The drive there is, as usual, free of any traffic. The sun is setting and from a distance, I can make out the exterior of my destination. In fact, as soon as the sun starts to set, lights come on to illuminate the incredible structure of the — due to insufficient funds — rather small cathedral. Notably though, it is a structure that stands out. Arriving around 9:15 p.m., the parking lot is already full of cars of every color and make. Even before I turn off the motor, I witness the broad mixture of individuals flocking to St. Mark’s Cathedral, the Archdiocese of the Episcopalian Church of Olympia.
Beautifully finished gigantic wooden doors mark the entrance of the Cathedral. The architectural style, although nothing like planned in 1928, is kept very simple with fairly straight lines, outside as well as inside. Through the large doors, another set is revealed, held open by ushers to welcome the visitors. The sanctuary is a large open hall, encompassed by heavy, time-weathered walls, which in turn envelop the simple wood furniture. Large glass pieced doors, climaxing in a star glass-design, decorate the front. Flags representative of various cultures and beliefs hang from the ceiling.
The mere atmosphere I encounter gives way to the reason I attend. Compline is a service for anyone, and anyone can make of it what he or she wants.
Unlike any church service I’ve witnessed, the sanctuary is packed with people, on whose faces you can read the expectations of this spiritual endeavor. Although people of every age and culture are present, there’s a large group of faces I recognized from SPU’s campus, mingled in with the many other young adults in search of an experience. No boundaries are visible, and the crowd settles down anywhere that would allow for comfortable rest. People are sprawled out on the cold stone floors, waiting for the chanters to materialize from a small door in the corner.
There’s something truly special about this last service of the day. The purpose of the service, a reflection and time of prayer on the final day of the week, takes on its own dimension to each individual. Silence wraps the cathedral in warmth; the anticipation rises. By now, the scraggly looking man who faithfully attends every Sunday night has done his first walk through the rows, perhaps in hope of finding a small treasure. The lady, as if in a trance, nodding in a feverish manner, escapes to wherever her mind may take her. Sitting there rocking on the pew, she is joined by the scraggly looking man.
There is a kind of familiarity in the order of chants. I lay down on the floor, joining many others, as I dive off into my weekly journey of exploring my mind. What really strikes me this time is the freedom and comfort exhaled by the chanting men. There’s nobody there to tell me what the proper etiquette entails. Nobody to tell me how to pray, what I need to work on to be a better person, or merely suggest any religious affiliation. It’s my time!
The acoustics of the sanctuary take on an entirely psychedelic shape. As the chanting takes its roll, I can only make out the occasional word. Although, if one were to pay special attention, I am convinced the entirety of the text can be understood. In any case, the orated message becomes secondary, as my mind escapes the body, in search of a place of meditation. I remain in a contemplative state, until a sound, similar to an avalanche, invites me to join the community in standing to the reading of a statement of faith. Feeling almost hypocritical in getting up for it, I realize that I am most certainly not the only one at the service who is attracted by the atmosphere conducive to meditation more so than the religious aspect of the service.
Quickly, everybody settles back down as soon as the recitation concludes in an amen. As the men continue to chant their prayers, I sink into my own world again. The harmonies, indescribable to the newcomer, wrap the entire sanctuary in a soft silken shell. Before soon, the chanters make their way in a single-file line, in utter silence, to the small door off in the corner, from which they had emerged originally. The all-too-familiar click from the small door is accompanied by the swinging open of the heavy wooden doors, and the crowd disperses, many unknowingly missing out on the grand finale — the organ concert.
Pictures on the walls, incredibly contributory of remaining in a semi-meditative state, propose to the attendee a great sense of comfort — a sense of belonging. As the cathedral’s sanctuary empties, much warmth accompanying the service escapes through the doors. As the cold creeps in, I realize the impact the people have in shaping the service.
Here’s a service encompassing a community seemingly lacking the common criticism one encounters in many churches. There are no expectations of the attendees. No rules restricting anyone from following their own practices.
Filing out of the building with the last few people, I am refreshed, looking forward to the next experience. This Compline service is an experience shaped entirely by the attendee. A place of safety, a place of community, and foremost, the perfect conclusion to any week of the year, St. Mark’s Cathedral offers a unique opportunity to explore your own identity in our fast-paced world.
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Title: Lost in worship at St. Mark’s Cathedral | Author: Sephan Giselbrecht | Section: Opinions | Published Date: 2006-04-26 | Internal ID: 5013