On Saturday, October 29, the Deacons of Central Presbyterian Church of Tarentum sponsored a tour of six local churches. This was the second time the Deacons have sponsored a church tour. Last year we had a tour through Molly's Trolleys; this year the Deacons themselves selected the churches to visit and then chartered a bus to follow the route.
About 45 people participated in the tour; some were members of Central Presbyterian Church, some were members of First United Presbyterian Church of Tarentum, some were related to the Tarentum Genealogical Society, and some were from the local Red Hat Society.
The full day tour was far more than merely an opportunity to observe architectural curiosities; each tour was an occasion for the representatives of the local churches to tell us about what was important to them in their path of discipleship. At each church we learned a lot. In fact, I would say we had the wonderful opportuity to hear six different sermons in the course of the day.
The tour started in the parking lot at Central Presbyterian Church at 8:30. Our first stop was at the Sts. Peter and Paul Roman Catholic Church in Tarentum. This church is a Byzantine Rite Roman Catholic Church. Father Wesley Mash gave us the tour of the building. I had been in this church three years ago when I was new to the area and really appreciated the icons and paintings throughout the worship space.
Father Mash explained the mosaic stations of the cross that were found around the church. He also pointed out an icon of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary. This picture was about a legend about Mary with which I was unfamiliar as a Protestant. Although the whole story is completely outside of the Scriptures accepted by the Church, Protestants might gain a clearer understanding of the role of Mary in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches from the legend.
According to this legend when Mary was about to die all of the apostles except for Thomas were miraculously brought to her bedside. There she fell asleep and died as any other mortal, but then Jesus himself descended from Heaven to take her soul. The apostles buried her body in a tomb. Thomas got there late and wanted to see her body, but when they opened the tomb it was full of flowers. This story makes it clear that Mary needed to be saved by Jesus the same as all of us, notwithstanding her central role as the "God-bearer." We would hear this legend a second time at the last church on our tour.
The next stop was the Springdale United Presbyterian Church. They were getting ready to celebrate a Heritage Sunday, so the paraments in the sanctuary were plaid. Although the church was filled with posters and displays telling about the history of the church, and the members of the congregation who gave us the tour were ready to answer questions about the congregation's history, they spoke predominantly about what the congregation is doing today.
The next stop was the Cheswick Presbyterian Church. It was a great pleasure for the members of Central Presbyterian to hear Dr. Bossers (who had been the interim pastor at Central before I was called) tell about what God was doing at Cheswick Presbyterian. He told us about children's ministries that had started because some members were concerned to fulfill the Great Commission. He also talked about ways in which God was leading the congregation to leave behind some irrational fears in order to embrace more fully the richness of table fellowship with one another.
From there we travelled to Sharpsburg, where we had an excellent buffet lunch at Jimmy G's Restaurant. Jimmy himself greeted us over lunch. The lunch was in the ballroom, and some of us took a look around the rest of the restaurant as we left.
Our next stop was the First English Lutheran Church of Sharpsburg. Part of the history this congregation told us was about the flood of 1936 (also legendary for Central Presbyterian Church). We had to go up a number of steps to get to the Sanctuary, and even that worship space had a couple feet of water in that flood.
This congregation had just recently finished a major restoration of their stained glass windows, so the tour included seeing photographs of the windows before restoration that we could compare with the restored windows. The difference was amazing.
Near the end of the tour they gave us refreshments while a member of the congregation gave a demonstration of making stained glass art. There were a number of recently-made pieces of stained glass in the social hall.
It's dangerous to have a second dessert right after lunch.
Our next stop was the St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Oakmont. The tour of this impressive worship space included a nice handout on the great variety of Christian symbols that could be found throughout.
From there we went to the Dormition of the Theotokos Greek Orthodox Church, Oakmont. We learned that the Greek word for Dormition (falling asleep) is Koimesis. Theotokos is Greek for God-bearer or Mother of God.
The tour of this church began outside the baptistry. The function of icons was explained to us, making clear that the orthodox do not worship the icons themselves.
The baptistry was an entire worship space with the font in the center and an altar at the front. There was a series of icons along the wall near the ceiling that depicted the days of creation, each of them including a depiction of Christ as the eternal Word. Other icons showed Adam, and then Christ as the new Adam.
The main worship space was adjacent to the baptistry. As we entered we were told that behind the iconostasis we would see Christ on his throne. We were shown all the other icons in the room before the central door was opened and we saw an icon of Christ on the cross, depicting the Biblical image of Christ reigning from the cross.
At the conclusion of the tour of this church we were given refreshments, including baklava.
It is really dangerous to have three desserts.
We returned to the parking lot at Central Presbyterian Church at 5:00 PM. We owe special thanks to our bus driver Ron Callan, who safely maneuvered our coach through some of the narrowest streets in the Valley.