Music of the Night

Last weekend we went to Saturday night church to hear our daughter-in-law sing. Or more accurately – as I discovered the next day – we went to Evensong.

42 - evensong

I was raised as a Methodist, with little exposure to the customs of other faiths.  It was only later in life that I came to appreciate the different spins on “church”.  Our Methodist church had three services on Sunday mornings – that was about it for formal worship.  But my years at a Catholic university taught me that “church” can happen on Saturday nights, or Friday nights, or every morning, afternoon and evening of the week if you simply can’t get your fill.  “Church” also has different names, like Vespers, Eucharist, or Matins.  Or Evensong.

Saturday night’s service with my daughter-in-law didn’t seem so unusual.  We were sitting in pews in a sanctuary; a healthy congregation of worshipers around us.  The service began with singing and music.  But fifteen minutes into the hour it was still singing and music.  The stubborn Methodist in me wondered when we’d get to the sermon and the Bible verses and the prayers (they came eventually).

Evensong wouldn’t “even” (ha) have become this week’s blog topic if it wasn’t for Jeffrey Archer.  I was reading the British author’s latest novel last Sunday and he made reference to Evensong.  The word stuck with me – a beautiful term – so I had to learn more.  Evensong has its roots in the Church of England: an evening prayer service delivered through singing and music.

Today, Evensong in its purest form is still more common in the U.K. than in the U.S.  You can attend the service every day in most cathedrals in the Church of England, but you’ll only find a handful of options in the States.  And you’ll have to search even harder to find Choral Evensong; the original version of the service sung “a capella” (without instruments).

One of my neighbors down the street here in rural Colorado saw fit to name her “relaxing forest getaway rental” Evensong Place (made the top ten in my Google search!).  That’s a little eerie considering I chose this topic at random just this week.  Maybe I should wander down and have a look.

A popular Methodist hymn – from the early nineteen century but still sung at Christmas – is “There’s a Song in the Air”.  It doesn’t rate as high as “Silent Night” or “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” but the melody and the words captivate me.  In the final verse we sing “…and we echo the song that comes down through the night…”.  Well what do you know?  Even us Methodists had a sense of Evensong well before it became “Saturday night church”.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

About Dave

Clearly I have something to say. This blog was born of a desire to elevate our speech, using the more eloquent words of past generations. The stories I share are life itself, and each comes with a bonus: a sometimes-forgotten word I hope you’ll go on to use more often. Read "Flying in the Face of Reason" to unearth a few mysteries linked to Denver International Airport. Read "Color of Courage" to better appreciate recipients of the Purple Heart. On the lighter side, read "Sugar Cured" to discover a creative fix for headaches. As Walt Whitman said, “That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.” Here then, my verse. Welcome to "Life In A Word".
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4 Responses to Music of the Night

  1. Ric Wilson says:

    Sounds like you had a great experience and I’m with you – Evensong is a beautiful word (and service). It’s worth noting that John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, both attended and preached at Evensong throughout his life. It’s unfortunate that the church of the early 20th century confined worship to Sunday morning, but happily these days worship happens in many ways, places and times.

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  2. Dave says:

    Good information Ric – didn’t know that about Wesley. Now that I know what I’m missing, I hope I can experience an authentic Evensong service one of these days. Thanks for reading.

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  3. GREAT Blog, Dave. I didn’t know the word “Evensong” and I am Catholic. Sounds like it was an enjoyable evening. And which Jeffrey Archer book are you reading?

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    • Dave says:

      Thank you! I’ve read just about everything Jeffrey Archer has written, but it’s hard to top his Clifton Chronicles – the seven-book series about the Clifton and Barrington families. The reference to Evensong appears in Book 5 (which I was reading at the time), and surely elsewhere in his writing.

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