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