After long drought, Mass is offered at the state Capitol

  • Written by Barbara Washburn
  • Published in Local
Father Jim Lee, pastor of St. Michael Parish in Olympia, says Mass Feb. 4 in a meeting room at the state Capitol. Each week, as many as 30 state employees and legislators gather for the lunchtime service. Photo: Courtesy St. Michael Parish  Father Jim Lee, pastor of St. Michael Parish in Olympia, says Mass Feb. 4 in a meeting room at the state Capitol. Each week, as many as 30 state employees and legislators gather for the lunchtime service. Photo: Courtesy St. Michael Parish

OLYMPIA - Every Wednesday, a group of Catholic lawmakers and state employees quietly take their lunch break to attend Mass or pray the rosary on the grounds of the state Capitol.

The location varies, depending on room availability, and it’s not publicly announced, so the faithful call or email each other with that week’s meeting place. On a recent Wednesday, a table served as the altar and a few rows of comfortable chairs filled in for pews.

“This is not about, ‘Hey, look at us, we are going to church,’” said Sen. Mike Padden (R-Spokane Valley), a founding member of the group. “We are doing this for ourselves, our faith, and it is something we all look forward to each week,” he said. “It gives us a beautiful break in our day, which allows us to be around fellow believers who gather for a short Mass and to receive the Eucharist.”

It’s believed to be the first time in at least 30 years that Mass has been offered at the Capitol. “It began with the idea of a few rosaries being said,” said Erin Simmons, a contract lobbyist who is a member of nearby St. Michael Parish in Olympia, but the Masses have been possible with the help of St. Michael’s pastor, Father Jim Lee. 

“We have held Masses here at our church location occasionally for about two to three years for our Capitol employees, but they were always at a very early morning hour,” Father Lee said. “The locations at the Capitol are much more convenient for legislative members.” 

Father Lee said the first Mass Feb. 4. “If he cannot be present, he helps find priests throughout the area that can stop by and hold the Mass for us on Wednesdays,” Simmons said, adding that 15 to 30 people gather each week.

If a priest isn’t available, the group gathers to pray the rosary, Sen. Padden said. St. Michael’s has a noon Mass, “and we do not want to take away from them,” he said. “This is a small group of people who simply find it very convenient to have a service right here around our place of work. No one has to get in a car and deal with traffic. We can all walk to whatever location it is being held.”

Father Lee said the last Mass is planned for April 22, four days before the 2015 regular legislative session concludes.