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Evensong experiences a resurrection

Evensong experiences a resurrection

Back in the twentieth century, at a certain university college, Evening Prayer was assigned to the first-year Theology students. On a given afternoon, the responsible student would scour the halls for a friend to come and say the responses back across an empty choir.

But there are no more lonely nights in the college chapels of Oxbridge, reports the Telegraph. Under a headline advising, “Looking for Britain’s future leaders? Try evensong,” John Bingham, Religious Affairs Editor reports that,

one evening pursuit which has been enjoying an unexpected boost in popularity in the two universities is as far from the cliché of raucous student life as it is possible to imagine – choral evensong.

College chaplains have seen a steady but noticeable increase in attendances at the early evening services which combine contemplative music with the 16th Century language of the Book of Common Prayer. …

Chaplains say the mix of music, silence and centuries-old language appears to have taken on a new appeal for a generation more used to instant and constant communications, often conducted in 140 characters rather than the phrases of Cranmer.

Those in attendance are not only an audience for the choir. At Queen’s College, Oxford, the Revd Dr Daniel Inman, Chaplain, told the Telegraph that nine members of the college were confirmed in the chapel last year, the highest number in his 40 years of records.

At Worcester College, the Revd Dr Jonathan Arnold is carrying out research on the relationship between music and faith; although the chaplains all describe congregations of Christians mixed with atheists, Jews, and Muslims. Inman believes that the ancient character and content of the service frees people of all walks of life to attend.

“Although the language of the Prayer Book is rather alien to modern ears, precisely for that reason it’s also less threatening and more inclusive,” he explained.

“You’re not really asked to signal your own dogmatic beliefs or lack thereof, but invited to join in a pattern of worship that has shaped our national life for centuries.”

Two years ago, the same reporter noted a rise in attendance at midweek Evensong services in England’s cathedrals, bucking the trend of declining numbers. Has the Episcopal Church noticed a similar trend? Where do you most like to attend Evensong, and why?

Featured image: detail from the chapel of Keble College, Oxford


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Scott Cooper

Christ Church in Madison, Indiana has been holding congregational Evensong every Wednesday evening for at least the last 18 years. While choral Evensong in a cathedral or large urban church is lovely and uplifting, I have always enjoyed this small-town setting: everyone in the pews sings all of the responses, psalms, canticles, and hymns. My love and appreciation to the laypeople and clergy who have kept this going week by week.

David Allen

For years the Choral Evensong/Compline at St Mark’s Cathedral (the God Box) in Seattle has had a very similar popular attendance of folks, especially young folks. Many of them lying about the floor under the choir loft. However, the last I attended, there was a distinct waft of freshly smoked marijuana coming from some folks clothes! An odor all too familiar walking through downtown Seattle now days.

Kurt Hill

Ah. Some high Churchmen after my own heart!

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

David Allen


Alan Christensen

A portion of the St. Mark’s choir also sings Compline at my parish, Christ Church in the U District, on Wednesday nights. We’re not quite up to the numbers that attend at St. Mark’s yet!

Susan Forsburg

I love the contemplative peace of evensong, which i first met when doing a summer exchange at Cambridge University 30 years ago.

In San Diego, a superb evensong may be enjoyed at St Paul’s Cathedral. The choirs alternate between girls and men, and boys and men. Sundays 5pm.

Alan Christensen

Back in 2003 I attended Veteran’s Day Evensong at the Cathedral in SD and it was a very moving service.

Randall Stewart

In my experience, the larger and more sophisticated cities (Boston, New York, Washington) have done well in holding on. When I moved to Baltimore in 2000 you could go to Evensong every Sunday; thanks to a combination of finances and hostile clergy you can do once, maybe twice a month at the outside, at least with a full choir. I’m fortunate to spend many of my Sundays in Washington, where you can often find services at 4, 5, and 6 PM!

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