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2204: St Paul's, Seattle, Washington, USA
St Paul Seattle
Mystery Worshipper: Hector the Lector.
The church: St Paul's, Seattle, WA
Denomination: The Episcopal Church, Diocese of Olympia.
The building: St Paulís contemporary pleated roof soars at least 60 feet above the busy streets of the Queen Anne district north of downtown Seattle. Its open interior worship space is an oasis of calm, appointed simply with powerful pieces by local artists, a blend of austere and decorative. Immediately adjacent to the church is a labyrinth modeled after the medieval original at Chartres Cathedral, France, and the first accessible permanent outdoor labyrinth within the city limits. The labyrinth and garden were created to commemorate St Paulís 100th anniversary at its location. During my visit, many references were made to an upcoming renovation project, but I doubt that any changes will fiddle with the essence of the structure.
The church: It seems to be a diverse, accepting, progressive Anglo-Catholic community committed to meaningful ritual, with a history of involvement in sociopolitical issues.
The neighborhood: Itís at the foot of South Queen Anne Hill, near the Seattle Center, surrounded by a mix of residential neighborhoods, ethnic restaurants, and small businesses.
The cast: The Revd Mary Jane Francis, priest associate, was the celebrant and preacher.
The date & time: Sunday, June 26, 2011, 10.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Holy Eucharist.

How full was the building?
Comfortably full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
The two greeters at the front door said good morning as they handed me a service bulletin and pointed out the guest book if I wished to sign it. A parishioner entering a pew ahead of me said hello.

Was your pew comfortable?
Standard wooden pew. No cushion but comfortable. I didnít try the kneelers.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was quiet, with people talking in whispers. About 15 minutes before the service, people sitting on the right side in an area in front of the Mary statue recited the Angelus, but other parishioners continued entering, saying hello to others. The door to the narthex (entry) was open, so greetings and street traffic noise could be heard as well.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Let us go forth in peace, alleluia" was chanted at the beginning of the entrance procession.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The 1979 Book of Common Prayer, the 1982 Hymnal, and the service bulletin (for hymn numbers and the melodies of the sung responses).

What musical instruments were played?
Organ played by organist/choirmaster Gary James.

Did anything distract you?
The lack of children! I counted only two infants, three toddler/preschoolers, and two elementary school-aged kids. The bulletin insert mentioned a childrenís formation program that seemed to be on break for a few weeks, so maybe all the kids were on break too. St Paulís seems to be a child-friendly parish, as evidenced by its website pages about godly play and a childrenís choir, and its accepting response to normal kid noise. I seem to have visited when most of the children werenít there.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
As an Anglo-Catholic community, St Paulís blends ritual, music, prayer, readings, and symbolic actions with beauty and dignity. I happened to visit when they were celebrating the (transferred) feast day of St Peter and St Paul. Perhaps the solemn procession at the beginning of the service – acolytes, crucifer, choir, thurifer (swinging the thurible in a big circle), eucharistic ministers, presider – up the center aisle and down the side aisles with stops at the statues of Peter and Paul, plainsong chants, lots of incense – was all about the feast day, but I think the services are probably usually higher than lower at St Paulís. The congregation seemed accustomed to singing the Gloria, psalm response, Nicene creed, and Lordís Prayer, and practiced a variety of personal rituals: genuflections/bows getting in and out of pews, bows and signs of the cross coinciding with the celebrantís during the service. But there were many who simply sat or stood. Tolerance and acceptance of all expressions of devotion were palpable. Most importantly, all the ritual felt meaningful and intentional, not just done out of habit.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
11 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – The celebrant read her homily from the pulpit and her delivery was not very dynamic. I did enjoy her dry wit.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon reflected on the lives, ministries and deaths of St Peter and St Paul. As flawed human beings who took up the baton from Jesus to tend and feed the flock, they passed the baton to others, and eventually to us.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
In ascending order: real bread for communion (gluten-free wafers were available); choir and organ; periods of silence after the lessons and sermon, and communion hymn.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Having to consult the service bulletin so often for hymn numbers and response melodies, and thus having to juggle the prayer book and hymnal.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Another engagement prevented me from staying after the service for conversation or refreshments. The celebrant was greeting folks in the doorway afterward and asked me if I was visiting. She welcomed me warmly.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I didn't sample it.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – While some aspects of Anglo-Catholic practices make me uncomfortable (residual knee-jerk reactions against the Roman Catholic church of my youth), I responded deeply to the meaningful ritual and contemplative practices at St Paulís. If I lived in Seattle I would definitely make several visits in order to learn more about its many ministries and programs.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Oh, yes.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The period of silence after the sermon.
 
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