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.

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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”.