We walked into St. Mark’s cathedral on Seattle’s Capitol Hill and settled on a bench along the rear-left of the beautiful space. It was dark and quiet, even as hundreds more filtered in shortly before the 9:30PM Compline service was about to begin.
Compline at St. Mark’s is each Sunday night, and the service is sung by the all-male Compline Choir. When you combine the heavenly blend of men’s voices with the kind of acoustics you can really only find in a cathedral and then add in a dash of hipster/artsy-fartsy/postmodern, beauty-seeking Seattle culture, you can start to understand why this liturgical service has an almost cult-like following.
My two Seattle-ite friends sat on one side of me, and soon an older man settled in on my right. It was clear that, while most of us there were posers in a sense, showing up for the aesthetics of the evening, this guy was a real Anglican. He crossed himself when he came into the building and, as the service progressed, he participated confidently–standing when you’re supposed to stand, ‘amen’-ing when you’re supposed to ‘amen,’ and even singing along at times when you’re not supposed to. He was the real deal.
The rest of us, however… there were plenty of folks in pews like you’re supposed to be, but an equal number were strewn about on the stone floor of the cathedral. Some sitting in lotus pose, some flat on their backs, some had even brought blankets and pillows. Some had eyes closed, some participated at the aforementioned appropriate times while others didn’t, but everyone was quiet. Respectful. Immersed in the experience of men singing to God, leading us through confession, forgiveness, and praise. Those thirty minutes were sacred and set-apart, regardless of what I’m sure was the broad range of motives for being there.
I was moved. Not just by the voices, the holy space, the presence of Jesus in that place, but by the opportunity to be in communion with such a vast array of people. I didn’t talk to anyone there–there was no ‘greet your neighbor with a hearty handshake’ time of the service, or mingling afterwards with cups of coffee, or lively Sunday School discussion. In fact, I don’t think I made eye contact with a single other person in that great room, but we were there together. We were, each of us in some way, worshipping God together. And I am thankful for the potent effect that being together in the presence of God has on the connection we feel with each other.