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I'm in Seattle at a Rotary conference and observed Ash Wednesday at St. Mark's Cathedral during a noon service in it's nave. It was a deeply moving experience; a much needed and blessed counterpoint to a self-absorbed world as I moved into Lent.
St. Mark's, an Episcopal church, is sited on the north end of Capital Hill in a quiet neighborhood. It was spawned in 1865, and has been in various locations here, in one form or another since. It's interesting history can be seen by clicking HERE.
The church has beautiful acoustics and is the scene of many wonderful Seattle music events, and weekly compline and evensongs which I've only heard by radio or in recording.
From beginning to end, the service was most moving. It was performed by clergy and laity together. The Very Reverend Steve Thomason was the Presider, and the Reverend Irene Tanabe was the Preacher. The service was a skillfully interwoven series of readings from the Old Testament, the Psalms, and the New Testament. Reverand Tanabe gave a warm and wonderful homily, touching several times on some familiar Seinfeld episodes. I could have listened to this gentle woman pastor for hours. Her recorded homily is available for your listening pleasure HERE.
The music for the service was simple, and beautiful. It was supplied by cantor and flutist Brian Fairbanks. He chanted the text of Psalm 51 during The Imposition of Ashes, and then, during the offertory, he beautifully rendered, on the flute, the Sarabande from Sonata in A minor by J.S. Bach. What a wonderful experience this was!
During the Imposition of Ashes, Reverend Tanabe served my section. I noticed her warm, affectionate smile on each person receiving their ashes in the sign of the cross on their foreheads. I felt the same as she served me. Too many preachers, I fear, are stern and foreboding instead of being warm and caring. This simple act went straight to my heart.
The congregants on this cool, cloudy Seattle day were primarily older persons, retired, with some depending heavily on canes or walkers to assist them. There were some children in attendance. I especially noted a father and mother with a toddler in a special place on the main floor with a rocking chair and large rug for the child to crawl upon. There were some business and professional people in evidence as well. What a wonderful mixture for this service! The Eucharist was shared before the service ended.
Normally I do not like the Passing of the Peace but this day, I was close to tears as young and old greeted me warmly with great eye contact and love in their voices. My entire experience here was most stirring and I was deeply moved. If I lived in this churches neighborhood, I'd probably check in here regularly.