Sunday, September 18, 2011
one hundredth visit: Oct 4th 2011 Presbyterian
First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh
320 Sixth Ave, Pittsburgh PA 15222
downtown, central business districtToday's count of worshipers wearing Steelers garb while worshiping:
2 in jackets with Steelers logos
FINAL Total for this entire project: 43 (running totals here)
Several friends have asked me if gatherings' 100th visit will be a grand finale of sorts. Is the 100th of anything ever otherwise? First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh: In a project that vows not to play favorites, it makes sense to me that this 100th visit serves to ground (myself). As mentioned in my 90th visit, I was raised Presbyterian, and this last visit serves to bookend my 3-2-1 Presby countdown. To end where I once started, long, long ago. (And to note: except for this year, I have not regularly attended a place(s) of worship for 22 years.)
And to end at First Presby, in a city that is sometimes referred to as The Presbyterian City. Not to champion a particular belief... I'll let you research to find all the reasons why.
Along the way, someone had told me that this is also the oldest worship building within Pgh proper. (Beulah being slightly outside Pgh city limits.) This would add to the appropriateness of this 100th visit, but it's not the case. Alas, this building (1905) is just 5 yrs older than our house. Does not make it any less grand though, with its 13 Tiffany windows, each one over two stories tall (26 ft). And the congregation does go back 224 years, and 5 days, exactly. Just 5 years younger than the reported oldest congregation in Pittsburgh (my 46th visit).
Downtown, FPCP stands right next door to Trinity Cathedral where the Blessing of the Artists took place last week (97th visit). It's a little difficult to tell where one building ends and the next begins. Especially when staring upward at the tangle of stone steeples. In fact, the stairs that lead to First Presby's front door are the same that are used to enter Trinity's admin offices. So for a million reasons, out of Pgh's nearly 1500 possible places of worship, this seems right, for today. I am attending "Tuesday Boost," a thirty-minute, non-denominational Christian service. Here, downtown employees spend their lunch break at FPCP pondering contemporary issues of faith's place in the workplace.
The sermon: We find ourselves in unexpected places—places sometimes we'd rather not be—in order to search for and point to the truth.
I've mentioned that I teach a painting class called Obsessions. I give readings. Last February, during a class discussion, a student, Jason, brought up this passage from one of the readings: "...for I have one desire in life, the truth, and one purpose, to make the most of truth." (Lennard J. Davis, Obsession: a History, p.108) "I read that," Jason said, "and realized that's what I'm doing through art. To me, that made sense." In the silence that followed, you could feel the energy of 19 creative minds mulling that over.
Just 3 days later I was home, going through a stack of old articles I had saved, but never read. In a book review by Jon Meacham I came across this sentence “The search for truth—about the visible and the invisible—is perhaps the most fundamental of human undertakings, ranking close behind the quests for warmth, food and a mate.” And because I am an obsessive teacher, of course I emailed the student. I'd been waiting for the moment that this story would find it's place in gatherings. I had almost resigned to the fact that perhaps I would have to write a separate conclusion. Perhaps not. Thank you, Reverend Tom at visit number 100, who, from the pulpit, declares:
"We find ourselves in unexpected places—places sometimes we'd rather not be—in order to search for and point to the truth." An artist drawing in a pew.
Of course there are a handful of exceptions to what I'm about to say, but here goes:
The ritual of attending worship service, and the ritual of making art;
in the end, I see these as two very different ways of pursuing truth. Too different in today's world, I suspect, for most to simultaneously take both paths. One comes with a preexisting structured philosophy; the other asks you to sort that out on your own, along with everything else. So, with exceptions, of course, artists often choose one way, and the pious another, in our pursuit of making sense of life and the world around us. And some day, with effort from both sides, maybe it will be possible for both groups to set aside judgment and consistently approach each other with the openness that those in these 100 establishments have generally approached me. Maybe.