August 10, 2011

A Wonderful Day at St. James

On Sunday, August 7, 2011, I again attended the service at St. James, Penn Hills. (Note: The Church seems to use “James” without an apostrophe, so I will do so here.) There were at least two reasons for visiting. First, even though St. James has been restored to being an Episcopal church for only a month, Bishop Ken Price was to visit and perform a number of baptisms, receptions, and confirmations. Second, in support of the resurrected Episcopal outpost, Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh (PEP) was giving the church a new Episcopal Church flag. The departing “Anglicans” had left an Episcopal flag on a shelf. The flag was wrinkled and faded. A bright new flag seemed to have great symbolic value.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Sunday’s service was the size of the congregation. I counted, albeit rather informally, more than 60 people. There were a Bishop Price delivering sermonfew visiting clergy and some laypeople from other churches. I counted at least seven PEP members. Remarkably, however, most members of the congregation apparently were thinking of themselves as members of the reconstituted St. James, Penn Hills.

The service began, improbably, with several blasts from a shofar, but that was about the only unorthodox aspect to the service. Bishop Price preached on the Beatitudes (see photo at left; click on this photo and others for a larger view), and found ways to apply the Gospel reading to developments at St. James.

The solemnity of baptisms in Episcopal church depends greatly on architecture and the nature of the congregation. They are rather formal affairs at my own church, where the font is in the chancel and the priest performing the baptism is separated from the congregation by a low screen and a communion rail.

Some clever rearranging of pews had been done at St. James to provide an open area at one side of the church to accommodate a rug and a recently donated marble font. The crowd gathered around the font made it difficult for many worshipers to see just what was going on and made picture-taking tricky. In any case, there were three or four baptisms, all of young children. (I was trying to take pictures and was not at as attentive to details as I might have been.) Baptisms were followed by a slightly larger number of receptions an confirmations performed in the same area.

Baptism beginsBishop Price begins baptism.

The Rev. Vicente Santiago performs a baptism.

Bishop Price performs confirmationBishop Price Performs Confirmation.

For the blessing of the new flag, the bishop called me to come forward. He also asked Joan Gundersen, PEP president who, performing her job with the diocese, had had much to do with seeing that the physical needs of St. James were taken care of. This little ceremony was mercifully brief.

Blessing of Episcopal flagFlag blessing: (L to R) The Rev. Vicente Santiago, Priest-Developer;
The Rt. Rev. Kenneth L. Price, Jr., Bishop Provisional of Pittsburgh;
Lionel Deimel, PEP Vice President; Joan Gundersen, PEP President.

Although offerings collected at a bishop’s visit are usually designated for the bishop’s discretionary fund or some other special ministry of the bishop, Bishop Price asked worshipers to be generous, as the collection would go directly to St. James.

The Eucharist was performed with a loaf of whole grain bread, rather than with wafers. I like this practice, though it does make intinction somewhat problematic.

The service ended all too soon, and people retired to the parish hall, where a substantial lunch was being set out. A celebratory meal seemed appropriate, though the nine o’clock service put lunch rather early in the day. (I over-ate anyway.) St. James has a long tradition of having such an early service, and, although I’m not sure why that is the case, the tradition has been continued.

Overall, the morning spent in Penn Hills was very uplifting and extremely encouraging. I am told that Penn Hills is one of the most diverse neighborhoods of Pittsburgh, and St. James is beginning to reflect that diversity. It was not so much diversity as sheer numbers that were most impressive, however. I was also struck by how smoothly the service ran; people did not seem to be struggling to figure out what goes on in an Episcopal service. I suspect this was because many of the new parishioners were refugees from the Roman Catholic Church, seeking all the liturgy and less of the guilt.

I predict that St. James, Penn Hills, is facing a bright future.



Cake at receptionCake at Reception


  1. Lionel, it sounds like a wonderful service and an altogether lovely day. I'm so pleased to hear that St James is prospering. Thanks for the report and the pictures.

  2. Lionel, The old flag was not found on a shelf. The departing congregation had displayed it in a triangular flag box hung in their library. They tried to take good care of documents and symbols showing St. James's heritage.

  3. I have tried not to get involved in the the behavior of the former “Anglican” congregation of St. James. My report was based on what I was told. Not everyone told me the same thing, however.

    Some people involved in the transition thought the “Anglicans” left the building in good shape and took little with them. Others complained about the condition of the physical plant and about the objects that “should have” been left behind.

    In any case, the old flag was faded and wrinkled, and it really doesn’t matter how it got that way. The church needed a new flag.

    Less important than what happened at St. James is what will happen at other properties now held by congregations of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh. I think it fair to say that neither side wants to fight over the last prayer book and purificator. Justice must be tempered with mercy, since coexistence of the two dioceses, for the foreseeable future, is a given.


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