Attending services at the First United Methodist Church in Pittsburgh, PA
I have walked by this place so often, it was time to finally go in and see the grandness from the inside. Also, what is Methodist actually? I couldn’t say I’ve actually consciously ever been to a Methodist service. Oh wait, I take it back, Christmas 2005 in Copperas Cove, TX when I didn’t have enough leave accrued to go home I went to the Methodist church nearby, and I recall finding the music very moving.
The location of this church is prime real estate, at a major intersection of several key up and coming neighborhoods in Pittsburgh. I walked past on my way from the grocery story on a Saturday and decided to visit the next day. There were several homeless-looking men hanging around at the front drinking beer, and as I walked around to see the other side, so did one of them and he proceeded to urinate against the building. The next day I could see from inside that he at least hadn’t urinated against the wall where the altar was…
This is a truly beautiful building, the architectural symmetry made me feel comfortable, and it is well maintained. The choir wore gowns, I always get a kick out of that—not having grown up with lots of pageantry or uniforms, my only connotation is the Gospel Choir in uniform scenes from TV—but this choir sang beautifully, and it got me in the Spirit. At some point, at least 20 minutes after services had begun, what appeared to be one of the friends of Saturday’s hobos came in and proceeded to ‘greet’ the congregation. Better late than never, they say! What I’m still trying to get my mind around is the order of the events in these services. There is an observable order, but it doesn’t always appear to culminate in communion that everyone participates in.
Yes, I know, some of you are probably going ‘duh’, it is Protestant! But this is new to me. I have since informed myself about Methodism further here and here. I asked afterwards how often communion is celebrated and learned about how the Methodists celebrate a service of Word and Table. Though I did not get to see it on this Sunday, they don’t use wine but grape juice and everyone, regardless of denomination is welcome to receive Communion. Apparently once a month is the norm for communion, though this goes back to the early days when there were not enough ordained clergy and so congregations had to wait for their ‘rotation.’
The senior pastor lead an attempt at a group prayer situation, which seemed somewhat awkward, because no one publicly volunteered the incriminating information which was needed to be prayed upon; the congregation seemed more comfortable submitting prayer requests by paper, or allowing the pastor to speak generally about and pray for the types of challenges a community, heck, every community faces, such as illness, incarceration, unemployment, and death.
The sermon later was not particularly inspiring, and involved lengthy personal anecdotes and lamentations about the state of the world (yes, I already know, it sucks — I live here too) but finally got to the message that we are called to help those in need, to be His disciples. This is in line with the Methodist “practical divinity” and putting love into action. From the community bulletin and bulletin board, it was evident that this church is very active socially and is doing charity, interfaith and community work, the opportunities to be His disciple are quite numerous.
I find it interesting that Methodism was founded by John Wesley, a priest in the Church of England in the late 1700s. How many denominations, movements, and independent churches were founded by people seeking renewal or a renewed emphasis on an element they find lacking in their church? The freedom ultimately possible in Protestantism for individuals to follow their conscience and results of their own study of theology—regardless of where it might lead—them is for me the main draw of Protestantism itself.