideas were offered that merit consideration. Annette Shimer suggested that we do not do publicity well, especially for music programs. Communications have been an issue at the church for as long as I can remember, so Annette’s comment came as no surprise. She deserves points for being willing to say something “negative.” More interesting was a response from Bob, who suggested that the parish tries to be all things to all people and really needs to set priorities. It would have been interesting to hear more on that subject.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Sharing the Baptisms

Baptismal font
St. Paul’s baptized four children at the 10:45 service Sunday morning. It was gratifying to see so many baptisms and to have them performed on one of the occasions specifically recommended in the prayer book (i.e., on the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord, p. 312). I was surprised, however, that all four baptisms were performed by Lou. Perhaps this is what all the parents asked for, though I doubt it.

In times past, when there were multiple baptisms and multiple priests participating in the service, baptism duties were shared. Yesterday, however, Michelle’s duties were essentially reduced to those of an acolyte—she lit baptismal candles from the Pascal Candle. I might not have thought too much about this had Lou not made a point of how many people he has baptized. Is he aiming for a record? If so, why? Perhaps other priests should have a chance to get in on the action.

New Windows

I took some time yesterday to look at the new windows that have been installed on the first floor of the education wing. Like many of the old aluminum-frame windows, the new units are casement windows. They have wood frames and are gray aluminum on the outside. The new windows are very attractive, seem to work well, and are said to be exceedingly energy-efficient. They are double glazed, with gas between the panes. Although not now installed, there is provision for screens on the inside.

I think that the windows will not only decrease our heating bills, but also enhance the beauty of the building, as seen in the photos below. (Click on the pictures for larger images.

Old windows
Old windows on second floor

New windows
New windows on ground floor
Windows on the second and third floors that face the parking will be replace in the next few weeks. There are no immediate plans to replace the windows on the other side of the building.

I do hope that, at the very least, we will decide to replace the windows in the choir room. That room has windows on three sides and can be quite cold in the winter. The temperature in the room during rehearsals is often in the 60s, and it was 58º recently. (There is a clock with a thermometer on the wall, so this is not idle speculation.)