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693: Epiphany Parish, Seattle, Washington
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Epiphany, Seattle, Washington
Mystery Worshipper: Rose Window.
The church: Epiphany Parish, Seattle, Washington.
Denomination: Episcopal Church in the USA.
The building: The main sanctuary is an attractive red brick building with a bell tower. Inside, strips of stained glass in jewel tones accent the buff brick walls. The east end contains a round stained glass window of the Virgin and Child, and a carved reredos painted in earth tones. The well-kept church grounds also contain an older chapel, a spacious church house, a columbarium, and an elementary school. Excellent signage helps visitors find their way around. There are thoughtful touches throughout the building, such as extensive space (and sturdy hangers) for coats in the back of the church and in the church hall.
The church: The congregation reflects the diversity of the surrounding neighborhood, and it's obvious the church has made this a priority. Episcopal churches typically have a sign stating, "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You," but you often feel like there's fine print. Epiphany attracts people of all ages and races, and strives to make everyone feel at home. For example, one hymnal used features African-American hymns. Acolytes posted at steps to and from the chancel assist older folks during communion. Children attending the service can help themselves from a "bucket of bears" at the back of the church.
The neighbourhood: It's an affluent suburb near a low-income area. The church is a bit hard to find because of some obscure street twists and turns, so visitors should get directions from the church office or website. Check your printout; the website directions aren't printer-friendly.
The cast: Celebrant and preacher: Fr. Daniel Conklin. The rector, Dr. Robert Williams, helped lead the service. Music director: Tamara Still. Many lay people also participated in leading music, prayers, scripture readings, etc.
What was the name of the service?
Holy Eucharist, rite 2. It incorporated the inclusive language liturgy.

How full was the building?
One-third full. The building is large, and a significant number of parishioners were involved in leading worship. For example, about 20 adults and ten children sang in the choir. Also, most of the children were present for only part of the service and are not included in my count. This church is very much alive!

Did anyone welcome you personally?
The usher said hello while handing me a service bulletin. The rector came to introduce himself as I sat down. His greeting was perfect: cordial and interested, but not probing.

Was your pew comfortable?
The pew was fine. The kneelers were apparently designed to prevent traction. I had to brace myself to avoid falling off. This happened again at the altar rail, so perhaps I was the slippery one. (There was little kneeling during the service.)

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Bustling. People were chatting and rushing about. It was a friendly atmosphere, though, relaxed and casual. It was unclear the service was about to start, because the prelude was short and the hymn introduction extremely long. At one point, I wondered if I had misjudged which was which. I was glad I wasn't in the front row, so I could follow others' lead on when to stand for the hymn. There was also a good deal of running about during the hymn introduction, which confused matters further.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
1982 Episcopal Hymnal and supplement ("Wonder, Love, and Praise"). The pews also contained the 1979 Book of Common Prayer (not needed because the service bulletin was detailed and user-friendly) and the hymnal, "Lift Every Voice."

What musical instruments were played?
Organ and piano. The tower bells rang before the service. The choir also rang handbells during the Gospel Alleluia.

Did anything distract you?
Although the handbells enhanced the music, the choir has not learned proper ringing technique. They could improve the tone of the bells by holding them correctly and using the proper stroke.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Traditional and joyful. There was some "folk mass" type music, but the majority of the service would satisfy the old school.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
13 minutes. The preacher also gave a five-minute children's homily at the beginning of the service.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The preacher struck a good balance between explanation and exhortation. His style was warm and personal. He provided the text of the sermon at the end of the service (something I always appreciate), but his delivery, which included ad libs rather than just reading the text, made it more engaging and informative in person.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It explained the Feast of the Presentation, as seen through the eyes of the five generations present at the biblical event. The preacher related this to seeking the divine in ordinary events, as well as to the rich experience of multiple generations coming together for worship.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The choir's a capella rendering of an Eccard anthem at the offertory was exquisite.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
If the communion wine had been served at the wedding in Cana, Jesus would have turned it back into water.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We stood by ourselves at coffee hour for 15 minutes looking every inch the visitor and no one spoke to us, except the person tending the coffee.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was coffee and tea served in paper cups that were too hot to hold. The hot water urn required three hands and an engineering degree to operate, but I managed to serve myself without knocking it over. The coffee was good; we expect as much in the land of Starbucks. There was also fruit juice, homemade cake and cookies, fruit and crackers. The parish hall is quite comfortable, with plenty of chairs and tables for anyone wanting to sit and chat. I could have done without the child banging "Mary had a Little Lamb" on the piano, though I admit the tune was liturgically appropriate for the day.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – Though there was some great information on the back table, including an excellent annual report and plan for the coming year, I looked in vain for a brochure on church activities or a calendar of "what's up this week." Without that information, I wouldn't consider joining any church. However, the church has an excellent website that is comprehensive and current, for visitors with Internet access.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes! Alleluia!

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The service bulletin contained the Top Ten Reasons to be an Episcopalian, such as "Pew aerobics" and "All of the pageantry, none of the guilt."
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