The Compline Service at Saint Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral on Capitol Hill, a beloved Seattle institution for 65 years, is re-opening to the public on Sunday, August 22, after being closed for over 16 months.
As it has been for over six decades, the all-male Compline Choir has continued to chant the service each Sunday night in the cathedral, without interruption, for the entire duration of the pandemic. The signers remained at every point in conformity with Washington State and King County official public health guidelines. For most of the closure, it was sung with just three or four members of the choir, singing masked and distanced from each other.
Although sung in an empty building, thousands still heard the live radio broadcast each week on Classical KING-FM, with the exception of the 14-week period beginning in November 2020, when the spike in COVID cases meant that only one singer and one speaker were allowed. (During that time, archive recordings were broadcast on the radio, and the Compline services chanted by a single voice was shared only with other members of the choir.) For the first time, Saint Mark’s began a video livestream of the service as well.
Compline has its roots in daily cycle of sung prayers in medieval Christian monasteries—Compline is the final service of the day, immediately before bedtime. Compline at Saint Mark’s began in 1956, when the cathedral’s Music Director at the time, Peter Hallock, met with a group of University of Washington students to study plainchant. With very few exceptions, it has been sung every Sunday since then.
Beginning in the late 1960s, the service was discovered by a new audience of young spiritual seekers, who began to bring cushions, blankets, and pillows to the cathedral to experience the meditative liturgy while seated on the floor or lying on the altar platform, a practice which continued up until March of 2020. Although the congregation at Compline does not audibly participate, the presence of this unique congregation of diverse ages, backgrounds, and beliefs, became, through the decades, an integral part of Compline at Saint Mark’s. Its absence was keenly felt by all involved during the 75 Sundays when the pews and floor were empty.
During the pandemic, the safety of the congregation and the choir members has been a priority, with careful consideration given to ventilation of the space, protocols while in the cathedral, and isolation after possible exposure. There have been no known instances of COVID transmission inside Saint Mark’s Cathedral. All singers are fully vaccinated, and the choir remains masked at all times. Following current guidelines, masks are recommended for those attending the service at this time. A portion of the seats in the church are set apart as a “distanced section,” and those who choose to sit in that section are required to remain masked and distanced from others.
Dr. Jason Anderson, director of the Compline Choir, said, “Compline is corporate prayer—a time to gather and unite with others, to dwell in mystical space, to encounter the holy, to turn away from the noise and clang of the world and turn toward God. We are eager to re-open this unique Seattle experience of corporate prayer and look forward to welcoming an in-person congregation again.”
The Very Rev Steven L Thomason, Dean of Saint Mark’s Cathedral, added, “Humans need experiences that offer numinous connection and meaning, especially in times such as this. The Cathedral’s Compline service does that, and has for decades. I am delighted for Compline to reopen for all who find solace and spiritual nourishment in Compline, and I am very grateful for the members of the Compline Choir who have held the space with much grace till we could return.”
About The Compline Choir: The Compline Choir is a non-profit organization, and a joint ministry of the Peter R. Hallock Institute, The Episcopal Diocese of Olympia, and Saint Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral. It is a unique community of laypersons with diverse beliefs that seeks to express musically a concern for the nurture and care of the soul—spiritual nourishment. All members of the Compline Choir are volunteers and freely give of their time and talents to sing the office of Compline and support the Compline Choir’s daily operations. Learn more at www.complinechoir.org.
About Saint Mark’s: Saint Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral strives to be a house of prayer for all people, where we worship God and proclaim the reconciling Gospel of Jesus Christ; a loving, welcoming, inclusive community that nurtures faith, encourages service, and integrates social and environmental justice into our lives; a sacred gathering place for the Diocese of Olympia and the broader community in times of crisis, sorrow, and celebration. See more at www.saintmarks.org.
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