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  1384: St Mark's Cathedral, Seattle, Washington, USA

St Mark's Cathedral, Seattle

Mystery Worshipper: Amazing Grace.
The church: St Mark's Cathedral, Seattle, Washington, USA.
Denomination: Episcopal Church in the USA.
Comment: We have received a comment on this report.
The building: Affectionately known as the Holy Box, the cathedral is an imposing square stone edifice, somewhat Byzantine in appearance, with large (must have been at least 20 feet tall) windows, a very high ceiling, and a modern rose window looking west. Dedicated in 1931, the cathedral was forced to close within 10 years when St Mark's defaulted on the mortgage. Thanks to a fundraising effort spearheaded by Bishop S. Arthur Huston (who even persuaded the bankers to forgive a significant portion of the debt), it reopened in 1947 when the paid-off mortgage was ceremoniously burned before the high altar. The interior is vaulted and feels very open. There is a mixture of pews and chairs, artwork on the side walls, and some labyrinths taped out on the concrete floor. I visited at night, but I would like to go back sometime during the day to see the building in natural light.
The church: St. Mark's is the cathedral of the diocese of Olympia and draws its worshippers from all over the Seattle area. It seems to have quite a lively mix of activities, including cultural events and faith formation classes.
The neighborhood: The cathedral is located near the top of Seattle's Capitol Hill, which is immediately east of downtown. The rain had cleared, so there was a stunning view of the city skyline (including the Space Needle) from the street. Its prominent location makes it very visible to anyone passing through town.
The cast: The service was taken by St Mark's Compline Choir, which was founded in 1954 by the noted church musician Peter R. Hallock and is an independent organization whose income derives from donations and the sale of recordings.
The date & time: Sunday, January 7, 2007, 9.30pm.

What was the name of the service?

How full was the building?
Mostly full. Most of the people there looked to be under 30 years of age.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. There was no organized welcome nor were any programs distributed. A sign in the narthex requested quiet before, during and after the service.

Was your pew comfortable?
For compline the Cathedral permits people to stand, sit, or lie down anywhere but in the quire or at the altar itself, so long as they don't block the fire exits. I arrived early enough to get a pew seat, and it was comfortable with great sight lines.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The house lighting was low, as befits the service. It was surprisingly quiet and reverential for a building with busloads of teenagers in it, although the noise level did rise some just before start time. Once the choir processed in, though, you could have heard a pin drop.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
I was unfortunately unable to make this out, as the reader's microphone seemed to be optimized for singing instead of speaking – or perhaps for the live radio broadcast of the service. But I am fairly certain that the opening words were a collect or bidding prayer of some sort.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. The congregation was not invited to participate in any part of the service – not the responses, not the prayers, not at all. The only demand made on us (beyond quiet reverence) was to stand while the choir chanted the Apostles' Creed.

What musical instruments were played?
Nothing but the sound of the human voice.

Did anything distract you?
The young ladies who squeezed in next to me had brought their coffee with them and it smelled mighty good, even at that hour of the evening! I was also distracted in a bad way by the microphone issue.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Sung compline at the cathedral is about as formal as one can get (minus smoke, of course), but the "come as you are; sit, stand or lie where you please" policy mitigated that considerably. High Church meets Summer Camp (or, why I love being a Westerner).

St Mark's Cathedral, Seattle

Exactly how long was the sermon?
There was no sermon.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The music was divine, but the sight of so many young people making themselves comfortable in God's House while being perfectly well-behaved was, indeed, heaven. "In my Father's house, there are many mansions." I want mine to have music that good, and comfy chairs, and a great gathering space.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Not being able to hear the spoken bits very well was distinctly annoying, especially as we were given no order of service and so had nothing with which to follow the proceedings.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No sooner had the last Amen been chanted when the house lights came up full. I beelined over to the south wall to check out the artwork in better light and chatted some with some of the others who did likewise.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
None was offered.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 – If I were to move to the area, St Mark's would definitely be on my short list for new parish home. I'd like to check out the morning services some time; I am told that the dean is a dynamic preacher and teacher, and the music program is first-rate.

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 whole God's Slumber Party aspect ... and seeing all the people variously flopped out around the altar stand to attention and face the Cross during the creed!
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