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2766: Chapel of St Ignatius, Seattle, Washington, USA
St Ignatius Chapel, Seattle, WA (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Ebenezer.
The church: Chapel of St Ignatius, Seattle, Washington, USA.
Denomination: Roman Catholic, Archdiocese of Seattle.
The building: An American Institute of Architects award-winning building dating from 1997, the chapel is the work of existentialist architect Steven Holl, known for his museums, office buildings, performing arts centers and private homes. It is constructed of curved steel and concrete panels, stained ochre on the outside. The inside has an interwoven scored texture and clean white color. Its strikingly unusual design is well described on this website. In a nutshell, Holl's design is based on contrasts between light and darkness, with ambient light selectively filtered and focused to create a variety of moods. Among the many artworks included in the chapel's decor, the eye is irresistably drawn to a sculpture, Gratia Plena, by Steven Heilmer, which espresses the opening words of the prayer Ave Maria, gratia plena, as milk pouring out of a tipped bowl.
The church: This is the main chapel located on the campus of Seattle University, a Jesuit institution of higher learning known for its programs in business, economics, education, engineering, nursing and law, as well as theology. The chapel hosts daily and Sunday Roman Catholic masses as well as a daily ecumenical prayer service.
The neighborhood: Seattle University is located near downtown Seattle and has about 7,500 students. The grounds are intricately landscaped. As a plantswoman, I was intrigued to see plant signs with English, Latin, and an unusual script I later learned was Lushootseed, the language of the indigenous peoples of the area.
The cast: The Revd Patrick O'Leary, S.J., celebrated mass, assisted by a student acolyte.
The date & time: Monday, September 22, 2014, 12.30pm.

What was the name of the service?
Daily Mass.

How full was the building?
Twenty-eight people, 15 per cent of capacity. About one-quarter were students and the rest older folks.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. The priest and I exchanged smiles as he entered before service.

Was your pew comfortable?
No. The pew was padded, but the angles were uncomfortable. The kneeler was insufficiently padded for kneeling and too far away to be a good foot rest.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I arrived half an hour early to take pictures, and at that time there appeared to be a training session going on for lay eucharistic ministers, all students. This prompted fond memories for me. Closer to the service, people entered and sat in silence.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
After kissing the altar, the priest said, "Good afternoon. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The pews contained the hymnal Gather (1994, GIA Publications), as well as a basic order of mass sheet with liturgical responses for Sunday masses, some of which we did not use for the daily mass.

What musical instruments were played?
No musical instruments were played.

Did anything distract you?
It wasn't so much that there were distractions as that I was never engaged in the first place. The lack of music and a significantly less than full congregation contributed to this, but also my unfamiliarity with the pared-down service. It's probably richer when repeated.

St Ignatius Chapel, Seattle, WA (Interior)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Father O'Leary led the congregation in singing a series of Alleluias. I was warmed by the invitation to add personal prayers after the standard prayers of the faithful. Other than that, there was little to participate in other than a few bits of spoken liturgy.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
6 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
2 – Father O'Leary's enunciation was just indistinct enough for me to have to try hard to listen. He did not have a central message, but offered an idea or two about each of the scripture passages. To be fair, having to give a daily six-minute sermon probably encourages that sort of format.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The memorable part for me was that the connotation of "morality" in the Bible was that of walking that is, walking in a certain way or path. Passages where we see Jesus healing the lame are therefore especially parallel to his morally healing grace.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I felt that the Gratia Plena sculpture depicted the spirit of the place. The chapel felt like a carved-out, sacred refuge, washed and nourished with the milk of the Spirit day after day, like our hearts. I imagine the experiences in this place prepare and fill people to pour out love and ministry to others in turn.

St Ignatius Chapel, Seattle, WA (Statue)

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
A few minutes before the service, a one-inch fat black spider came crawling along the floor toward my pew. Unfamiliar with the spiders in this part of the country, I decided to play it safe. I dropped a Gather book on it, pressed down gingerly, and left it there for the rest of the service
. I also spotted one crawling across the stage during communion. I originally intended to escape without further interaction, but summoned my sense of responsibility and washed the spider's earthly remains off the hymnal in the restroom after the service.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
People did not stick around except to pray in the pews, but Father O'Leary met me on my way out and made friendly introductions.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There were no after-service refreshments. I went across the street to The Chieftain Irish pub and had lunch and a pint.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 – I wouldn't choose this as a daily activity or my main weekly church. I might stop in occasionally when so inspired, but I preferred the tiny Immaculate Conception chapel elsewhere on campus (where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved – it isn't here) for personal meditation.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Somewhat. I felt the space was set up to affirm and facilitate digesting spiritual truths, but the content of this service was lean apart from the eucharist, which I could not receive as I am not RC. It may be unfair, however, to expect more from a simple daily mass. I'm glad it's there for others.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The image of the milky stone streaming out of the golden bowl.

 
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