The Epiphany Season
Why should you return to a church on a Sunday evening (assuming you were there that very morning) to attend the service of Choral Evensong? If you ever find yourself moved by the choral music you hear in worship on Sunday mornings, you will find an abundance of sacred choral music offered to the glory of God in this shorter candlelit service.
Dale Adelmann's article at the Cathedral of St. Philip in Atlanta speaks to this well: "Think Evensong isn’t for you? Well, if you ever resonate with the choirs’ musical offerings on Sunday morning, you will find Evensong to be an especially rich revelation of the glory and presence of God."
"Have you ever been to Evensong?" 13 September 2015
Evensong (the service of Evening Prayer, sung) is drawn almost entirely from the Bible and has been sung regularly in the Anglican Church since the sixteenth century. Its purpose is to give thanks in song and sight to God, the Giver of all beauty. This service brings together many elements of the older monastic offices of Vespers and Compline, particularly their respective canticles the Magnificat (Luke 1) and the Nunc dimittis (Luke 2). There is wide variety of music spanning four centuries that has been written specifically for this evening liturgy.
“We live between the act of awakening and the act of surrender”
You may find that Evensong the ideal place to introduce a friend or colleague to the rich liturgical and musical heritage of the Episcopal Church. With neither sermon nor Eucharist, the more contemplative atmosphere at Evensong can be a wonderful experience for a new or returning Christian.
Furthermore, there is an indescribable quality to worship at the time of the sun’s setting. The energetic quality of the morning liturgy is familiar to American Christians; the contemplative quality of Evensong, less so.
The service in the morning is a ready complement to our addiction to busyness (cars!), need for control (iPhones!), and love of energy (Starbucks!).
This service in the evening helps us to turn our attention away from ourselves to remember many different aspects of our relationship to God: including the act of surrender.
“We live between the act of awakening and the act of surrender. Each morning we awaken to the light and the invitation to a new day in the world of time; each night we surrender to the dark to be taken to play in the world of dreams where time is no more. At birth we were awakened and emerged to become visible in the world. At death we will surrender again to the dark to become invisible. Awakening and surrender: they frame each day and each life; between them the journey where anything can happen, the beauty and the frailty.”
– John O’Donohue, quoted from "Between Awakening and Surrender: John O’Donohue on Beauty, the Enchantment of Falling in Love, and the Vortex of Desire" Brainpickings 21 September 2015.
I invite you to frame your day with worship, including Evensong. Seek out an Evensong if you can. Or gather with others and read Evening Prayer (use Rite I if you wish to use the language often heard at Evensong) from the Book of Common Prayer.
Many have offered touching remembrances of Phyllis Tickle, and I have a brief one to offer as well.
I was honored to be in Phyllis's presence at St. Paul's, Richmond when she was a part of the Lenten Preaching Series. I recall her conveying a deep sense of love for this world and God's creation -- for God's incarnate reality in this place and in the Church. It was made abundantly clear in the ending to her sermon one day when she stood in the center of the chancel of the church, opened James Weldon Johnson's poem The Creation, and read it in its entirety. I had never heard it before. I thought the words, and her abundantly loving reading of those words, was perfect. That moment was perfect.
Thank you for that moment, Phyllis.
AND God stepped out on space,
And He looked around and said,
I’ll make me a world.”
I like the Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, and I really enjoyed being at her table for lunch earlier this year, but I think I disagree with this one specific quote that I'm pulling from an article on the Atlantic site today.
Young people are “either passively consuming a mediocre rock concert”—as in the amphitheater environs of most American megachurches—“or passively consuming a formal liturgy, instead of being a community of creators.”
Green, Emma. "Why every church needs a drag queen" The Atlantic 3 September 2015.
Yeah, I get it. The "mediocre rock concert" does it's thing at you, and you consume it.
But I really don't think formal liturgy is consumed in quite the same way.
In fact, if you break it down, the literal consumption (the Eucharist) is actually the point of most liturgical traditions.
Anyhow, speaking from a musical standpoint, this tradition draws you in, and demands you participate. The hymns are led by the quintessential accompaniment for involvement: the organ. Drums and microphones might declare the beat, but the organ provides a warm, sturdy framework on which to stand and sing. There's no other single instrument that does this, and it doesn't require a "mediocre" vocalist on a microphone to assist it either.
The choir is vested, because they're not the point. There are no spotlights, no fog machines. The choir's specificity fades away in support of the liturgy.
And I think that, at its best, church music that is truly in touch with its surroundings – inspired by the readings, proportional to the liturgy, practiced and performed with care – is not "consumed" any more than the lectionary readings are. The readings are heard, actively. Our best church music is not consumed like a rock concert, it is both sung and listened to, attentively, actively by those who are able to adopt a prayerful posture toward its performance.
For Bolz-Weber, the humble rock-star pastor of the ELCA Lutherans, a rich theological posture is found in liturgical confession. “Let us confess that God is God and we are not.”
I want to connect these two ideas -- consumption and confession -- lest anyone think that even more traditional-minded parishes cannot access the same authenticity which Bolz-Weber claims to have found.
Because the "consumer" model operates from the posture of a god. "I am supreme, you must make your offerings for my entertainment/pleasure/edification/sustenance…whatever"
But the "community of creators" model operates with a posture of openness to God the Creator – and this open posture is found in Confession.
“God is God and we are not.”
I don't think the bleeding-edge ecclesiastical progressives who have abandoned traditional liturgical mechanisms, such as the House for All Sinners and Saints (where Bolz-Weber is Founding Pastor), have exclusive access to a "community of creators" kind of experience.
In a place where liturgical rotas are eschewed, yes creativity reigns. But creativity does not necessarily equal authenticity; it might just equate to highly-necessary serendipity.
But so may creativity be found in places where the liturgy is undertaken with great care, the roles are ministries, and the congregation can admit that "God is God". In these places, I would argue, one is hard pressed to call the liturgy "consumed".
Confession, which is neither the exclusive domain of the Lutherans nor the liturgically-experimental, allows for a community of creators.
Choirs are communities of creators.
Congregations that support good church music are too.
May it always be so. Amen.
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