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||1226: Old St Peter's, Tacoma, Washington, USA
Mystery Worshipper: The Shy Soprano.
The church: Old St Peter's, Tacoma, Washington, USA.
Denomination: Traditional Anglican. The church was founded in 1873
at the behest of the Episcopal Bishop of Oregon and Washington Territory,
but through an oddity of law and benign neglect over the years, the church
is not under the jurisdiction of the Episcopal Church of the USA.
The building: A picture-perfect little gem of a building constructed
of wood painted white, set in a small garden, with a bell tower fashioned
out of a 300-year-old cedar tree. The interior features a single stained
glass window behind the altar, but I can't remember whom it depicts.
The church: Old St Peter's appears fiercly proud of its independent
heritage. They have three services every Sunday, with special events celebrated
throughout the year. A special emphasis is placed on youth ministries. Bible
study, altar guild, and a Willing Hands Guild are also offered.
The neighborhood: Tacoma, not far from Seattle, is a major west coast
deep-water port on Puget Sound. In days gone by, sulphurous discharges from
the city's paper manufacturing industry gave rise to the term "Tacoma
aroma." Modern advances have all but eliminated the source of that
moniker, however. The neighborhood called Old Tacoma, which is where Old
St Peter's is located, was settled in 1865 and became the western terminus
of the Northern Pacific Railroad. The church sits on a street that divides
modern Old Tacoma's boutique-oriented shopping district from single family
housing and townhomes.
The cast: The Rev. Ginny Torres and an unnamed altar server.
The date & time: February 26, 2006, 9.30am.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
I slid into the last empty seat when I arrived at 9.35am. The building was full up with about 30 people.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
The woman I sat next to smiled at me and handed me a Prayer Book open to
the right place.
Was your pew comfortable?
No, not at all! The pews looked attractive, all dark-stained wood and slats,
but the padding was less than adequate and the width left something to be
How would you describe the pre-service
I missed it. Funny story, actually. I wasn't planning on going to church
that Sunday, let alone Mystery Worshipping, but I got lost after stopping
for gas in Tacoma and just happened across this adorable little church with
a sign out front that read "9.30am worship." I threw the car in reverse,
parked on the street, and went inside.
What were the exact opening words of the
"The service of holy communion will begin on page... of the Book of
What books did the congregation use during the
1928 Book of Common Prayer and a hymnal that I didn't catch the
name of. I had never been to a 1928 Prayer Book service before. The hymns
were posted on a board behind a pot-bellied stove.
What musical instruments were played?
Stereo system. The priest cued it up with a remote control.
Did anything distract you?
First of all, they were observing Quinquagesima, so the vestments and altar
cloths were purple. I wasn't ready for it to be Lent already! Next, there
was a small child a few pews up who was doing small-child things. His mother
was the one who was distracting me, hissing at him to be quiet and sit still.
Then I spent some time trying to figure out where the music was coming from.
Turned out to be a couple of speakers hidden under white cloths behind the
altar. Finally, while people were still receiving communion, others were
wandering around, talking to each other in quiet voices. The church is so
small that I could hear each conversation clearly.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
Somewhere in the nebulous middle. Very little crossing and bowing went on,
even when the priest blessed the congregation. However, they were celebrating
Quinquagesima, so maybe more toward the starchless-upper lip end of the
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
4 Rev. Torres read from notes. At times I had problems hearing
her. An announcement was made that new speakers and a wireless microphone
setup would be installed later that week, so I must not have been the only
one unable to hear.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
She spoke on the epistle and gospel lessons, 1 Corinthians 13 and Luke 18,
basically re-reading them and adding commentary as she went. But by minute
9 I was totally zoned out, to the point where I wasn't remembering I had
my notepad out. I think she said something about how the readings tie in
with Lent, but I can't remember it.
Which part of the service was like being in
When we hit that last hymn, I tried to restrain myself, I really did. But
then I heard an alto a few pews over start to harmonize, and we just took
off with it. We were only supposed to sing the first two verses, but the
priest let us sing all six. I definitely prayed twice that day.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Well, along about halfway through the intercessions, the kneeler decided
to play a game with my sciatic nerve, and I felt shooting, stabbing pains
all up and down my leg. I kept trying to wiggle a little bit to get the
pressure off, but I discovered that the pews and the kneelers were not attached
to anything at all, and in fact had a tendency to slide about. So I spent
a good part of the eucharistic prayer in pain and worrying I was going to
knock over all the pews in a horrible domino effect.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
As soon as the service ended, my pewmate introduced herself with a hearty
handshake. Then several more people complimented me on my singing, and by
that point they'd herded me to the door, where the priest shook my hand,
asked me to sign their visitor's book, and pointed me toward the hall with
the coffee. People kept me occupied in small talk and wished me safe journeys
as I left.
How would you describe the after-service
It was OK. Real sugar cubes were offered, along with the granulated stuff.
Some store-bought pastries were available.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 Its the size I like, and it's got some areas where I could see
my talents fitting in. But it would be a long commute for me, and I'm not
sure I could survive those kneelers!
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
People leaning over pews and talking while others were still receiving communion.
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