Sabbatical Journal: Visit to St. John’s, Olympia, WA

On Sunday, August 4, I attended St. John’s Episcopal Church in Olympia, WA. I chose this church because it was conveniently located on the way to a workshop I was going to in Bend, OR.

I arrived about 15 minutes early. There was no usher yet so I picked up a bulletin from the table and sat down for prayer. The church has a very high ceiling which creates a reverberation effect that enhanced the organ prelude. The organ fills the chancel and dominates the front of the church. It sounds beautiful but definitely gives a “funeral parlor” effect.

The church was about half full when the service began. The altar party consisted of the priest, two Eucharistic ministers, and a crucifer, a seemingly small group for such a large space. The priest spoke very quickly and it was hard for me to catch all his words, despite a good sound system. The space is just too big for speech to come through clearly.

The Gospel lesson was the story of the rich man whose harvest was so big he decided to build bigger barns to contain all his wealth. The sermon began with a lament for the two mass shootings that had occurred in the last 36 hours. The priest said, “If our country could put a man on the moon fifty years ago, surely we can find a way to stop gun violence.” But he didn’t propose any political solutions. The priest then spoke at length about the Gospel lesson and money, but I couldn’t tell you what his main point was. Fifteen minutes in length.

The Nicene Creed, taken from Enriching Our Worship, had a couple of small changes a make it more palatable to the modern ear. The Peace was a congenial and relaxed affair. During the Eucharistic Prayer, the priest seemed quite alone and far away from the people, standing at a very wide altar. Communion was administered at two stations (no kneeling at an altar rail).

After the Postcommunion Prayer, the priest invited people up for birthday and anniversary prayers, but I needed to hit the road, so I sneaked out at that time.

I think I would have a hard time attending this church on a regular basis because everything seemed so distant. The acoustics created a barrier for me that was very difficult to overcome.