(friends, this is one of my favorite writings from 2008. enjoy. )
It began in Pittsburgh, and a question of where to eat. “Amy wants to eat Pittsburgh.” My friend offered to our host. “Interesting image.” Said he. “No, I want to eat food and experience something that can only be experienced in Pittsburgh.” “Which Pittsburgh? Polish Pittsburgh? Italian Pittsburgh? Working class Pittsburgh?” “I want to eat someplace where we can eat, drinkand be merry.”
“Oh”, said the host, “I have just the place. The Church BrewWorks.” We climbed into the jeep, which sat at the curb overlooking the Cathedral of Learning and the Heinz Chapel.
A good way to start. We drove into neighborhoods that had histories that were shifting and redefining their character. Turning left we entered an old Italian neighborhood, that had bike lanes actually used by bikes and respected by cars, taverns, pedestrians, lights and sights to garner my interest.
We were looking for the former St. Johns Catholic Church. It served the Old neighborhood well, yet when the neighborhood was beset by economic downturn and an exodus of original neighborhood folks, the church dwindled as well. So, it was sold. To a micro brewery. The Church Brew Works.
We pulled into a side lot, looking for parking space. It seems that the restaurant had evangelized their good news well, as there was nearly no parking to be had. As we walked up to the front doors, there was a friendly and welcoming vibe to the place, carried in the dark thick wood and brick of the architecture and on the faces and bodies of eaters going in and out.
Once we entered the outside doorway, we found ourselves in a vestibule. A place for stamping the Pittsburgh winter off one’s shoes, shucking a coat, straightening Sunday finest. We simply walked to the second set of tall, majestic doors. We entered the Sanctuary. Stained glass, raised chancel, wooden pews smoothed by faithful behinds on many a Sunday morning. Instead of ushers and bulletins, we were greeted by a hostess and menus. The wait for main seating in the sanctuary….er…..main dining area would be 20 minutes. But we could wait over in the bar to the side. We slid our own behinds into pew and chair, in a section that had baptized babies. We baptized our delight in discovering that Pennsylvania still allows smoking in restaurants.
Our server came over. She wore the vestments of apron, tightly fitted T, multiple piercings and an engaging smile. She expertly took us through the liturgy of hops and brews, appetizers and main courses, asking us questions in order to be able to highlight the most enjoyable offerings. Her sermon was of flavors, scents, textures and experience. We listened as disciples, so that we would choose well.
I slowly became aware, at this point, that I was still only observing my surroundings. As though patron, servers, and food were elements of a divine gourmet play that I was attending. Isn’t that how it often is in church? We wait for chorister, worship leader and preacher to evoke God for us, to create space in our sanctuaries so that we can sit and observe. We listen to the parables and texts and hymn tunes as something we agree with and find pleasing….not often presented with too much challenge…..but let it slip past us through lack of making the experience our own.
So, I in haled deeply of the blue swirling tobacco smoke to my side. I felt the vibration of the clinking glasses of we three, as we raised our brews in a yeasty homage to friendship. I heard my own voice speaking the lesson of the day as we passed between us comments of institutional politics, postmodern sensibilities, scholarship of Riceour, Didera, White and Holland….and yes, even the mysticism of Ritchie.
In a state of sedate fullness, my vision wandered to the raised altar in this micro brewery. Where once was chalice and bread, now stood hops and mash, where once the priest robed and latined his way through transubstantiation, now the brewers did their thing in the altar of the brew house to bring tasty pleasures of Celestial Gold, Pius Monk Dunkel, and Pipe Organ Pale Ale….. to our lips.
As conversation and food gave way to dessert and comfortable silences, we gathered our belongings to take leave. And, just as one often takes home a bulletin from a particularly meaningful worship service, a token of the evening came with us.
Our tithes and offerings were left with the bill and we ushered ourselves out into the night: blessed, connected, and indeed in the presence of the Holy who resides in all places.
Look up from your piety, open your eyes without judgement, for the Divine is to be found here and now.