Church-going doesn’t get the attention it used to, which is a shame because devotion is profoundly satisfying. I love church because there I am part of something much larger than myself. I am linked with the generations of the faithful and of course with all my wonderful family members who sang the same hymns and prayed the roughly same prayers until they died. To go to church is calming, empowering, and purifying–somehow it cleans away the dreck and leaves me more hopeful about what is good in creation and in me.
Today we attended church at St Mark’s, which is Seattle’s Episcopal cathedral. We arrived very early because I had never driven there before and had made allowances for getting lost (but didn’t). The building was originally planned to be a vast Gothic pile, with a great tower on top, an intention that the Great Depression derailed. Construction of the building was halted in 1929 and the church was mortgaged. Decades passed before the parish managed to fulfill its debt to the bank, clawing its way back from the threat of foreclosure; by then, it had laid aside its original architectural ambitions. The parish continued to worship in the one “holy box” it had managed to build, its interior dominated by enormous pillars built to support the weight of the unbuilt tower. The unadorned walls, plain windows, and crude simplicity of poured concrete combine on a scale that communicates a serene majesty.
The focal point of the interior is a massive steel screen behind the altar, culminating in a “rose window” that changes colors as the light passes through its unusual glass blades. The tall doors of the screen can be open and closed. The screen, designed by Ed Carpenter, was added in the 1990s. Although the altar stands before it, it is a wonderful modern evocation of a traditional rood screen, used since medieval times to designate a sanctum where only the clergy and choir were allowed. It was lovely to be present as the church filled up with people and the sounds of the eucharist–a happily peaceful end to a tumultuous week.