April 26, 2009

Praying for Communion

Yesterday, on what turned out to be a bright, warm spring afternoon, I drove to St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Wilkinsburg to participate in a program called ”Praying for Communion: Prayer & Song for All God’s Family,” billed as “a pilgrimage of trust, a vigil of reconciliation.” The program is the brainchild of Carol Gonzalez of Emmanuel Episcopal Church and is intended, at least in part, as a mechanism for reconnecting the members of the churches of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Carol describes the program this way:
The idea is a simple one. On the last Saturday of each month in 2009, one person from each parish gathers with others from the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh … Praying together in song and silence … Celebrating the beauty of an inner life, a communion with God, and the love which Jesus Christ taught us. Amidst the realities of grief and gratitude, we seek to be available for such a Spirited Presence, a leaven of communion in the Church, in the human family. With humility and openhearted gentleness, we pray for the grace of deep listening, to live in loving balance: contemptus mundi, amor mundi; nothing matters, everything matters.
The service was held in a side chapel of St. Stephen’s and attracted perhaps a dozen people. The objective of having every parish represented each month has clearly not be achieved, but I nevertheless met a number of people I had not encountered before in Episcopal gatherings in our diocese. As I entered the dimly-lit church, I was greeted by a parishioner from my own church and was asked to sign a guest book. Some very pleasant, contemplative music was being played on a boom box. The service itself mostly alternated between praying and singing, the latter led by Carol’s husband playing the guitar. There was also some scripture reading—I was asked to read a selection from Luke's gospel—and a brief reflection by the Rev. Nano Chalfant-Walker, St. Stephen’s’ rector.

Participants followed along on their two-page program, which was complete, except for music. I found the service very calming, in part because the liturgy included frequent silent pauses and because no one was “leading” the service and telling people what to do next. (We all were, after all, Episcopalians who are used to following a much more complex liturgy without constant reminders of what follows what.)

After the prayer service, there was a period of fellowship in the nearby choir room, where drinks of various sorts were available. It’s being a warm day, I drank several glasses of iced tea while conversing with both old and new friends, some of whom had traveled a fair distance to Wilkinsburg.

Under Bishop Robert Duncan’s leadership, non-ideological gatherings of people from across the diocese became infrequent, and, by faithful Episcopalians, diocesan gatherings generally had become more events to dread than to anticipate with any joy. Carol and those working with her on this project are helping to remind us what being a diocese should be like and are helping us rebuild community.

More information about “Praying for Communion” is available on the diocesan Web site.

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