|Rev. Susan O'Shea (Downtown Source)|
You can sometimes see them shouting with a bible open in their hands at Yesler and First, or holding a church service in the parking lot at Second and Pike. Or, if you are up early in the morning, you may see Episcopalian priest Susan O'Shea swiftly gliding in a motorized wheelchair around Pike Place Market. O'Shea and others "spread the word" of their particular ministry and make themselves available to the homeless on the streets in downtown Seattle. Whose word? Usually Jesus Christ, but some, like O'Shea, also tell their own stories.
As downtown Seattle continues its fast-paced gentrification, laws addressing the homeless are increasing. The latest talk of enforcement includes bans on cheap alcohol and authority to commit alcoholics to treatment.
Rev. Susan O'Shea, of The Chapel of Saints Martha and Mary of Bethany, located in Pike Place Market, is a dynamic advocate for the homeless, and is very creative and outspoken about the role her ministry plays in the downtown community. About her work on the street she says, "I just sort of cruise around and make sure they're OK. I do that in the morning because most folks are sober. They have to go pee, so they don't talk a real long time."
Her humor and quirky character are well-known in the community and her friend Emmett Watson said once that he would like her to say the "last words" at his funeral. She is a statuesque woman, even when seated, which she is most of the time in a motorized wheelchair as she suffers from myasthenia gravis, a disease affecting the muscles.
O'Shea was appointed to the chapel on April Fool's Day, 1991. That same year, she says, "We woke up and had 3,000 monolingual Hispanics on the street," a result of the fishing companies advertising for workers in Spanish.
Mostly people attending the chapel's services speak Spanish. She learned the language and performs a bilingual liturgy, switching back and forth between English and Spanish in a meditative sing-song, creating a kind of cultural harmony for that moment in the small, bright chapel overlooking First Avenue. A cross hangs above the altar holding the cup of wine which represents Christ's blood. Next to the altar is a carved stick.
O'Shea says it is a talking stick carved for her by the "people of the first nations." The top is an otter, which represents curiosity. the snake winding up the middle represents someone very close to the earth.
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