|127: Grace Church, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania|
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Mystery Worshipper: Augustine the Aleut.
The church: Grace Church, Mount Washington, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Denomination: Episcopal Church in the USA.
The building: Blackened (over a century of dire pollution) and spooky-looking stone Gothic box. Indoors, painted white, with a low ceiling, and a plethora of restrained and delightful Russian-style icons. The icon-triptych altarpiece is extraordinary and worth a look. The windows were very dark and gloomy.
The neighbourhood: On Cliffside, the street overlooking the heights, you'll find a good number of restaurants, all pricy and some quite good. Housing varies from artisans' dwellings to commodious late Victorian professionals' houses to some very trendy new buildings.
The cast: Starting off with the Rector, Dr Arnold Klukas, who was then followed as celebrant by one of the associate priests, along with Deacon Rebecca Spanos (a good example of the older woman cleric whose air of competence makes the spikiest feel comfortable with women clergy) plus a subdeacon whose Pittsburgh accent defeated me entirely during the epistle.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
About two-thirds full, with about 80 in the pews. It was a good mix of different sorts of people.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, pleasantly and quietly.
Was your pew comfortable?
A fine pew, with plenty of knee room.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet and meditative in a relaxed way.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
The service was opened/preceded by the Rector introducing a former assistant priest, regaling us with his current doings, and how he himself would be spinning out of the service halfway through to preach at a nearby Lutheran Church.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The older ECUSA Book of Common Prayer, if memory serves me well (the cat ate my very detailed notes for this service).
What musical instruments were played?
A very nice organ, with some piano during the communion. No choir, but an imposing and very capable blonde cantor leading responsive psalms and the introit from her seat at the pew.
Did anything distract you?
Aside from the Botticelli crucifer? Not really. However, one of the two women sitting to my left apparently became ill before the offertory, and her companion pressed a $5 bill into my hand, asking me to put it on the plate for them.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Agreeably spiky, but informal. This was the first High Mass I've seen done in an Anglican church where it did not seem to be a clerics-only performance art exercise. It also proved that you don't need a choir to deliver a High Mass, and that it can be a workable and medium-parish activity.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
About 10 minutes.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Didn't I already tell you that the cat ate my notes?
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The entire event. I was deeply moved by the service and am still not certain why. It may have simply been that the congregation was participating fully in a complex rite and combined with the relaxed atmosphere. I really don't know: I kept blinking back tears for some reason.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
See next answer.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Not much, so I peeked at a few of the icons, and then headed out.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
None that I could see.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
I don't really know... perhaps one has to be recognized and become part of the parish community; it may have been that parishioners there were as reluctant to impose themselves upon one as I am. So I would give it a 6 for that or a 10 for an extraordinary experience. Can't make up my mind.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. Yes. It left me feeling that I was part of a chain of people throughout time and beyond boundaries. Everything was one in a zenlike kind of way.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Feeling stunned and exhausted by my experience in the church. Being pleased that I had a splendidly sunny autumn day in front of me and a half-hour's walk before brunch, so that I could compose myself.