The South Side is flush with bars, eateries, tattoo parlors, and churches. A few days ago Randy Gilson shared the link on Facebook to this South Side Church Crawl. Perhaps the best thing about this for me was the word ‘free’ which also includes ‘free parking’ on Sundays. Daylight broke a bit frosty and cold, but at least there was no new snowfall.
The only church on the slopes for this tour was St. Paul of the Cross Monastery, so that seemed like the place to start and then roll down the hill into the streets below to search for parking in this parking-space-strapped neighborhood. Unfortunately, my GPS was lost and led me up a dead-end street; I recognized the turn to McArdle Roadway and changed my starting point to St. John’s Ukrainian Catholic Church on 7th Street. This is a church I had photographed in the past from Carson Street, 7th Street ad McArdle Roadway. The onion domes lure me in; I have a thing for onions and domes in the shape of onions. This church sits beside Cupples Stadium and is also at the end of a street that houses a community of homeless people tenting beneath the bridge on McArdle Roadway. Last spring and summer I walked up this street in search of street art. I found it on the concrete bridge abutments on this street and found more above it when I peered over the railing at the traffic light on McArdle Roadway. Today I parked on Carson Street and walked past the banner on the side of the building that announced pyroghy (there is a variety of spellings for this word) on Thursdays. I pulled open the door and was greeted by a woman holding a tray with a loaf of Easter bread (to be found next door in the parish hall). As I walked up the middle aisle of the church, a man greeted me gushing about the tour. We chatted and the conversation turned to our religious upbringing and home communities. I told him I was from Worthington in Armstrong County, and he said Kittanning. “No, Worthington. It’s about five miles from Kittanning,” I said. He explained that he had taught music in Kittanning for about a year in the 1960s. The conversation then turned to architects who had designed various churches in Pittsburgh and in New York City. He was more knowledgeable on architecture than I. He mentioned a tour of churches in the East End next weekend. I later picked up the announcement for the “Cram Jam” on April 16, another ‘free’ event. I moved away as he caught another visitor’s attention. I listened to the priest for a few minutes talk about his church; then I took photographs in the main body of the church and from the balcony. As I stepped out the doors to the street, I was reminded to visit the parish hall for demonstrations of pysanky and holiday breads. Inside the hall a man and a girl were decorating and displaying decorated eggs. Moving on a woman explained the various holiday breads and shaped a little bird from dough. I picked up a recipe for Babka. The best part, of course, was the food: potato pyrohy, nut bread, and pineapple squares. When I left, I texted my daughter about the food. She had passed up the chance to come on this tour with me because there was no food, and here I was leaving with a mouthful of treats.
As I walked to my car, I overheard someone say 18th Street was the route to the monastery. As I turned right off Carson Street onto 18th Street and drove beneath a railroad overpass, it looked familiar. When I parked along the monastery, I remembered the graffiti last year on the wall beside the parking lot that proclaimed “God is a lie” or “God is dead”. That wall now looked as if had been scrubbed clean. I walked toward the waving balloons on the railings at the entrance. I walked in and saw a priest or monk talking to one visitor while another explained the statues in the alcoves and led visitors up the side aisles. I joined that group and then wandered myself. I talked briefly to a local woman who explained that the church had Sunday services but did not have a parish. It welcomes worshipers from all around the Pittsburgh area and has become the church for local parishioners whose churches have closed. After leaving the monastery, I drove down the hill and started the procession from church to church. I ran out of time before visiting the churches of Prince of Peace Parish which includes St. Adalbert, St Peter and the Parish Center. I did manage visits to South Side Presbyterian Church, St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Church, Holy Assumption of St. Mary Orthodox Church, St. Vladimir Ukrainian and Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community.
My last stop close to the 5 PM finish was the bi-denominational (Presbyterian and Methodist) Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community. This church had a different feel from the others on this tour. Perhaps the difference was that this building had once housed a restaurant or perhaps the feel was different because the pastors were dressed in jeans and t-shirts or perhaps it was because this church group was more recently formed. The worship area in the building was open with windows along one side. On the walls hung artwork created by parishioners. I walked down a hallway to the Noah’s Ark-themed nursery with doors to an enclosed courtyard where you could envision diners sitting on warm summer evenings. This was the place where services were held before the building was ready for occupancy. The services went on in warm weather and cold weather with worshipers warmed by torpedo heaters. This seemed like a church I might feel comfortable attending at this time of my life. I love the architecture of the Gothic churches and the Byzantine artwork and the golden chalices and crosses shining from the altar. I love the glimmers of the sun hitting the gold and silver onion domes. I love the steeples rising in the air and leading the eyes up to the sky, but there is something to be said for simplicity and a church that does not look like a church.