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Downtown churches dish out spirituality

| Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2005, 12:00 p.m.

Grab lunch in the food court. Pick up the dry cleaning. Deposit checks at the bank. Oh, and one more item to check off: pray.

Downtown churches have long offered noon services for businesspeople wanting a spiritual refresher during their lunch breaks.

Not everyone knows about the services, but crowds usually grow during the holidays -- Christmas and Easter -- as people start to feel more spiritual, said the Rev. David Gleason of the First Lutheran Church along Grant Street.

Jarrod Caruso, 31, of the South Hills, started attending Mass during his lunch break about a month ago.

"I just felt the need to go to church a little extra," Caruso said one day last week as he rushed between St. Mary of Mercy Roman Catholic Church along Stanwix Street and his job at the Allegheny County District Attorney's office .

At St. Mary's, people began filing in at 11:30 a.m. Some knelt in the pews, while others waited patiently in line for their turn in the confession booth. As noon approached, about 90 bodies filled the pews, and people dressed in suits rushed to get a seat in time.

Along Sixth Avenue, the First Presbyterian Church offers a "noon boost" for anyone feeling down or in need of a little extra spirituality during the work week. But they don't take their task lightly.

"You need to clap in order to feel the spirit," church pianist Ginnie Campbell told the crowd as she played "There is No Failure in God" during a Tuesday service.

But the response -- feeble clapping and halfhearted mumbling -- from the 40 or so people wasn't going to cut it.

"You don't think I'm going to let you get away with that do you?" Campbell said, and told them to stand and get into it.

At the First Lutheran Church, Thursday's service was a little more subdued, with reserved hymn singing among the smaller assembly of 10 people.

The church's longstanding Wednesday services are more popular, Gleason said. He expects the congregation to grow as Advent, the religious period prior to Christmas, progresses through December.

Kathy Slosky, 60, of the South Side, has been a regular at First Lutheran for three years, coming almost every work day.

A short escape to the church rather than a busy restaurant during the lunch break can be a perfect relaxer, Slosky said.

"You can come in here and find solace, and it gets you through the afternoon," she said.

Additional Information:

Lunchtime services

First Lutheran Churc

615 Grant St.

12:10 p.m. weekdays

First Presbyterian Church

320 Sixth Ave.

12:25 p.m. Tuesdays

Smithfield United Church

620 Smithfield St.

12:10 p.m. Wednesdays

St. Mary of Mercy Roman Catholic Church

202 Stanwix St.

Noon daily

Trinity Cathedral

325 Oliver Ave.

12:05 p.m. daily

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