Eastertide 2018

09 April 2018
Great Paschal Vespers - reflections on

This past Sunday evening I had my first opportunity to attend Great Paschal Vespers. Not only did I attend, I also directed the music (occupational hazard).

And here's something I noticed: we said or sang the word Alleluia 122 times in the course of the service. (In one of the processional psalms for the service alone, we sang it 40 times.)

I've written previously on this blog about not living up to the liturgical promise of Easter (especially during Easter Week), so I was eager to put my money where my mouth was and engage in a liturgical form specifically for the Easter season.

Great Paschal Vespers is an interesting service. It's based on a "stational" liturgies from Rome that were conducted as a congregation traveled from place to place. And within the confines of the four walls of a parish church, some of the psalms for this service (with their added Alleluia antiphons) do give the sense of an Easter People on the go.

And here's something I'm thinking about this Eastertide. This may be overly obvious to many of my readers, but I doubt that our congregations are really fully aware of it: Alleluia is an Easter word.

If Great Paschal Vespers doesn't drive that point home, I don't know what does.

Yes, we sing it at Christmas and at other times of the year, but we surely sing it more in Eastertide. It should feel good to sing and say this word in the Easter season, especially after we've given it up for 40 days.

We should notice its inclusion in the Dismissal during Eastertide (and not during the rest of the year, thank you very much.)

Here's where I think church musicians fail their congregations in Easter: our parishioners have a really good idea of what Christmas music is (and they probably have a few favorite Christmas CDs that they listen to every year) but Easter is our holiest season and I don't think churchgoers have the same proficiency with a seasonal musical vocabulary as they do with Christmas.

To put it bluntly, we haven't popularized the Alleluia.

So how could we begin to rectify this? Is Great Paschal Vespers a viable option for most places? Is there an as-yet unpopularized "Easter Lessons and Carols"?

I don't know the answer, but I hope you'll help me on this, alleluia, alleluia.
Thanks be to God, alleluia, alleluia.

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04 April 2018
Compline - longest ever

We heard hours and hours and months of singing. So these bowhead whales were singing from November until early April in the polar night - so 24-hour darkness - under almost 100 percent sea ice cover in the Arctic in the middle of winter. And that was an amazing surprise.

"A Tale Of 2 Whale Songs". Morning Edition, NPR. 4 April 2018.


31 March 2018
'Twas the night before Christmas…er, Easter: a church website rant

UPDATE 16 April 2018: this article has been altered to remove names of specific congregations, links to their websites, and screenshots of those websites. I have done this for several reasons and I will explain my why in a separate forthcoming article.

Forgive me for being confused. Here in Missouri, there's snow in the forecast for much of the state.

But there's a different kind of confusion about Easter that I want to address: that of Easter service times on church websites.

There's probably no other day of the year when churches work so hard (Christmas being a close second). Rectors, altar guilds, sextons, choirs, organists (ahem!), flower guilds, volunteers who spruce up the grounds and the interior, the list goes on.

And there's no other day that people are looking for church service times more desperately than they are on the night before Easter.

There has been much advice and conversation about this online lately. And I thought it was high time that I weigh in as well.

So, here's what I'm really talking about here: having the Easter service times immediately visible on the homepage of the website on the night before Easter without clicking a single link.

I'm not talking about having the service times available somewhere else on the website (under a "Worship" page or, even worse, a "Calendar" page). Easter is too big a deal for that. It needs to be listed on the front page.

I'm not talking about a "worship every Sunday" at such and such a time. Even if the services on Easter Sunday are at the same time they were last week, the front page of your website needs to make this explicit.

Any seed of doubt in a website visitor's mind on Easter Eve is too much. Bottom line: the front page of your church's website needs to be absolutely crystal clear about Easter service times.

Let's use the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri as a case study. I visited every church website in the diocese (list) between 4:30 and 5:00 p.m. on Holy Saturday (the day before Easter).

Of the 42 churches in the diocese:

A few observations:

One of these churches listed "Sunday, April 1" and the worship time, but made no mention of Easter.

Another church (it happens to be rather familiar to me), had obviously incomplete listings of Easter Day services on the homepage.

One church had Easter service times on a slide in a homepage slideshow, but not the first slide. I had already scrolled past it before the service times came up. I found it later.

Some churches just left me with questions. For example, is [redacted] really doing Morning Prayer on Easter?

[Redacted] did actually meet the criteria of having the info immediately visible on the front page, but I have to say at first glance I looked right past it. It is in a very small font on the upper left-hand corner of the site.

[Image removed]

[Image removed]

One of the most distressing things I saw was [redacted] where there were conflicting service times. First, I saw a "regular" Sunday service time listing, and then, farther down the page, I saw a special Easter service time listing. The Easter Day service times are not visible without scrolling down (in most cases). I think one of the worst experiences a visitor could have would be seeing Sunday service time information on your website, but still arriving at the wrong time for Easter. This must be avoided at all costs.

[Image removed]

[Image removed]

[Image removed]

One website helpfully had a monthly calendar on display, but today is March 31, and Easter is next month. So they didn't make the cut either.

But by far the worst example I saw was [redacted]. I remain unclear if this is an Episcopal congregation or a winery.

What conclusions can we draw from this? In this diocese, fewer than a third of churches are following what I and many others consider to be a best practice for church websites in the time leading up to Easter.

We can and must do better.

In a lot of cases the problem could be solved by creating an article or event with a headline such as "Easter services: 8:00 and 10:30 a.m.", and then filling out whatever details are needed within the article itself. I think this is so much more preferable to "Easter Services" and then a "details" button, or the dreaded "click here".

You might think I'm overblowing this (though probably not if you've read to the end of this article), but consider for a moment how carefully we prepare Holy Week service bulletins and other materials. Can church staffs really not take the five minutes required to get this right?

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24 March 2018
Songs in the Desert, week 5

Songs in the Desert ( is a collaborative conversation about Christian hymns which comes out every weekday in Lent.

Each episode is around five minutes and comes from a different contributor.

This was the final week of the project for this year, and I am so deeply grateful to everyone who submitted episodes and who listened to the podcast.

This week, we heard episodes on

If you would, please take two minutes to complete our Songs in the Desert listener survey. We'd love to know what you've thought of this project.

Many have asked what's next for Songs in the Desert. Based on the positive response and strong interest in our Lent 2018 podcast, we are definitely planning to return next Lent. But we're open to other ideas (and assistance!) too! Get in touch via the survey, or just email David Sinden at

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17 March 2018
Songs in the Desert, week 4

Songs in the Desert ( is a collaborative conversation about Christian hymns which comes out every weekday in Lent.

A friend recently commented on an episode this week "This is the first one of these I listened to. Are they all this good?" The answer, of course, is yes!

Each episode is around five minutes and comes from a different contributor. As we get further into Lent, I have more appreciation for the variety of voices and perspectives in this project.

This week, we heard episodes on

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10 March 2018
Songs in the Desert, week 3

Songs in the Desert ( is a collaborative conversation about Christian hymns which comes out every weekday in Lent.

Each episode is around five minutes and comes from a different contributor.

This week, we heard episodes for

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03 March 2018
Songs in the Desert, week 2

Songs in the Desert ( is a collaborative conversation about Christian hymns which comes out every weekday in Lent.

Each episode is around five minutes and comes from a different contributor.

This week, we heard episodes for

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26 February 2018
Songs in the Desert, week 1

Dear readers,

I apologize for neglecting this blog, but I have a pretty good excuse, or two.

I've turned my attention to two podcasting projects: my ongoing work with All Things Rite and Musical, a podcast about liturgy and music from an Episcopal/Anglican perspective; and Songs in the Desert which is a collaborative conversation about Christian hymns which comes out every weekday in Lent.

But fear not, still has a place in all this. I owe you all a polemic railing against this ludicrous article from Steven Markowitz called "Digital Organs are the Future – It's Time to End the Schism" (reprinted here.)

But until then, here's a rundown of the Songs in the Desert episodes since Ash Wednesday. Each episode is around five minutes and comes from a different contributor.

If you like what you hear, I hope you'll check in for new episodes this week at or subscribe to the podcast.


01 January 2018
Tolkien, J.R.R. - "Noel"

“Noel” by J.R.R. Tolkien

Grim was the world and grey last night:
The moon and stars were fled,
The hall was dark without song or light,
The fires were fallen dead.
The wind in the trees was like to the sea,
And over the mountains’ teeth
It whistled bitter-cold and free,
As a sword leapt from its sheath.

The lord of snows upreared his head;
His mantle long and pale
Upon the bitter blast was spread
And hung o’er hill and dale.
The world was blind, the boughs were bent,
All ways and paths were wild:
Then the veil of cloud apart was rent,
And here was born a Child.

The ancient dome of heaven sheer
Was pricked with distant light;
A star came shining white and clear
Alone above the night.
In the dale of dark in that hour of birth
One voice on a sudden sang:
Then all the bells in Heaven and Earth
Together at midnight rang.

Mary sang in this world below:
They heard her song arise
O’er mist and over mountain snow
To the walls of Paradise,
And the tongue of many bells was stirred
in Heaven’s towers to ring
When the voice of mortal maid was heard,
That was mother of Heaven’s King.

Glad is the world and fair this night
With stars about its head,
And the hall is filled with laughter and light,
And fires are burning red.
The bells of Paradise now ring
With bells of Christendom,
And Gloria, Gloria we will sing
That God on earth is come.

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24 December 2017
Lessons and Carols from King's in 1918 has published its annual preview of the music list for the 2017 Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College, Cambridge.

You may interested to view a spreadsheet of carols sung at this service from 1997 to the present, as well as some information about services prior to 1991. That can be accessed at

This year on this website, for the days leading up to the service, we have offered a Kalendar of Carols: a more in-depth look at each piece of music to be sung this year.

Every year I'm again amazed by this service. It is a phenomenal liturgy. But don't take my word for it. Just ask the millions around the world who tune into it live.

As we approach the centenary of the service, it seems only natural to look back to its origins once again.

The first service Lessons and Carols service is always referenced in the write up in the service booklet, but I have to say that until this year I had never actually seen the order.

But all of a sudden, here it is! Order of Service for 1918.

If you are an aficionado of this liturgy, there is much to explore here.

As I've already mentioned, the opening hymn is preceded by the Invitatory Carol in this liturgy. Also, the lessons are quite different from what we know now. The inclusion of the Magnificat at the end is fascinating.

But there's another element that's almost easy to overlook: the short "benedictions" that follow each carol. After Milner-White's famous bidding prayer (how awesome it is to see this first printing of it!) comes a hymn, after which follows an additional benediction before the First Lesson. Devotees will recognize many of these phrases from the single blessing used in the service now.

This service, from the outset, seems to be have been conceived as a gift and a blessing. The words and the music bless us (again, how sacramental this sounds!). It is a Benediction, not exactly of the Blessed Sacrament, but of the Word Made Flesh.

Viewed this way, Lessons and Carols is not a concert stuffed between some liturgical bookends; it is a deeply liturgical offering of words and music undergirded by a theology of blessing and grace.

This service is meant to do more than outline or celebrate a theological concept: it is meant to draw us near the Incarnational reality of Jesus so that we may find him a blessing.

In that spirit, I wish you a very blessed Christmas, and I reproduce here the short benedictions that follow each carol in the service in 1918.

  1. With perpetual benediction may the Father Everlasting bless us.
  2. God, the Son of God, vouchsafe to bless and aid us.
  3. May the grace of the Holy Ghost enlighten us heart and body.
  4. The Almighty Lord bless us with his grace.
  5. Christ give us the joys of everlasting life.
  6. By the words of God's Gospel be our sins blotted out.
  7. May the fountain of the Gospel fill us with the doctrine of Heaven.
  8. The Creator of all things give us His blessing now and for evermore.
  9. Unto the fellowship of the citizens above may the King of Angels bring us all.


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