Sabbatical Journal: Visit to St. Mark’s, Hood River

On Sunday, August 11, my two sons and I attended St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Hood River, Oregon. Our family has rented a vacation home in Hood River for the week.

We arrived just before 10:00 and were greeted warmly by an usher and given a bulletin. The building is a rather old traditional Episcopal Church, with wooden pews and beams overhead and choir pews in the chancel. It smelled like old, warm wood. The congregation was definitely older. We were the youngest people present in the congregation of 36. 

The celebrant was a tall, bearded priest in his seventies who was filling in for the rector who was on vacation. He had an energetic sparkle to his eyes and he explained that we were using a liturgy from the Iona Community in Scotland rather than the usual Book of Common Prayer. I found the liturgy interesting from a theological perspective but it didn’t make my heart sing like the normal BCP liturgy.

The sermon was based on Hebrews 12, in which the writer uses Abraham as an example of faith for the Christian community. The priest began by saying that he has taken up the study of calligraphy, and he showed us an example of the practice lettering he brings his teacher each week. Spiritual practice is like learning calligraphy, he said. It takes a lot of practice, practice, practice, and you never reach perfection.

The Peace was long and sustained and everyone greeted each other, including us. Afterward the priest asked guests to introduce themselves, and since it was obvious that we were the only guests, I stood and gave a brief introduction. Then the priest asked people forward for prayers, and everyone said the birthday prayer pasted in the back cover of the prayer book. A woman shared that she was celebrating the end of her cancer radiation treatments and everyone applauded.

Communion was administered at the altar rail, with some people standing and some kneeling. We returned to our seats by going through a separate hallway.

At the end of the service, every able-bodied person was asked to help carry bags of clothing from the parish hall into the church. This was to prepare for their big outreach event of the year in which they give away free clothing to children, just before school starts. In the next week, they’ll lay the clothing on the pews so that parents and children can pick them out. Because there is a big migrant population of fruit pickers in this area, the need is great. There were well over a hundred bags to move, so we were busy for quite a while.

We enjoyed helping with this project. Everyone involved was quite warm and cheerful and we were immediately included in the effort. Obviously this is an important annual event for them that they all believe in.

When we were done, we had coffee and refreshments and several people approached us for conversation. One was a woman in her seventies who tried to recruit me to join her co-housing cooperative in which single people and families share meals and decision making. Another was a fourth-generation orchardist who explained about the kinds of fruit in his orchards and when they ripen.

The congregation was warm and friendly, but I’d have to say they were dying because there were no young families present at all. Nearly everyone was over seventy, a huge contrast to the crowds of active, outdoor-oriented young people that come to Hood River for the windsurfing, paddle boarding, and hiking opportunities.

 If I lived in Hood River, I’d gladly become part of this congregation. They’re clearly  a warm and affirming group who are comfortable with each other, and I think I could find a church home with them.