No one identified the church profiled in last week’s Sunday Steeple Chase, which was the San Francisco Philadelphian Seventh Day Adventist Church on Bush Street in San Francisco. Instructions for responding to this week’s challenge are provided at the bottom of this column.
This week’s “mystery church” is as easily identified by its welcoming atmosphere and the social activism of its highly diverse membership as it is by its distinctive and historic architecture and vibrant red doors. We begin our exploration of this San Francisco institution by taking a look at the home page of this church’s web site, which tells readers:
Wherever you are on your spiritual journey, you are welcome here.
Founded in 1849, this “mystery church” was the first Protestant Episcopal Church established on the Pacific Coast. The imposing structure, which dominates a modern day Bush Street intersection, was erected in 1892. (Click on the slideshow link on this article’s left side to see photographs of this castle on the corner. Most anyone who has commuted through this section of San Francisco will immediately recognize the church being profiled this week.)
Plagued by seismic safety problems in recent years, this beloved San Francisco landmark was nearly lost for good when the cost of repairing several significant issues was revealed to the central governing body of the Protestant denomination which oversees this church. Fortunately for Bay Area residents, the leadership and congregation of this “mystery church” chose to soldier on in the face of adversity.
In 2009, church leaders shifted regular worship from the main sanctuary that held 350 congregants to a smaller chapel on the church grounds – a worship space with the capacity for only 75 – in order for the church to continue its good works while assessing the church’s long-term future. The Bishop, obviously impressed by the congregation’s spunk, allowed the congregation to implement a Collegium – a volunteer group of clergy to actively support the ministry and outreach functions of the organization.
Currently, Eucharist Rites are offered each Sunday beginning at 9:00 a.m., followed by a weekly Education Forum, which encourages congregants to explore and share their spirituality in a safe, affirming space. The parish choir then leads the Choral Eucharist rites at 11:00 a.m. These late morning services include traditional sermons, readings from the Book of Common Prayer, and communion. (During communion, those needing special attention may participate in a Healing Altar where they may be anointed with oil or experience the laying on of hands, along with receiving prayer focused on their specific concerns.)
Perhaps the most important works of this venerable center of spirituality, though, are its Taizé Candlelight Meditation and Sophia in Trinity initiatives.
Through Taizé Candlelight Meditation on Wednesday evenings at 7:30 p.m., weary workers and worshippers experience a one-hour respite from the world’s concerns. These nurturing services, which remain popular with the greater San Francisco Bay Area community ten years after their inception, were inspired by the famous participatory worship services that were first presented in Taizé, France. Participants seek inspiration from both sacred and secular writings, reflect upon the unique journeys of their respective souls during periods of silence, and meditate to the mysterious, but simple melodies common to this very special spiritual tradition.
Congregants exploring the world of Zen plunk right down on their zafu pillows next to those who prefer more traditional worship, demonstrating the openness of minds and hearts for which this church is known. (The church web site wittily refers to this as Taizen.)
A quick check of local web site reviews of these Wednesday evening services reveals that church membership is not required in order to obtain the benefits from these meditation experiences. Simple seekers of spirituality are embraced and welcomed so warmly by existing church members that they return time and again for moments of enlightenment that have been described as “incredible,” “transformative,” “rapturous,” and “beautiful.” One reviewer even noted that she felt so unburdened after leaving one of these mid-week services that she felt “airy.”
On the second and fourth Saturdays of each month, congregants turns their focus to those who have been excluded and censured most frequently by the Roman Catholic Church and other religious institutions. Through Sophia in Trinity services which begin at 10:30 a.m., this “mystery church” opens its arms to members of the LGBT community, men and women who are engaged in the struggle to preserve reproductive rights, and those who may be divorced or remarried.
Ever present is the undercurrent of hope which runs through each service. Congregation members and visitors remain unbowed by the severity of the infrastructure issues with which their leadership is grappling, believing that they will prevail in their quest to save their historic building and main sanctuary for future generations of San Francisco worshippers. Funds are being raised to cover the six figures needed to complete the necessary seismic repairs with the initial work already underway as evidenced by scaffolding now visible on the main building’s exterior.
Readers are invited to submit their guesses about the name of this week’s featured “mystery church,” along with their personal memories of the church via the comments section below.
Next Week: The name of the mystery church profiled in this week’s Steeple Chase 11 challenge will be revealed, along with a new Steeple Chase “mystery church” description.