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774: St Stephen's, Seattle, Washington, USA
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St Stephen's, Seattle, Washington, USA
Mystery Worshipper: Rose Window.
The church: St Stephen's, Seattle, Washington, USA.
Denomination: Episcopal Church in the USA.
The building: The church is quite large for a neighborhood parish, with a modern wooden church house and stone-clad sanctuary. Inside, the east end of the nave is dominated by a pipe organ, and the side windows have frosted glass with a sparse abstract vine pattern.
The church: It's your basic well-to-do WASP church. I noted that the week before, the church held its annual meeting as part of the worship service rather than a separate forum. That's unusual for Episcopal churches in this area, but it seems like it would put the annual business meeting in an appropriate context of community worship.
The neighbourhood: This is an affluent area. There's a big park next to the church.
The cast: Rev. Cynthia Espeseth, a visiting priest, served as preacher and celebrant. Leslie Martin led the music.
What was the name of the service?
Holy Eucharist Rite II. It incorporated some inclusive language liturgy.

How full was the building?
The nave, which is very large, was only about 20 per cent full. The rector and vestry were away at their annual retreat. Maybe everyone else was recuperating from the annual meeting.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Two adorable girls in matching dresses greeted me at the entrance with an exuberance usually reserved for Santa Claus. Their parents also shook hands and welcomed me.

Was your pew comfortable?
No complaints. I appreciated the cushion.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was a little noisy during last-minute preparations for the service.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
1979 Book of Common Prayer, 1982 Episcopal Hymnal and supplement ("Wonder, Love and Praise"), New Revised Standard Bible. The service leaflet was well laid-out and offered one of the warmest welcomes I've seen.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ and piano. A trumpet played during the opening and closing hymns. A bell rang to call the congregation to worship. I liked the way St Stephen's included the children in the music. The choristers were just part of the choir, not put on display, as children so often are. The church has a handbell choir, but they didn't perform this Sunday, more's the pity.

Did anything distract you?
There was some confusion at the altar before the consecration. It took a conclave to sort it out. The guy running around in a sweater seemed to know more than the people in vestments. I was also puzzled by the omission of the gloria, and we were well into the first lesson before I got my bearings.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Traditional, with some interesting contrasts: Apostle's Creed (which I always think of as conservative) but contemporary version of the Lord's Prayer. Traditional service music, but a Taize hymn at communion.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
9 minutes. Maybe this preacher would transfer to my church?

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – The preacher is a new priest but has learned to preach well. Her delivery could be improved by avoiding that favorite teenager term: "like".

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The preacher talked about learning as a child to send thank-you notes to tell people their gift was appreciated. She related that to the day's Gospel reading of how Simon Peter's mother-in-law was healed by Jesus and got up to serve him in gratitude for healing. She extended the thought to include our own ministries as expressing gratitude for the gifts God has given us. The preacher also put the lesson in its historical context by pointing out that the sick woman got up to serve not out of servitude, but because it was her privilege as the senior woman to act as hostess. Her healing enabled her to resume her place of honor in the house.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
A candle was lit for peace in the Middle East, followed by prayers led from the congregation. It could have been hokey, but it was well done and effective.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The microphone did that fireworks routine that mikes so often do, spoiling the mood.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
As I left the nave, someone handed me a flyer about the parish retreat and invited me to attend. Another parishioner also welcomed me, taking me over to the visitor table to give me literature. When I expressed interest in a particular ministry, she tracked down the person in charge of that ministry to meet me.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
With all the conversation, coffee hour was finito by the time I got there. The coffee was still hot and good, served in my choice of a china or paper cup. Crumbs on the table suggested there had once been cake.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – St Stephen's has many fellowship programs attractive to me. What it lacks is the diversity present in Seattle, even in its own neighborhood. Another concern is the small turnout for the service, and whether this congregation's best days are behind it, or still ahead?

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The historically accurate communion bread, baked by the same delightful family who greeted me as I entered.
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