While I was away on sabbatical I was very good about staying away from email and the internet in general, but I did need to find something on the St. Alban’s website one day and noticed a Daily Cup titled “Evensong” linked to the homepage. I had to find out who was writing about Evensong in my absence. Daily Cup readers might remember this piece from August, written by the Parish Verger. He wrote that he can’t stand (his words) it when a choir sings the music of Evensong and a congregation simply listens.
That’s a viewpoint that must be challenged, and the Parish Verger knows that I planned to publicly disagree with him. There’s no value in listening to music done by a well-trained choir and organist as part of a liturgy? Should we also have voluntary, unprepared sermons from congregants? Maybe we could find someone with a wrench to work on the sound system…it’s been misbehaving lately. How about posting a signup sheet for people interested in playing the organ on Sunday mornings?
Maybe I am a little bitter about that Daily Cup!
During my sabbatical I attended Evensong twelve times in seven different churches or cathedrals. I was inspired by the most glorious music, written for God, sung beautifully by well-rehearsed choirs as part of a liturgy and not in performance. While I simply listened, I worshiped. I was able to absorb the beauty of the architecture around me, admire the composers’ craft, and appreciate the shape that liturgy takes in the hands of organists who have practiced many long hours. I even failed to notice the vergers (this is a good thing) who work to make liturgy appear seamless. On a good day liturgy can come together to create flow – a psychological term that describes a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of an activity. In this case, the activity for me was participating in liturgy as a listener.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for homespun, lay led Evensong. There’s room for all sorts and conditions of people and liturgies in my church. But I think sometimes we get so caught up in doing, and I am grateful for those times when I’m allowed to just be.
We recently had a guest from out of town, and in the interest of introducing her to Call the Midwife, a PBS offering of last year, re-watched a number of the episodes. There was one where two nurses gently washed the hands, feet and back of a women who hadn’t had a bath in years, nor had someone touch her with gentle hands. This scene was accompanied by a solo voice singing the first verse of “oh come of come Emmanuel.” It was enormously powerful and we were all touched to the core. There is indeed a time for congregational signing, and I love it, but the choir can be incredibly moving. I could cite so many instances…
I agree with parts of both posts. When I was singing in the cathedral choir under Wayne Dirksen (albeit a long time ago), at evensong the psalms, canticles, and anthems were sung by the choir, but the preces, suffrages and lords prayer were sung (responsively where appropriate) by the congregation. This seemed to me a very natural mix. I could worship in the choral music, but also felt inclusive of the congregation as part of the service. Later, when I attended evensong as a congregant, the choir was doing everything and I missed having that more active part. I appreciate both choir-only and congregation only (which we have done at St. Alban’s), but am open to an inclusive mix that is a via media. It is always nice to have some variety available.
Welcome back Sonya. Thank you for thought provoking writings.
I’ve considered it a blessing the time I sit in the pews for worship. I visited Holy Apostles Episcopal Church in New York, the choir performed Stainer’s “God So Loved the World.” I was uplifted as much as when I performed the piece with choirs in the past.