Sunday, July 19, 2015

July, 2015 Visit to Grace Church, Mt. Washington (Pittsburgh)

Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? * or who shall rise up in his holy place? 
Even he that hath All-Wheel Drive, and a stout motor; * and that hath not let his clutch foot to slip, nor sworn when his car hath rolled back at the stop sign.
Visiting my favorite Anglican parish church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania involves driving up a very steep hill on Sycamore Street.  And there is a stop sign for a cross street just at one of the steepest places.  So, when worshipping at Grace Church, Mt. Washington, it really does feel as if one is ascending into the hill of the Lord!

In fact, it feels as if one is being taken up into heaven.  And the reason for this is the best possible one:  that one actually is being taken up (if only for an hour or two) into heaven!

I've visited Grace Church before with my family, and it feels like heaven every time.  Everything about the church and its people makes us feel at home.  My visit today proved no exception to this rule.

I did make one mistake at the outset of this morning's worship, and that was not to grab hold of the little goldenrod sheet of paper that contained all of the Scripture readings, including the Psalm, which was chanted responsively.  But even this worked out for the best, since I had worn my voice out a bit on the processional hymn, and not having the Psalm in front of me gave my voice a needed break from singing, and the congregation a needed break from my voice!

The sermon, given by Fr. John Porter, focused on the Gospel lesson from St. Mark, the 6th Chapter.  It is St. Mark's account of the feeding of the five thousand.  At the reading of the Gospel, perhaps inspired by the amazing incense used at Grace Church, I noticed something about this story I'd never noticed before, and it was something rather comical.  Verses 31 through 33 tell the story:  

"And he said to them, 'Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while.' For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 
 And they went away in the boat to a lonely place by themselves.
 Now many saw them going, and knew them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns, and got there ahead of them."

How did I never notice this before, the comedy of it?  The Lord of the Universe is simply trying to get some rest from the ceaseless round of crowds coming to see him, and he is thwarted (by his own creatures) in even that.  It is as if God the Father allows his Son to be outwitted, in a sense.  As I visualized it through the cloud of incense, it seemed to me like something out of a comedic silent movie, like a scene in a Chaplin or Harold Lloyd film.  Jesus and the Apostles trying to make their getaway, but being thwarted by people from all the surrounding towns racing on foot to beat them there, so that there were 5000 men in the "lonely place" by the time they got there!

To borrow (and highly modify) a phrase from a Lightnin' Hopkins song, "Travel on the heel is faster than travel on the keel."  (What Hopkins actually said was, "Rubber on the wheel is faster than rubber on the heel.")

Fr. Porter's sermon made several good points about the Gospel story, which I won't go into here, but soon it was time to "ascend into the hill of the LORD" for the Lord's feast.  I probably shouldn't focus on details like this, but one thing that helps a person of weak faith such as myself is when I am allowed to receive more than just a few molecules of consecrated wine from the chalice, and today I was granted a nice large swallow.  (Perhaps there was the suspicion that I had a particularly large number of sins to be washed away, but I rather think that this generosity was shown to all.)  In my 25 years as an Anglican, I've encountered quite a few chalice bearers who seem to take is as their Prime Directive to give as little of the wine as possible to those receiving.  I've never understood this phenomenon.  But that was certainly not the case here.

I should mention that there was a guest organist today (I did not get his name) who did a very fine job!

The entire worship experience, from start to finish, was a complete joy.

After the service, a coffee hour was held in the undercroft, after which a truly special treat was in store.  For today's Adult Spiritual Formation class, we learned about Anglican priest and poet George Herbert from J. D. Wright, a scholar in the study of Herbert and the Metaphysical Poets.  This was not only a great and very informative session, but it was spiritually very moving as well.

I can hardly wait to come back and visit Grace Church, Mt. Washington again!