Friday, October 10, 2014

Sabbatical Visit 5: Seattle

Here's the fifth stop of my sabbatical journey -- beautiful Seattle, home of St. Paul's Episcopal Church and its 5 p.m. Community.  The video text follows....

Seattle is a place of abundance and beauty. Our first stop here was the Pike Place Market, where Seattle farmers, butchers, fishmongers, and craftspeople have been selling their goods since 1907.  You walk in, and you’re immediately struck by the fish – maybe literally, if you happen by when the guys are throwing the daily catch to each other.  But that’s only the start.  You can find nearly anything here, including the world’s first Starbuck’s, apparently a postmodern pilgrimage site.    Of course, Ann and I also had to take in the beauty of this city and the mountains and the sound with a trip up the Space Needle, built for the 1962 World’s Fair.  The landscape is simply stunning, especially on a clear day – which the natives instruct you to report never occurs.

In the midst of this beautiful city, near the Space Needle at the bottom of Queen Anne Hill, sits St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.  Perhaps it’s no accident that it, too, exudes a sense of abundant beauty in its soaring space and rich Anglo-Catholic liturgy.  That Anglo-Catholic ethos is all about the fact that, in God’s eyes, matter matters – and so it should for us.  So in the liturgy, every movement is intentional; every adornment has meaning; every minister takes his or her role deeply seriously.  Incense rises with parishioners’ prayers.  Sanctus bells mark moments when the assembly’s prayers join with those of saints and angels.  Long silences follow the readings and the sermon.  Russian icons offer windows onto the divine.  And if all this seems a little over the top, too bad.  This is who St. Paul’s is.

St. Paul’s knows its identity and its role in witnessing that identity to the world.  In a recent renovation, the iconic red doors were replaced with glass, and the narthex was opened up visually to the hundreds of people who pass by each day.  As neighbors look in, they see a different iconic image:  the baptismal font, source of new life for Christians and for all of God’s world.  And because matter matters to God, the earth and its people must be lovingly cared for.  Not surprisingly, it was the Anglo-Catholics who brought the Good News to Victorian slums, in word and deed.  And at St. Paul’s, parishioners have dinner with homeless people in the church basement each month.

That same Anglo-Catholic ethos shapes the 5 p.m. Community, St. Paul’s fresh expression of church in the basement.  The candles and vestments and incense aren’t much different from what’s used upstairs.  Even the music is nearly all from the hymnal or other standard sources.  What’s different is how worship happens.   The gathering’s arranged in a diamond shape, with the lectern on one end and the altar in the middle – so worshipers can’t help but look at each other.  That’s intentional, and it supports the “shared homily.”  The presider offers some initial thoughts and asks a question or two to get people thinking.   But the people take it from there, offering their own reflections on the readings or the art they’ve witnessed.   Seasonally, artists and performers offer their work as the second “reading,” so the homily might reflect on a painting or a dance as much as on Scripture.  It’s a fascinating combination of structure and improvisation.  Like the rest of St. Paul’s, the 5 p.m. Community is unapologetic about who it is but deeply welcoming of those drawn to the mystery it reveals.

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