Tonight for my J-term class on Preparing Adults for Baptism, we visited St. Mark’s Cathedral for the Sunday night Compline service, an event we were informed was “a Seattle tradition.” The service began at 9:30 pm, we arrived at 9 pm to give us time to settle in and watch people gather. When we arrived there were already a couple of people scattered throughout the sanctuary, all in silence. St. Mark’s Cathedral is a huge beautiful building, it is very modern, but with an ancient feel, hard to describe.
As 9:30 drew closer, more and more people came in, all in silence. Some sat in the pews. Others sat along the walls, in the aisles, or even laying around and in the chancel. Some had blankets. They came in groups or alone. Most were young, 20s and 30s, though definitely not all. At 9:30, the Compline Choir, a dozen or so young men, all in cassocks and surpluses, gathered around the back of the sanctuary. They sung the Compline, while the assembly sat in silence. At one point, the choir recited the Apostles Creed, and without a word the entire assembly stood. As soon as they finished, just as silently, the entire assembly sat again. And at 10 pm, the choir sang the Benediction, and as they finished we all stood up and filed out into the cold Seattle night.
At first it was a strange feeling. Being used to participating in worship, it felt odd to just sit and listen to someone else do worship. It felt like a concert almost. But slowly the sacredness of the place and the beauty of the music sunk into me and I began to realize the incredible gift of this service. Here was a place and time set aside for the express purpose of prayer. Without a book to juggle or a place to keep or a role to hold, I was free to just sit and reflect and pray. I love traditional worship, don’t get me wrong. And I think it is absolutely important for the assembly to have a role in a worshipping community. But this was not a Eucharist service. This was Compline. And it was nice to just have time for me and God, with beautiful choral music and a breathtaking setting to help focus that time. In a world of so much hustle and bustle, what a gift this Cathedral offers to the community, a space to come and be, with no pretense or explanation.