Thursday, July 30, 2009

Church of the Apostles

Church of the Apostles (COTA) is an Episcopal/Lutheran church in the Fremont district of Seattle that has been creating quite a buzz. The idea of COTA started when Pastor Karen Ward realized that in all her time hanging out with her friend in their local pub, she was actually providing them with pastoral care. Karen decided that she wanted to provide a more formal ministry to this group of people who clearly wanted pastoral care and community but were for whatever reason not receiving it at a church.

Unfortunately, Karen's bishop at the time in Chicago was not receptive to the idea; however, a bishop in Seattle was. So Karen moved to the Northwest and before she could even begin starting a church, word got around that she was trying to create a congregation that would serve the needs of "Gen-Xers" (which is not how she would describe her ministry). Suddenly children of pastors (and bishops) started coming out of the woodworks. These were people who had grown up in the church and appreciated the benefits of a religious community, but hadn't found a congregation that fit them. Karen began meeting these disaffected pastors kids (PKs) and asking them what they were looking for in a church.

What resulted was a tea shop (coffee requires too much equipment to make) with stage. As Fremont is very arts oriented, people would wander into the tea shop and ask if they could use the stage for their band or to host an anime marathon. Karen would always say yes (prohibiting only hate speech and other material which she found offensive by fairly liberal standards), point inquirers to a computer with an sign up sheet, and soon the tea shop became a hub of artistic activity. The congregation would use the sign up sheet just as would any other organization, and for two hours a week the venue would host a church service; immediately after the service, the same space would be filled with a punk rock band.

COTA used this time to develop relationships with people and organizations within the neighborhood. When an old church building across the street became vacant, COTA decided that Fremont needed a community arts center. They purchased the building, started a separate non-profit organization to run the arts center. COTA followed the same model of allowing the community to use the space at all times during the week, signing up just like any other organization when the congregation wanted to use it for worship. COTA does not do heavy advertising; instead they rely upon word of mouth, the visibility of their actions, and the relationships they develop with community members to attract parishioners. This means that many people do not know that the arts center is connected to a church (when I first entered looking for vespers, I asked a swing dance instructor where the service was, and she had no idea that a church was in the building), but it also means that COTA has created a thriving community in a neighborhood with only one other church of any type, and in which a Lutheran congregation had closed 5 years earlier.

COTA also has a unique style of worship. They follow a very high-church Anglo-Catholic tradition, but they truncate some of the normal parts of the ordo (the liturgical pattern which most western church follow). With this extra time, they take about 15 minutes in between the sermon and the Prayers of the People for "Open Space," during which parishioners have the option of choosing a variety of prayerful activities--everything from lighting a candle in front of an icon, to a space for meditation, to painting, to making sandwiches for homeless people. It's an interesting technique that allows for the preservation of the historical ritual and aesthetics that Episcopalians and Lutherans so love, but also including an active element where people can choose to incorporate newer spiritual practices that speech to them.


Aaron said...

I really like that idea of having a church service with "high-mass" and a free open time. That sounds really intriguing.

Liz said...

I agree, this sounds rad. I have been meaning to get up there to check it out. Now I've got some serious fire.

Who knew that a bunch of disaffected preachers' kids could make something cool...

Ben Colahan said...


MFConnection said...

Barbara says, in our church we spend about fifteen minutes in the middle of the service telling each other
about the good works that many of us have been doing in the community. In fact, when the new bishop visited (Neddie Rivera) she had us do that at greater length outside the service. It is a weekly reminder that we are making the world better, one person at a time, that we are not insignificant, in spite of our small size.