History and Our 2011 Renovation
Built in 1962 in tandem with the Seattle World’s Fair, our current soaring A-frame building is an edgy, mid-century neighbor and contemporary sibling of the Space Needle. Architecturally, it mirrors the youthful, hopeful energy of a city reinventing itself for a new age. It reflects a commitment to a modern, contemporary spirituality while retaining an abiding and cherished identity as a community that celebrates the ancient rituals, history and traditions of the Christian church.
Beginning in 2009, the parish committed itself to embark upon a self-funded $1.5 million capital campaign to raise funds for a dramatic yet thoughtful renovation. The parish underwent a series of foundations courses to explore the principles of sacred space as they relate to spiritual and community formation. From this work, St. Paul’s identified four foci as critical to their renewed vision for liturgical space.
These are the font, altar, ambo and assembly. The font is deeply significant as it represents our Christian identity in baptism. The ambo (pulpit) serves as the platform for Christian teaching and proclamation of the word of God. The altar stands front and center as a visible reminder of our Eucharistic, sacramental renewal as Christians. Finally, and profoundly, the position and placement of the assembly, we who gather together, symbolically and physically speaks to our identity as members of the Body of Christ. We approach our baptismal identity, the word and Eucharistic sacrament of our faith as people of the body of Christ, fully cognizant that we come just as we are, flaws and all.
As an Anglo-Catholic parish, we celebrate and value beauty. St Paul’s regulars and visitors encounter a style of worship intended to delight and enliven the senses. In terms of how the renovated space looks and feels, we started with the acknowledgement that we are people of a place.
Organic, local, Northwest materials were important to the comprehensive aesthetic and design, and indeed were already present in the towering, tree-like structure and muted hues of the existing nave. The analogy of St. Paul’s nave as a natural, “forest cathedral” with soft filtered light and majestic, gently arching forms captures the impression first recounted by Susan Jones of atelierjones, the architect chosen for the renovation:
“I was instantly taken with what is offered by the basic bones of the building. The beautiful, natural atmosphere provides a wonderful starting place for enhancing the powerful experiences of the space, light and materiality of the church. It was a privilege to be able to work with such an impressive structure of early Northwest modernism.” –Susan Jones, architect
Integral to the building renovation was the desire to commission an accomplished and highly respected artist to design and build a new font and altar. These were accomplished by Julie Speidel, a renowned local sculptor with a studio on Vashon Island.
Proudly positioned in the newly expanded entryway to St. Paul’s is our new, full-immersion font, dedicated to the memory of Father Ralph Carskadden. It takes its shape from the playful placement of two cross-sections of animal horn. Artist Julie Speidel was experimenting with these raw yet elegant organic shapes and the natural beauty of one configuration possessed both harmony and tension. She knew she had was she was looking for. The larger base of the horn came to rest upon a smaller, narrower section in a uniquely balanced way. The result: the larger section is the full immersion portion of the font, while the lower section receives running water, representing motion, renewal and rebirth in a powerfully symbolic yet intimately tactile way.
The finished font is made from rolled steel, immaculately welded and finished at the edges so as to appear solid, treated with a patina and situated atop its own water-saving filtration system. No font quite like it exists anywhere else in the world.
“My goal in my work is to create beauty that is monumental but never overwhelming. What I want people to feel when they are looking at the font—I want them to go into their wonder side—to walk around it and to be surprised. I hope it reaches something that elevates them and hopefully touches a certain spirit.” –Julie Speidel, artist
It is perhaps no surprise that the surface of St. Paul’s new altar is a single, 7-inch thick slab of naturally downed, centuries-old Oregon walnut weighing about 800 pounds. The massive, kiln-dried slab is ideal in its slight imperfection: a single knot in the surface has been removed to create a reliquary housing for a relic of St. Gregory that has rested in a compartment in St. Paul’s previous altar for many years. It also houses some of Father Ralph Carskadden’s ashes.
The altar reflects Mother Melissa Skelton’s instruction to create something “strong and feminine,” yet “representative of the Eucharistic table.”
Ultimately, she approached the altar much as she did the font. Drawing upon shapes inspired by sections of horn, she created a two-pedestal base with a bronze patina finish, complimentary of the font but reminiscent of “a lifting up of hands, upholding the top of the table.” She describes the altar as giving a sense of something “coming up out of the earth,” and says “I wanted [the altar] to provide solidarity but not be overwhelming.”
St. Paul’s newly renovated building opened its doors again during Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve 2011.
This account of St. Paul’s renovation was excerpted in part ii from Senior Warden Adam Conley’s article in The Episcopal Voice, Autumn 2011. Read the full story here.