Thursday, June 18, 2015

Enhanced Sign

I suspect that many readers have already seen our enhanced sign in front of the church. Apparently, the red insert was supposed to be part of the design from the beginning, but it has only recently been put into place. It not only makes the sign more attention-getting but it also assures that the name of the church is always visible. Until now, we had to display our name using the electronic sign. Mt. Lebanon regulations require that the sign can only change every 30 seconds, which meant that many people would either see “St. Paul’s Episcopal Church” or whatever specific message we wanted to display (such as service times), but not both.

I am pleased to see that the new insert includes both the Episcopal Church shield and “All are welcome.” “All are welcome” is neither boastful nor insulting to other churches. It is simply inviting.

Unfortunately, the sign is still very hard to see from the southbound lanes of Washington Road because of the equipment box at the corner with Mayfair Drive.

Enhanced sign

Sunday, May 3, 2015


Bulletin from May 2 service
Bulletin for May 2, 2015, service (click on image for larger view)
When I received the letter from Lou saying that St. Paul’s was willing to bless same-sex unions—see my post on Lionel Deimel’s Web Log—I didn’t give much thought to its timing. I should have considered it odd, however, that it contained this sentence:
This decision follows a period of discernment, including work that Michelle and the Vestry did on this subject last summer during my sabbatical.
Bishop McConnell left the matter of deciding whether to bless same-sex unions up to individual priests, assuming, no doubt, that any responsible rector would obtain advice and buy-in from his or her vestry. Thus, the decision was Lou’s to make.

In fact, Lou and the St. Paul’s Vestry decided to move forward with same-sex blessings last fall. For whatever reason, Lou chose not to inform the congregation about the decision until such a blessing was imminent. Lou’s letter was dated April 24, 2015. The first such service was scheduled for May 2.

I suspect that Lou delayed his letter for fear of blowback from the congregation until he could delay it no longer. Happily, there seems to have been little or no complaints about the decision announced in the April 24 letter. (I sent Lou a congratulatory e-mail message.)

Brandon Priddy and Zachary Weber have been attending St. Paul’s for some time, which is not always the case for couples getting married in the church. I hope that all parishioners will congratulate our newest married couple at St. Paul’s.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Big News Day for The Episcopal Church

There were two big news items about The Episcopal Church today.

As was scheduled, candidates for Presiding Bishop were announced. (A new Presiding Bishop will be elect at the General Convention in Salt Lake City this summer.) Details can be found here.

Also, Bishop Heather Cook, who killed a bicyclist with her car in December has resigned and been deposed. She is no longer a priest. Details are here.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Odd Goings On at St. David’s

St. David’s, Peters Township, is going to be renting space to Peters Creek Evangelical Presbyterian Church. That church broke away from the Presbyterian Church (USA) over “liberal” trends in the largest Presbyterian denomination in America. Peters Creek Evangelical Presbyterian Church used to be known as Peters Creek United Presbyterian Church. If you would like to know more about this development, please read “Pittsburgh Episcopal Church to Harbor Breakaway Presbyterian Congregation” on Lionel Deimel’s Web Log.

St. David’s Episcopal Church
St. David’s Episcopal Church

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Worship Styles

I have long thought that the differences between our 8:45 and 10:45 services are destructive to our sense of being a single congregation. It is telling that we now continue to have two principal services in the summer, whereas we used to combine them into one, as fewer people attend. I believe that two services are necessary now because people from the later service would not like the style of the earlier one, and people from the early service would not know what to do in a traditional Episcopal Church service.

I have criticized aspects of the 8:45 service in the past—see “A Heretical Creed,” for example—but I have not tackled the issue of different worship “styles” at different services. Although our services are not as different from one another as at some churches, I do think we are creating more problems than we are solving.

Jonathan Aigne, in his blog Ponder Anew, has written an essay strongly criticizing the notion that churches should offer services in different styles. His essay is “11 Reasons to Stop Offering Different Worship Styles.” Here’s a sample of Aigne’s criticism of having distinctly different services:
It often segregates members by age. I think this is one of the most tragic points. Children and youth need to worship with their parents and their parent’s parents. The elderly, likewise, need to worship with the young. Usually, different services are offered with the assumption that the contemporary is to hook non-believers and young people, and the traditional is the old-time favorites hour for the older folks. Of course, one day we will all join the heavenly choir, and something tells me we’re not going to have a smorgasbord of corporate worship options to attend. We’ll join in singing the unending hymn, even if we don’t like the tune, even if there are no projection screens, even if the seating doesn’t perfectly mold to each individual backside. Perhaps we should start practicing now.
And this is one of my favorite points in “11 Reasons”:
It is distinctively seeker-sensitive instead of missional. Corporate worship is not about evangelism. That’s a fundamental misunderstanding over a century in the making. Evangelism may be a byproduct of worship gatherings, but it can’t be the main thing, or you can’t really call it a worship service. The kingdom mission begins when we are sent out into the world.
Read the whole essay and see what you think.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Thoughts on the Candidate Forum

St. Paul’s is to be commended for staging a candidate forum before the Vestry election. It is also encouraging that we have six candidates for four positions. Parishioners do actually have a choice to make.

I attended the session Sunday after the 10:45 service. Choir rehearsal precluded me from attending the earlier program. Unfortunately, only four candidates were available, Eric Linn, Erin Morey, Louise Cannon, and Mark Tranquilli. Ansley Westbrook was apparently on vacation, but Tranquilli did a fair job of making the case for his candidacy. Barbara St. Clair had no similar advocate.

Jon Delano was supposed to be the moderator for the session, as he was for the earlier one. He had to addend a funeral, however, and his job was amply handled by Bob Johnston.

Each participant offered a personal introduction, after which Johnson asked about goals for the parish. Nothing very remarkable was said, and the overall sense was that St. Paul’s is doing well and needs to continue in the same direction.

There were three questions from the audience. My question was
As specifically as possible, what is the one thing at St. Paul’s you would like to change or fix? Do not simply name something we can do as we are now, only better.
I wanted to know if anyone was running due to a passionate desire to initiate change. Tranquilli talked about getting more people involved. Morey spoke of listening to everyone as a representative of the congregation.Canon wants to get children more involved in donating their time and talent. Although no one was willing to admit that there is anything wrong with what we do, Linn came closest to offering a potentially useful innovation. He talked about defining measurable goals. (I think that St. Paul’s is better at doing new things than it is at evaluating whether they work.)

Charles Coleman, when called on to offer a question, rambled on about our medical system, citing an issue of Consumer Reports in his hand. I assume he was trying to suggest that this was an issue the parish should be talking about. If he had a question in mind, he never got to ask it, as both Michelle and Lou shut him down on the basis of irrelevance. The admonition was not gentle.

Finally, Preston Shimer asked what commission the candidates would like to serve on. Candidates didn’t really get a chance to answer, as Lou explained that he speaks to Vestry members and tries to match members to commissions as satisfactorily as possible. Tranquilli managed to get an answer in, namely, that he would serve as needed. This is something of a safe, standard answer, of course, but he offered the example of serving as a judge in the Family Division, where he had no special interest or expertise, because that’s where he was needed. (He is a Common Pleas Court judge.)

I think it fair to say that all the candidates seemed credible, and no one said anything foolish. Louise Cannon is notably for having been at St. Paul’s for nearly her whole life. Erin Morey is a fresh face clearly committed to making the world a better place. Eric Linn is an experienced member of the Vestry who wants to be more analytical regarding what works or not at St. Paul’s. Mark Tranquilli appears thoughtful and is impressive as a speaker.

I was a bit concerned that both Tranquilli and Morey seem committed to the 8:45 service, which I do not see as a mainstream Episcopal service. I hope their perspective is broader than that suggests. Also, Tranquilli mentioned having participated in the Alpha Course, which is likewise out of the Episcopal and (I hope) St. Paul’s mainstream. Both candidates have other redeeming qualities, of course.

Cannon has never been on the Vestry, but she knows St. Paul’s well and seems to have some interesting ideas about engaging our youth. Linn is on the Vestry now and is probably in the best position to understand the nuts and bolts of parish administration.

I am not endorsing anyone for the Vestry, but I think we can be confident that, whoever wins, St. Paul’s will be the winner.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Observations on a Baptism

Sunday’s bulletin coverA charming little boy, Emerson Paul Goerk, was baptized at the 10:45 service Sunday. It was not a
traditional day for baptisms, of course, but that no longer seems to be a consideration at St. Paul’s.

The “Additional Directions” regarding Baptism on page 312 of the BCP begins with the following paragraph:
Holy Baptism is especially appropriate at the Easter Vigil, on the Day of Pentecost, on All Saints’ Day or the Sunday after All Saints’ Day, and on the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord (the First Sunday after the Epiphany). It is recommended that, as far as possible, Baptisms be reserved for these occasions or when a bishop is present.
I have advocated that we try harder to confine baptisms to the recommended occasions, but my suggestions have not been well received.

There are several improvements we could make to our baptisms, most of which used to be standard practice at St. Paul’s.

We used to indicate in the bulletin that flash photography is forbidden during the service. This admonition is unnecessary for ordinary services, but it is relevant to weddings and baptisms. I don’t think that this forgotten rule was violated Sunday, but it surely has been recently.

We used to have two spotlights aimed at the pulpit and two aimed at the font. In past times, these spots were lit only when highlighting was needed. Changing lighting treatments during a service is no longer practiced at St. Paul’s. Moreover, the four spots are no longer aimed where they used to be. They all seem to be more or less aimed at the altar. Someone actually asked me the last time we had a baptism why the font was so dark. This is why.

We used to begin a service with the cover atop the font. The celebrant lifted the cover before water was poured. The effect was dramatic. Like most other drama at St. Paul’s this little act has been eliminated. The font cover is lifted from the font before the service begins and is only returned to its resting position after the service is over.

There is one practice that I would like to see that, so far as I know, has never been the practice at our church. A baptism is a significant event in the life of a person and a family. The bulletin should clearly and conspicuously announce the names of those being baptized. Worshipers want to know, and the bulletin becomes a keepsake. As a keepsake, it would be thoughtful if the name or names of baptismal candidates were more than just small footnotes in the bulletin. One had to read the last sentence of the Prayer List on Sunday—the last sentence in the bulletin, actually—to learn that Emerson was being baptized. Additionally, the event of Baptism and the actual person or persons being initiated into Christ’s Church, should be worked into the sermon. This is an important event. We should act like it is.

The cover of Sunday’s bulletin is shown above. Ideally, the baptism of Emerson should have been announced on this page, though the objection will be raised that the same bulletin is used for the Saturday and 8 AM Sunday service. If we eliminated the advertising about how great we are on the cover, Emerson could have been given a square inch or two. Wouldn’t that be thoughtful—welcoming, even?

Friday, February 6, 2015

Why Can’t I Get My Messenger Sooner

I received my copy of The Messenger today. No doubt, I would have received it in the mail earlier were I still living near St. Paul’s. The real question, however, is not how I can get it faster through the mail, but why is the parish newsletter not available on the Web. The Messenger used to appear on the parish Web site, but it hasn’t done so for a very long time. Moreover, I don’t remember having ever been given the option of receiving my newsletter as a PDF file via e-mail. Many smaller, seemingly less sophisticated churches offer one or both of those options. Why not St. Paul’s? Not only could this be more convenient for parishioners, but it could also save the church money on postage. The effort on the part of the staff would be minimal.

Welcoming perhaps, but not helpful

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Where Are the Vestry Minutes?

We’re now a week away from hearing from Vestry candidates and two weeks away from voting for four new Vestry members. Unfortunately, it has become harder and harder to find out just what the Vestry is doing. In times past, The Messenger carried highlights of Vestry actions, and, also in the past, the newsletter was available on the parish Web site. Both traditions are no more.

I’m sure that few parishioners know about it, but Vestry minutes are posted on the bulletin board outside the church office. This is another tradition that seems to have fallen by the wayside. The most recent Vestry minutes posted there are from July 2014. I am assured, however, that the Vestry has continued to meet since last summer.

Apparently, church leaders don’t think it important that parishioners know what the Vestry is up to, and parishioners have given no reason for them to think otherwise.

How do we select among Vestry candidates if we have no idea what the Vestry has been up to?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Importance of Worshiip

Kazimierz Bem has written an thought-provoking essay titled “Christianity Cannot Survive the Decline in Worship.” The essay argues for the primacy of worship and the need to resist pressures to scale it back—particularly to make it briefer—and to emphasize good works in the community to the detriment of worship.

When I was on the Worship Commission, I think that St. Paul’s considered splendid worship as its special mission. Even then, I worried that worship needed to be balanced with God’s work in the world.

Read the Bem essay and see what message you see for our parish.

Friday, January 23, 2015

More on Our New Sign

After a number of complaints—mine was probably the least of them—St. Paul’s revised its sign message about being a welcoming church to a message a bit less arrogant. The original message was
The Most
for All
The current message is below.(When I wrote down the message, I failed to note line breaks and capitalization. Thus, the formatting shown may not be exactly what is on the sign.)
A Most
for All
Not really a big revision, is it? We have toned down the suggestion of our unique virtue, though we have retained “for all,” suggesting that other churches are more selective in their hospitality.

My personal preference would be to stick with the tried and true:
Welcomes You
This message is more personal and doesn’t besmirch the competition. If we do want to emphasize that all are welcome, we could use a message that Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh has used on buttons:
Welcomes All
PEP even has buttons with this message I suspect it would be willing to donate.

In any case, I don’t know exactly how to fit messages on our sign. We still have not figured out how to display reasonably legible letters. For example, “8,” as in “8:45,” is pretty much an unreadable blob. How much money did we pay for this? I suspect the problem here is with the software, rather than the hardware. Either we don’t know how to use it, or it simply sucks. There ought to be a fix, and we ought to be insistent on finding it.