May 27, 2012

Pentecost at St. David’s

Sign at St. David’s
St. David’s sign. The old church can be seen at the right.
Episcopal Church services returned to St. David’s in Peters Township on this day of Pentecost. (See “Changes Coming to Pittsburgh Diocese.”) The Rev. Kris McInnes, associate rector of my own parish, St. Paul’s, Mt. Lebanon, conducted services at 8 o’clock and at 10:30. He also presided over an informational meeting between the services.

Although the word had been put out in various media about what was to happen today, it was unclear just how many people would show up at St. David’s. (Among other things, Kris and St. Paul’s’ rector, the Rev. Lou Hays, had sent a letter to people who have been worshiping at the church.)

When I arrived at the East McMurray Road property, I was delighted to find that the signage now declared the church an Episcopal, not an “Anglican,” facility. I was also happy to see that the electronic portion of the sign had been reprogrammed, not only welcoming worshipers to an Episcopal church but also giving the times of services and of the parish meeting.

I had not visited St. David’s since the 2002 diocesan convention at which then Bishop Robert Duncan’s take-no-prisioners march to the right became painfully evident. I had forgotten what an impressive facility St. David’s is. The parking lot is enormous, there is a rectory on the property, and there is a good deal of undeveloped land behind the church. In 2001, the congregation built a completely new worship space that, unfortunately, never seems to have attracted sufficient worshipers either to fill it or pay for it. The new church is of a pleasing contemporary design and is well-equipped to support worship in a variety of styles.

St. David’s Episcopal Church
St. David’s. The new church is at the right.
As I was taking pictures outdoors, Elaine Coleman drove up and said hello. She is a former St. David’s parishioner who has been worshiping at All Saints’, Bridgeville, and wanted to see what was happening at her former parish. She was one of a number of people who had once worshiped at the Peters Township church who showed up this morning, though most such people came only for the 10:30 service.

When we entered the building, we were greeted with a table containing sign-up sheets—more on that later—and a table containing a variety of breakfast foods and a cake. Juice was plentiful, but coffee was in short supply. (This is a problem that needs to be fixed by next Sunday!) The people who had attended the early service were milling around and talking.

I was able to have a brief conversation with Kris, who was making more coffee in a painfully small coffeemaker. He told me that there were 10 people at the early service. Kris grew up at St. David’s, and I asked him how it felt to be coming home. He indicated that it did not feel quite as strange as it might have. He had left for college before the new church was built, so, although he was, in a sense, returning to his roots, he would be leading services in a place where he personally had never worshiped regularly. Obviously, however, he knew most of the people who would attend St. David’s this morning, and his mother and sister were prominent among the St. David’s people returning to the Episcopal Church fold.

Only 10 people attended the informational meeting. Kris did a fine job of describing the provisions that have been made for St. David’s, including financial ones. The diocese has committed to making up any deficits for a year, and it will do so for at least another year if all goes well. The priests from St. Paul’s, Kris and Lou, are committed to staying as long as necessary. Rental income, he suggested, will help the financial situation a lot. (There is a preschool at St. David’s. I don’t know what other sources of rental there might be, though the rectory could perhaps be rented.)

Kris explained that services had been scheduled at 8 and 10:30 because those are the times at which services have been scheduled at the church, but he suggested that the two services might soon be consolidated into one. He asked if anyone would be upset if only a Rite II Holy Eucharist were offered on Sunday morning. No objections were registered.

There is an urgent need, Kris said, for a treasurer. People from St. Paul’s are available to help a new treasurer get up to speed. (Only the ability to balance a checkbook is required, we were told.) Additionally, there will need to be volunteers to be on altar guild and vestry, and other volunteers to serve as ushers, chalice bearers, and the like. He invited people to put their names on the sign-up sheets I mentioned earlier to begin building a list of parishioners and possible volunteers. We want to be transparent, he said, and not cut corners. Some changes will need to be made to parish bylaws, allowing for a vestry smaller than the currently required 12, for example.

Inevitably, I suppose, someone asked if the things that had been said about The Episcopal Church during St. David’s’ “Anglican” days were true. (The person who asked the question referred to a “packet of materials” that had been promoted at the church. I presume the “packet” was the scurrilous document from the American Anglican Council, “The Episcopal Church: Tearing the Fabric of the Communion to Shreds.”) Kris pointed out that only a few church leaders were quoted in the material in question and that the church’s theology is determined by its prayer book, not by its leaders. He suggested that bishop-elect Dorsey McConnell is quite orthodox in his beliefs and will work to bring us together. The focus at St. David’s will not be on church politics, he added, but on love, charity, and grace. I added that The Episcopal Church has both liberal and conservative bishops and that Anglicanism, historically, has been characterized by its theological diversity.

The meeting was, in fact, rather brief, and we were soon back in the narthex discussing St. David’s, enjoying the refreshments, and greeting new people as they arrived. Of greatest concern to those with a longstanding connection to St. David’s was the disappearance of some stained glass. Apparently, the departing congregation agreed not to take the stained glass but did so anyway. (One hopes there was a misunderstanding, and the property will soon be returned.)

By the time we were ready to begin the second service, there were roughly 40 people in the church, including a handful of children. I'm not sure how many were in what category, but the congregation included people who had remained at St. David’s after the 2008 schism, recent and not-so-recent former parishioners, and well-wishers.

Worshipers were provided with a service leaflet that contained the entire service, so neither prayer book nor hymnal was required. The service itself was fairly traditional. There was no choir, of course, but hymns from Hymnal 1982 accompanied by electronic organ represented about half the music used in the service. The rest of the music was provided by a small praise band, which included Kris on guitar. (Apparently, about half the instrumentalists who had been playing at St. David’s stayed and half left.)

Communion at St. David’s
Kris begins distributing the elements of communion.
Kris delivered a fine sermon based on the reading from John’s gospel. He emphasized that St. David’s will be a church of love, charity, and grace, a place where love and peace will be offered where there has so often been discord and hate. He pointed out that apostles Matthew, a tax collector for the Romans, and Simon the Zealot were poles apart yet were brought together by Jesus. If those two could get along, he said, we can all come together at the same table.

At the announcements, Kris repeated some of what he had said at the earlier meeting, and again encouraged sign-ups and volunteers. He also read a letter from Bishop Price. The bishop wrote that there is no more appropriate day than Pentecost for a congregation to begin a new life together. Jon Delano, a layperson from St. Paul’s who is chair of District III and a member of the Standing Committee, said a few words as well that might best be characterized as a welcome and a pep talk.

The rest of the service proceeded uneventfully, and worshipers greeted the preacher, partook of the refreshments, conversed, and, eventually, said their goodbyes.

It was, I think, a good beginning for a St. David’s returned to its former status in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. Lou will preach next week. I hope that no one will be disappointed that he doesn’t play guitar.

2 comments:

  1. Thanks very much for this, Lionel. I'm delighted to hear the good news of a new beginning and a new season of ministry for St. David's. And with thanks to Kris and Lou and the congregation of St. Paul's Mt. Lebo . . . .

    Blessings,

    Bruce Robison

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  2. St. David’s, visited today, Pentecost, by parishioners and friends in hopes of a future of service and growth, God willing, to save us from a difficult past and lead us to greener pastures in the light of Jesus Christ our Lord—our thanks and praise!

    We look for forgiveness for ourselves and for others as we cannot forget what we have experienced in the Lord’s name, putting ourselves above the common fray of which we are a part—teach us oh Lord!

    These two paragraphs—a prayer—are my response to Lionel’s report on his visit. Let us be accepting of each other’s thoughts and see how variances may fit together to create, in time, a whole, to which each can say yes. We can boldly look for hope!

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