CAMANO ISLAND — Scattered throughout the Psalms of the Bible, one finds the word “Selah.”
Most likely, it was a musical term that called for a rest or a pause in those Old Testament songs of praise, said Jeff Johnson of Camano Island.
The intention of the Selah service that Johnson leads once a month at St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church is that people have a chance to pause and reflect.
Those who attend pray meditatively, listen to scripture and sing together. There’s no preaching, no announcements and no expectation to participate.
If you want, you can just sit and listen.
“It’s really lovely,” said Patty Paddock, a St. Aidan’s parishioner. “At Christmas and near Easter, the services are standing room only.”
Johnson, along with friends at Faith Fellowship in Mill Creek, first hosted a Selah service about 10 years ago.
“We wanted the Selah service to be contemplative in nature,” Johnson said. “We wanted to inspire and proclaim truth and beauty, because we all need as much of that as we can get.”
The service wasn’t directly based on the prayer services of the Taize movement, but it shared certain elements: simple songs, candles, Bible readings and silent prayer. Taize, a community in France, focuses on simple living, helping others and uniting people in song.
A composer and professional musician, Johnson, 55, of south Camano, said the reflective elements of Taize struck a chord.
“We also wanted the Selah service to involve people of all ages,” he said. “Loud contemporary church services for younger people and staid traditional church services for older people seem to split the generations.”
At first, people felt uncomfortable with the 10 minutes of silent prayer in the Selah service, Johnson said.
“In our culture, we are afraid of silence, but people seem to adapt to silent prayer easily and often want more time,” he said. “The Selah service is attractive to a lot of people. They learn to appreciate that we enter a sacred space in silence. It’s rather monastic, with some repetition in song and prayer. It’s nothing new at all. It’s just tapping into what has been going on for thousands of years.”
Leading a Selah service can be an art form, Johnson said.
“The leadership role is to stay out of the way of the Holy Spirit,” he said. “You have to trust the silence.”
At the Selah services at St. Aidan, nearly half of the people who attend are not members of the church.
“Many people are going through hard times, with sickness, family deaths and lost jobs,” he said. “It’s a good time to come together and take heart. Selah is a healing service.”
Still, Johnson doesn’t see the Selah service at St. Aidan as an alternative to Sunday morning worship. It’s additional, he said. “I’m big on showing up and paying attention in church. But we are so distracted these days, so the Selah service gives us a chance to stop and wait on the Lord and to just be.”
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Song and prayer
Nondenominational Selah service of song and prayer, 7 p.m. Sunday, St. Aidan Episcopal Church, 1318 Highway 532, Camano Island. Childcare provided. More info: www.staidancamanoisland.org, www.arkmusic.com.