the creative beauty of Seattle

DSC_0028The time in Seattle was awesome …. maybe an overused and overrated word … but it describes the 7 days I had in this city perfectly.

Returning for a week after four years brought many things back to mind. I am not sure I can reflect on my week in one simple post. There may be a few posts over the next few days that develop from my reflecting

I guess one word that comes to mind when i think if Seattle is the word ‘beauty’. There is the beauty of the city as photos can and so show. There is, however, much more that struck me about the beauty of the people. People are polite. People speak on buses and trains. People ask if they can help. Coming from Gillingham, this was a healthy and welcome culture change. In traffic jams people in Seattle don’t even blow their horns!

I had forgotten how ‘chilled’ people seem to be in Seattle. There was a good fun DSC_0031atmosphere with people enjoying each other, food, drink, good coffee and of course the scenery on magnificent sunny days. People had space and time. I was reminded how people there seem to have a much better work life balance than we do in the UK. People seem to socialise more after having a definite end to the working day, whereas here we simply seem to work.

That brings me on to my next word … creative.

I met a load of creative people. It was good to meet up with Lacey again from COTA. The gathering has used some of Lacey’s music which is worth checking our either under her own website or via the worship stuff for COTA Seattle. It was good to experience COTA’s worship again. It was like coming home and I can’t put that feeling into words.

For creativity to happen it needs space. The people I have just spent a week with seem to get that. I seem to have forgotten that. I have been wondering why my creativity, my writing, my photographing, and so on has come to a halt. It’s due to lack of ‘space’ to create. Big ides need big spaces ….. i need to readdress the space issue.

the happy coupleBut back to beauty in Seattle. My first post cannot go without mentioning the whole overriding purpose of my visit. On Saturday 8th June at 430pm i had the honour, pleasure and privilege of officiating at the wedding ceremony of Meghan and Luke at Church of the Apostles in Seattle. That was an amazingly special time with a beautiful couple and some pretty amazing friends. The day was a joy, and there was loads of love flying around! They are clearly a couple that not only love many people, but are also loved by many.

As I said in my last post … once in a while some pretty amazing privileges pop up …. and this was one.

Thanks Meghan and Lucas for trusting me …
Thanks Jana and James for hosting me … you were amazing!
Thanks Lacey and April for just being the brilliant organised creatives that you are and guiding me
Thanks Rachel for the humour and the encouragement
Cheers Gary for the meet-up and the new bars
Thanks Eric and Ivar for the friendship
Thanks everyone for a great city!

Once in a while …

wedding-rings-wallpaper1Once in a while being ordained brings some pretty amazing surprises and privileges. I have one such privilege over the next few days as I travel to Seattle to marry a pretty special couple who I have got to know, mainly from my placement at COTA and their time with me in Rochester.

I feel undeserving of such an experience but am feeling very excited to be able to take part in a ceremony of such significance and beauty for a couple I have come to care deeply about. The service will be beautiful and reflects well the couple I have got to know.

So … as a sideline as well I am off to drink coffee, hopefully a porter or two, check out some sights and meet with some old friends …. but most of all I get to play a small part in a pretty special and amazing day for Meghan and Lucas.

Once in a while …. we find ourselves in special places … amazing!

COTA video

A few years ago I had the amazing experience of being on placement with COTA in Seattle. I’ve just seen that the Episcopal Church You Tube channel’s latest video shows the creativity and authenticity of COTA. I don’t tend to post videos here, but COTA is special so I am today.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned here that I’m looking forward to going back to COTA in June for a week …. and have the real privilege of conducting the wedding ceremony for a very special and beautiful couple, while staying with another wonderful couple as well! I think it’s going to be an amazing time. The closer it gets to June the more excited I seem to be getting!

Anyway … if you haven’t done so yet, click the video and have a watch.

catch up

On my first day back this week I was able to catch up with Karen Ward from COTA who I spent 3 weeks with in Seattle back in January.

It was good to be able to spend some time together and for her to get some idea of the context in which I am working. Being based at a cathedral and released to pioneer from that setting is an excellent model which Karen is interested in investigating in the States.

We are able to chat more about what I am doing and Karen’s insights after experiencing my context for herself were very helpful.

Karen is a great thinker and enabler and I have learned a lot from my association with COTA, the COTA community and Karen herself. I love COTA and what they do, and are trying to do, in Fremont. The feel of the place and the desire to engage creatively with genuinely seeking people is quite inspiring.

Thanks for taking time out of your schedule to visit me in Rochester – and for giving me the excuse to take you to visit the best curry house in England!

early reflections from Seatac

I’m sitting at the airport in Seattle with time to kill so thought i would use the time to mull over some immediate reflections on my past 3 weeks here with COTA.

There are things that I think I can transport across the Atlantic and try out almost straight away. I suppose I am surprised by this as I only came looking for principles. I did not think things that are domne here would transport into British culture all that well.  But, I think I have come away with pub theology and sacred cocktails as real possibilities in a Medway setting, albeit with a little alteration here and there to take account iof cultural differences – not so much US and UK but more Seattle and Medway. I have no problem with the idea and name of Sacred Cocktails, but I suppose I do wonder whether ‘Pub Theology’ as a name may put people off, or may make it sound a lot more academic that it is. Drinking beer and talking about God (which is essentially what theology is) is not that great a title either … so, readers – any suggestions?

I have been thinking along the pub thing for a while I guess but thinking I need others to help plan. I have seen at COTA that a topic only needs to be chosen, and the date, time and location can be shared on Facebook. If people come they come and a discussion happens, if they don’t, then it doesn’t. I think I am going to go ahead and see if this will work in our local setting – if no one tries then we will never know – I do seem to know a lot of people that like to talk spirituality/theology/about God AND drink beer … so who knows!

I think I have had a COTA insight, as well, into principles of community building. COTA seems to have always set out to build a community rather than looking to plant a church. Community, friendship, caring for each other are all quite central to COTA. They are not perfect, and they would be at the front of the line of people to say that, but they do community pretty well. They know how to eat and party, but i think that has a lot to do with being a church of under 30’s, which add an excitement to church that is lacking in some places. These people like to hang out together, so giving opportunitiers for community to grow in this way is important.

I think, as well, though that this aspect showed me that COTA knows how to party, but they also talk about fasting  but have not worked out how to do this yet. That’s an observation that they are aware of ratehr than a criticism and it speaks of balance more than anything else. I don’t think COTA is unbalanced (far from it!),  but it could be at risk of becoming so if things like fasting are not explored. For our community in Medway, we need to grow community but also look to a balance in how we operate and work out our spirituality.

I said these were early reflections – I possibly have more but then this nlog would be long and I have 10 hours on a plane ahead in which I can reflect more!

I believe as time goes on this experience is going to ooze more and more thoughts and reflections into my mind and possibly yhis blog, and hopefully into my practice.

If all goes well, in 2 hours I will be in the air and on my way home – I’m really looking forward to seeing my family!

Last night

Tonight is my last evening in Seattle. Tonight I went to pub theology and we had a good conversation along the lines of ‘why do I believe in God?’

After that I took some last photos of Seattle at night courtesy of Ned’s roof and tripod. I’m quite pleased with some of the results which are in the flickr album.

It’s been a good 3 weeks and I guess it will be strange coming home. I’ve missed my family and really looking forward to being with them, but I will also miss being part of the COTA family. I’ve made some friends here, had some great discussion and been made to think about things which I think ill have an impact on how the community develops back home.

As I write I am thinking in 18 hours I should be sat on the plane. I’m checked in, boarding pass is printed so now it is just a matter of time.

COTA people – thank you for your time, your insights, the laughter and your friendship – you know who you are and if you ever visit England you know you will be very welcome at our place. Maybe we’ll meet at Greenbelt … who knows!! (anyone in Medway want to do a Greenbelt trip?)

500 at compline!!!

Tonight I had the opportunity to speak the homily at the COTA Eucharist. I enjoyed the experience and some people gave some good feedback which is always nice to receive. Afterwards we had a great meal (thanks Jana, Julie and Rachel) while we had a COTA family business meeting. Here we looked at the strengths and weaknesses of COTA and what the community needed to do to address these.

Following this Ned and I shot off to St. Mark’s Cathedral for the 9.30 compline service. I was amazed and surprised at the 500 or so people of all ages that were in attendance. It’s fair to say though, that the majority age group was under 30. Some brought blankets and pillows so they could sit or lay around the altar as the choir led us through compline.

This was a service where people just needed to turn up and enter into the worship. I wondered what so many people came to a 30 minute service for at such a time on a Sunday evening. Has it become a way to end the weekend with God? Are people attracted by the opportunity just to immerse themselves in God’s company inwhat is otherwise a very busy life? Without asking some of them I can’t find out, but it was quite amazing to be part of.

Apparantly this has been happening every Sunday night for the last 50 years! The service is even broadcast live on one of the local radio stations. It is even more surprising when you consider that Seattle is one of the most ‘unchurched’ cities in the USA!

Compline was a special experience. I included one photo here but others (only 2 this time … i’m tired!!!) are in the album.

Days 17 and 18: crossing into another world …maybe?

Yesterday I took a day off from everything, blogging as well it seems. After an easy morning I set off downtown with no plan other than to wander, watch people, drink coffee, eat food and drink some beer.

My wanderings took me into various conversations with some people. Some people sitting on the street, some people campaigning on an anti-Obama campaign, some people serving in various shops. I came across some quite interesting people who shared parts of their story, and they seemed interested in mine being from England. I spent some time wandering around Pike Place and drinking coffee here and there.I ended up paying a return visit to Kells, watched some football with a beer or two before returning (after a good Ardbeg)  via a good bus transport system to the hermitage where I live.

Today it was an early start for a Sunday as I was collected and taken to St John the Baptist Church in West Seattle, where I was invited to share what I do in Rochester and answer a number of questions. In some ways it was like crossing into another world, and it some ways not (if that makes any sense at all!?) The service was fairly familiar as some of the liturgy was similar, although I have noticed a great use of the Nicene Creed here, but a version that omits the filioque clause. It was quite odd at first to see it like this when we visited the Urban Life Church and I must admit that I added it myself this morning as it is something that I feel should be there. There’s a comment that can ignite a few centuries of argument! For me, this morning, to not say those words ‘who proceeds from the Father and The Son’ seemed to hold a sense of incompleteness.

I have noticed other differences between the CofE and the Episcopal church, some that I consider good: such as the permanent diaconate; some that I don’t like: such as the omission of the filioque clause; and some that I wonder about: such as higher stipends (I discovered last week that ordained people here have a stipend just over double that given in England) as I wonder what message this gives about how church uses money. Although… if there are ever a shortage of priests here it makes a move look attractive!

All these things are interesting to reflect upon – the differences between culture not just across the Atlantic but within the US itself. No doubt my last few days here will give more time to reflect and engage a little more before I return home.

This evening I will attend the COTA Eucharist, which will be my last service here, at least for this trip.

Day 17: reflect, write, cocktails

I’ve had a pretty quiet day today with very little people interaction and so I feel quite tired and drained. I love being with people, and hate having to think and write.

Today I have got to grips with what I wish to say on Sunday nightin the homily part of the service. I guess I have found it a challenge to be able to speak about something in a different culture which I do not really understand. I will be looking at the 1 Cor 13 passage on love, so there is lots to pull out but the listeners will be glad that I am focussing on a small part.

This evening I went to Sacred Cocktails with David at Chanatee’s. We were competing with a party so it was not a great turn out but we had a good chat about the idea behind sacred Cocktails and what it is all about. David mentioned that cocktails in Seattle was getting bigger and bigger; I think the same must be the case in England as withing minutes of joining the Sacred Cocktails Facebook group, 2 friends had commented along the lines of ‘we can do that here in Rochester!’ Maybe we will!

As I look ahead to the next few days I think I am really looking forward to going home. I really like Seattle, but I feel like I have been away quite a long time and just want to be home now. I’ve gained a mass of stuff here and, I hope, made some friends that I will stay in touch with; but there has also been a sacrifice to be here. The family have missed me and I have missed them and we have all missed out on the last 3 weeks of each others lives, which is hard to explain but feels really weird. I think wwe all feel quite disconnected from each other, and I don’t like that feeling.

Tomorrow is Saturday which is a quieter day again. Not too sure what I am going to do tomorrow but think I will go downtown and hang out at Pike Place and Capitol Hill and see what I notice. If anyone wants to join me, give me a shout or drop me a text!

Day 16: a real American home

I have had more great conversations today and I am really being struck by peoples willingness to give up time to meet with me and share their story of how they became involved with COTA. Today I ahve met up with Meghan and then later in the day with Brian.

It has been great to listen to their stories and discover how they became part of COTA. Meghan and Brian were my last two interviews. Over the next few days I hope to use the time to review the interviews and experience of COTA, as well as write a homily for Sunday’s service.

The day ended with sharing a meal with one of the community groups. We had dinner, drank, laughed and shared stories and I very quickly felt part of the group. Outside of my host home, this was the first real American home I had been invited into and so it was quite a special time – the food and company where pretty cool too! It’s a shame that experiences like these are always over too quickly … but thank you people for the invite and kindness.