Church: St. Mark’s University Parish, 6550 Picasso Rd., Isla Vista
Service Attended: Friday, November 2, 5:00 p.m.
Pastor: Father Tomas Elis
Congregation Size: 25 attending
Services: Masses: Saturday at 5:00 p.m., Sunday at 10:00 a.m., 12:00 p.m. (Spanish) and 7:00 p.m. (Students); Monday through Friday at 5:00 p.m. Reconciliation: Saturday from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. and by appointment.
Contact: Call 968-1078 or visit saint-marks.net
There’s something very moving about a service conducted for a small group, especially when all the usual practices are observed. Saint Mark’s is attended by 300 to 600 people on Sundays, but during the week only a few very devout worshippers stop by – and the service is no less heartfelt or complete.
Saint Mark’s is unusual, in that the space itself is less formal than the usual cathedral or traditional church. The decor is very contemporary, with the Communion altar in the center of the room. (In a theater, it would be called “in the round.”) The result is a focus as much on the rest of the congregation as on the altar or the pulpit; this is probably intended to promote a sense of fellowship, which is entirely successful. The open, bright, airy space, with chairs rather than pews, is certainly more conducive to a feeling of comfort than the austere grandeur of the typical Catholic place of worship. Father Tomas Elis obviously works to enhance this impression by greeting his parishioners before the service and attending to the mundane business of the meeting, such as lighting candles, himself.
It’s easy to think of Isla Vista as a relatively godless place, as it’s certainly a scene of debauchery on occasion, Halloween weekend being a good example. Father Tomas said that’s not at all the case, and that God is very present, “although sometimes He has to hide.” It’s this sense of humor, and enjoyment of the youth surrounding the church, that accounts for the success of Saint Mark’s with students in the neighborhood. The student service on Sunday evenings is quite full, and with one or two exceptions, Friday’s attendees were of college age. Two UCSB students played violin and flute to accompany the service, and their skill and time they’ve devoted it are a testament to the involvement of the young parishioners in the life of Saint Mark’s.
Despite the surprising number of college students who attend, and the very modern architecture and layout of the chapel, the service itself is quite traditional. Incense burns in a bowl on the altar, and Communion is offered at every service. This combination of the old and new sets Saint Mark’s apart, and probably accounts for its popularity with Isla Vista residents.