Monday, July 26, 2010

A Visit to Grace Church, Mt. Washington

I usually travel to a few bodybuilding contests each year, which generally have me in some unfamiliar town from early afternoon on a Friday until late Saturday evening.  It is usually too long a drive to get back home for church on Sunday morning, and so I have to seek out an Anglican parish at which to worship in whatever city I'm in.

Back in March, I found a very good parish in Columbus, Ohio, after attending the Arnold Classic.

This past weekend took me and my family to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for the NPC Teen, Collegiate, and Masters National Championships.  And, although it was a spectacular bodybuilding contest, the parish we visited on Sunday morning was far more spectacular.

I hardly know where to begin.  Like the famous passage in Chesterton, where he imagines being asked why he prefers civilisation to savagery.  We just liked everything about Grace Church, Mt. Washington, so it is very hard to know where to begin.

The lady out in on the porch in the next photo was the first to greet us, followed by Fr. Ira Houck, who gave us a short tour of the church building.  We met a few other parishioners, too.  I would have to say that nearly every parishioner we came across not only greeted us, but really engaged us in meaningful conversation.  The funny thing is that my wife and I usually don't like that.  It usually seems like going to a big shopping mall during a very dead hour of the afternoon, when all the bored salespeople pace back and forth in the portals of their shops, waiting to pounce on you.  But, somehow, it was not at all like this at Grace.  I cannot explain it.

I wish I had been paying better attention, but somehow it came to light that my 16-year-old son Eliot is an acolyte, and would be glad to lend a hand, in case they were short.  I honestly would never have expected them to take us up on this offer, but they did.  It was a remarkable gesture of trust, and Eliot did not disappoint.  He got to be crucifer and acolyte, and even rang the sanctus bells (though I did not realize it at the time).

The next thing to mention might be the organist.  He was quite good, and while there was no choir (probably due to it being summer) the congregational singing was robust and harmonious.

But perhaps what impacted me even before all of this, and this will sound trivial, was the smell of the church.  To an "olfactory learner" like myself, there is just a certain way a church should smell, and it should smell exactly like Grace Church, Mt. Washington of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Anglican Church in North America!  Doubtless the beautiful aroma comes from dark wood absorbing large doses of incense over a period of several decades, but I somehow think that the prayers of the saints who have worshipped there over the same decades, ascending along with the incense, also play a part.

When visiting any unknown Anglican parish, I always set my expectations low for the sermon or homily.  In this case, that was totally unnecessary.  Fr. Ira Houck preached a fine sermon, which touched very nicely on the subjects of friendship and ultimately friendship with God in prayer.  But, more than that, it touched me personally.  Or, rather, God touched me through it.

Fr. Ira got to a certain part of his sermon where he described what it is like to be with friends after a long absence, and how one feels once again centered and grounded.  One remembers who one is, and what one's mission is, what it is that makes him himself.  And I got the shivers.  Goosebumps all up and down my arms, because this had just happened to me, doubly.  Once, at the two-day bodybuilding competition, where I met old friends (and formerly unmet internet friends), and remembered (at long last!) that I am called to be a bodybuilder.  And a second time, right at that instant, by virtue of feeling so incredibly at home among formerly unmet Anglican brothers and sisters.  It was like waking up from a long slumber, after which everything is clear, and one knows exactly what to do next.

Cindy loved the fact that one of the hymns we sung used the hymn tune Aberystwyth, one of her absolute favourites (and mine).

We got tripped up just one or two times, where Rite I differs slightly from the 1928 BCP, which we know from memory.  But the entire service felt like being instantly at home in a "strange" city, and being instant friends with those who we would have expected to treat us like strangers.

To anyone visiting the city of Pittsburgh, I give this parish my highest recommendation, and I myself plan to visit it again next July!