Thursday, March 31, 2005

Good enough for ice cream

Fading Isaly's sign on Corbet street

What a glorious day it was yesterday. Unfortunately I had to spend a lot of it indoors behind windows that further limited the natural light everyone else was enjoying outdoors (at least I imagined that everyone else was enjoying it). In the middle of the afternoon I took a short walk through Riverview Park where many young families had their children outside playing in the playground. Everyone was enjoying the burst of warm and sunny weather after a long stretch of cold and/or rainy days.

Later in the afternoon at Grand Central Station, the children were still obviously excited by the change in the weather. They were far more animated than usual as Mrs. McKinley and Mrs. Lokar talked with the children about prayer, and they all were eager to name the people for whom they prayed.

Brick sidewalk in Tarentum

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Ham Loaf

While I was having a cup of coffee at the Corbet Street's Central Perk yesterday someone asked me. "When is your church having that ham loaf dinner?" As I started to give the answer (Saturday, April 9 from 4 to 6) I noticed that every ear in the place was hanging on my every word. In the newest place in Tarentum where one can go to drink coffees with exotic flavors, lattes, chai teas and the like, both customers and staff had a longing for ham loaf.

"It's been so long since I've had ham loaf," said a young woman. Others started to reminisce about the times when they discovered ham loaf being offered in small towns through which they were once travelling. In a fast-paced world, in the company of people who would like to keep up with the trends, there is still a hunger for a meal that bring back memories of childhood.

As a transplant to Western Pennsylvania, I need to admit that three years ago I did not even know what a ham loaf was. The folks at Central took a picture of me taking my first bite of ham loaf back in 2003, and I was able to state with all honesty that it was the best ham loaf I had ever eaten. I am still not a connoisseur of ham loaf. The only ham loaf I have tasted has been the kind made with the secret recipe at Central Presbyterian Church. Although I lack any childhood memories of this simple dish, I suspect that the day will come when even I will ask myself how long it has been since I had some ham loaf.

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Monday, March 28, 2005

Easter surprises me

Easter always surprises me. It doesn't matter that I know the story, or that I've seen how it has affected people, or even that I've been to church on many Easters before. It still surprises me.

When I arrived early at Central Church the building was ready. The furnace was on and the radiators were hissing. Others had carefully arranged the flowers the day before. Volunteers had taken care to clean the worship space. The bulletins were waiting at each of the doors for whoever would arrive.

At the time when, on other Sundays, a crowd would have started to gather, the building still seemed quiet. Our substitute organist, still recovering from a bad cold, had arrived wondering whether she should have taken just one more day of bedrest. The choir members started to arrive and went downstairs to do their final rehearsal for the day. The worship space was still largely empty and quiet. That was the moment when the whispers of doubt started to ask, "Will this Easter be different? Will this be the year when cold weather, or the cold season, or apathy itself are enough to keep the people from gathering on the highest of the Christian holidays?"

Then by ones and twos and threes familiar faces started to appear: people who worship here weekly, and those for whom Easter is the time for an annual pilgrimage. They continued to arrive even during the singing of the first hymn, a happy crowd of new and familiar faces, of young and old, all eager to hear the Easter story anew.

I know that the resurrection of Christ is not like the healing of Tinkerbell that depended on the insistent clapping of all the children who longed for Tinkerbell to live. God raised Jesus from the dead once for all, without conducting a single poll of whether the people of the earth wanted it to happen. But it is still nice to be surprised by the reminder that people want to let that message transform their lives.

Saturday, March 26, 2005


"Giggles" is the nickname of an octogenarian whose infectious laughter refreshes everyone who meets her. She says she finds something to laugh about in the midst of whatever is happening to her, good or ill. Today her room in an assisted living home is decorated with her stuffed animals and the part of her collection of angel figures that she was able to bring along when she moved out of her own home.

She laughs about the effect of aging on her once beautiful singing voice, and then tells me a story about one of the reasons she believes in prayer.

She had fallen in her kitchen in her own home where she was living alone. When she regained consciousness she found she could not get up. She called for help but no one could hear her from inside her house. She prayed that God would help her to get to the other room where she could reach a telephone, but she was unable to get there. Thinking that her prayers had been answered in the negative, she began to pray that someone would find her. Only a few minutes passed before a voice at the window asked whether she needed any help. It was the window-washer who came into her house, helped her get up and telephone some neighbors.

The window-washer was not scheduled to wash her windows until the following week.

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Good Friday in the Allegheny Valley

Not far away in the town of Brackenridge the Allegheny Valley Association of Churches offered its annual Good Friday service at the Trinity United Methodist Church yesterday. The service used a liturgy developed over many years of area churches working together, focusing on the seven last words of Christ. Volunteers from a variety of churches led in worship, and offered gifts of special music. Ministers from churches across the theological spectrum each offered sermons on particular words of Christ. Central's former organist, Bryan Lassinger, did his usual outstanding job of playing the organ music through the three hour service.

In addition to the spiritual nurture provided by such a worship gathering, it was also a good time to see and hear familiar faces and voices, and new ones as well.

Holy Week is certainly an important time for Christian communities of faith to organize their own individualized observances and celebrations. Central is no exception to that general fragmented practice as it held its own Maundy Thursday service of Holy Communion the evening before. But against that backdrop of individual parochial observances it is noteworthy that a large number of Christians from a range of traditions can maintain a tradition of gathering together in fulfillment of Christ's prayer "that they may all be one." Every time gatherings such as this occur we can catch a glimpse of something that is yet to be.

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Thursday, March 24, 2005

Welcome to my blog

Welcome to my blog. I've started this blog in the belief that God is doing important things in this world, that one can observe the signs, and those who recognize the signs can decide whether to be a part of that creative activity. Stop to take a look at your world and make your own decision.