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51: University Temple, Seattle, USA
Other reports | Comment on this report
Seattle UMC
Mystery Worshipper: The Owl.
The church: University Temple, Seattle, Washington, USA.
Denomination: United Methodist Church.
The building: A fairly dreary Gothic-style cathedral on the outside. Despite the flat gray-brown of the exterior facade, the sanctuary itself is extraordinarily beautiful, if aging none too gracefully. Despite some obvious disrepair in the rest of the building, the incredible stained glass windows are very well maintained. These windows are considered to be among the finest work of stained-glass artist Anton Geza Rez.
The neighbourhood: The University District was one of the first developed areas north of Downtown Seattle. However, it has experienced a downturn of sorts in the last 20 years as businesses have pulled up roots and followed the expansion of the city northwards and eastwards. However, the continued presence of the University of Washington (and its continued need for tattoo parlors and sushi bars) has kept the neighborhood from totally decaying.
The cast: The Senior Pastor, Rev Sharon Moe, assisted by the deacons, Rev Kay Barckley and Rev Katie M. Ladd. And, very much at the center of much of worship, artist-in-residence and organist David DiFiore.
What was the name of the service?
The Festival of Easter.

How full was the building?
Approximately two-thirds of the lower level was full, putting the total at around 500. The balcony, which could have seated another 500, was closed.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
One of the assigned 'greeters' said good morning as I entered through the Narthex. However, throughout the service itself I was only welcomed by those who I already knew. Americans from Seattle have a reputation for being excessively polite and distant.

Was your pew comfortable?
Not terribly comfortable as Methodist pews go. However, this was more than passable for a standard uncushioned pew from the early 1930s.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Fairly normal for an Easter service, with children and extended families locked in conversation. However, the choral introit quickly pulled the audience into hushed reverence.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
'Would you please stand for the Easter greeting, which is printed in the bulletin.'

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The United Methodist Hymnal.

What musical instruments were played?
Accompanying the organist was a brass quartet consisting of two trumpets, a French horn and a trombone, with a set of timpani.

Did anything distract you?
The antiquated sound system, which almost completely failed at several points during the Gospel lesson, managed to severely garble signifigcant portions of the service. Also, the near heckling committed by the family in the pew behind me managed to confirm a theory of mine concerning Easter crowds. Finally, the half-dozen girls who were being confirmed managed to giggle their way through the confirmation vows as if they were reading letters from a teen magazine.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The highest of high church for United Methodists, almost like a service at the local Episcopal chapel, minus the kneelers and wafers. The organ, brass quintet and chancel choir led the congregation in hymns set largely to tunes which dated from the 14th to 19th centuries. The hymn, 'Alleluia! Sing to Jesus', was set to an arrangement of Hyfrydol which the fairly large choir knew well, and most of the rest of the congregation probably remembered from Christmas.

Resurrection stained glass window

Exactly how long was the sermon?
14 minutes, almost on the nose.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5. She spoke confidently and her sermon was clearly organized. However, though the stuff of emotion was built into it, she seemed more interested in bringing up examples rather than pounding them home.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
How, despite Christ's death and Resurrection, we are still ruled by death in this world because we have not finished the work of Christ in caring for others as he would have us.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Singing out the hymn, 'Sing with All the Saints in Glory', as the clergy and choir recessed to the Narthex. A well-timed break in the cloud cover further accented the moment.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The continual, static-filled exchange of the single portable microphone by the clergy throughout the first third of the service. In fact, I'd extend that to any time the microphone was exchanged at any time during the service.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I was largely ignored as I wandered around in the Narthex. However, both the deacons spoke to me briefly, and as I continued to look lost, a couple greeted me and directed me towards coffee in Preston Parlor.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Very good tea and pastries served on a fairly fine piece of china for a church.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6. I have attended this church on several occasions. However, the distressing absence of people about my age is fairly notable. I feel as if there are mainly geriatrics and college professors.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, of course. It was an Easter service and, despite the problems, I'm certain it would make even some of the more contentious crowd there proud to be Christians.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The image of the entire congregation standing and singing the closing hymn. I have not seen that many people in a traditional church at one time since I was a small child.

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