Guest Outpost blog by Alina Kanaski
I love Pittsburgh. I went to seminary in Pittsburgh. I rode out being call-ready in Pittsburgh. My first call is now in Pittsburgh — I jumped at the chance to stay in a city I had come to love, for its quirky character and wonderful, close-knit people.
In fact, the first church I attended in Pittsburgh was in Squirrel Hill. It was a few blocks from Tree of Life, which at the time I only knew because we would walk past it after church on the way to lunch. Squirrel Hill was the neighborhood I would take visitors to because it is vibrant and interesting. You can find a place to fit any interest in Squirrel Hill.
So, the first photo to hit the news of Tree of Life Synagogue surrounded by police cars and yellow tape was shocking. It wasn’t supposed to look like that. It’s supposed to be calm and steady, whether the source of a stream of worshippers or one synagogue among many.
I knew one of the injured — a man who has been in critical condition. We worked together as chaplains, sharing an office and talking frequently.
But my grief has been for so much more than one survivor. I cried at photos of crowds gathered, at the list of the dead. I cried at stories from their lives and at stories of others’ grief. Squirrel Hill was too wonderful to be full of such hate. Worship is supposed to be a place that transcends all that.
And yet here we are.
I’ve led four worship services since the shooting. I’ve held back tears at every one.
We read a list of those we’d like to remember for All Saints Sunday during one service. This was also, of course, the Sunday that the carpet installation became more of a change than we bargained for: the entire front third of the church had to be sectioned off, complete with ugly plastic sheeting and caution tape. We pulled out fold-up tables and plastic tablecloths. I placed the candles for the saints. Someone found the nice tablecloth for communion. The brass communion set was surrounded by candles, with a nice backdrop of plastic sheeting.
There was so much juggling of books and binders and lighters. I held back tears through my sermon, which was the shortest I’ve ever preached, and cried through all the songs. But communion.
The ushers brought the bread and wine as part of the offering. I finished setting the table – making sure nothing was going to burst into flames, because the bread and wine were surrounded by candles – and took a breath as the light flickered and glinted off the brass.
It was not my smoothest communion. Serving the elements probably looked like a terrible dance. But it didn’t matter. We were surrounded by light. God did not care that the bread and wine were somewhere different. God was there. It was a joy to say, “This is the body of Christ, given for you.” God is there, in the unexpected and in our grief. What a joy to find it, and to offer that truth to others.
ALINA KANASKI is currently serving as pastor at Chartiers Valley Presbyterian Church in Carnegie, Pennsylvania, and Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Pittsburgh.As if two churches weren’t enough, she likes to crochet with friends, read and take long walks.