There has been some discussion here of late regarding worship and liturgy and modern vs. traditional. This past Sunday I worshipped at one of my favourite services in all of Christendom. A traditional, BCP Evensong in and of itself is not necessarily my favourite. It is Evensong at St. Alban the Martyr Anglican Church, Ottawa, Ontario, that I love (I have been at St. Paul’s in London and a couple of other high church variations — beautiful, but not what I truly love).
I slipped into a pew midway up the right side (Epistle) of the church beside my friend Clive and took off my big, grey coat then prayed a bit. Clive and I chatted briefly, then I prayed some more (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Repeat 5x.). The sanctuary was basically quiet save beautiful music wending its way from the pipes of the organ at the front.
The service begins with a proclamation from the priest that our Lord Jesus said that where two or three are gathered, he will be with them also — glad to know we tripled the minimum requirement! We sang “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!” then opened our red (1962) Books of Common Prayer to p. 18 (my tattered tome has a blue sticky to take me right there).
And then, having assembled and met together “to render thanks for the great benefits that we have received at [God’s] hands, to set forth his most worthy praise, to hear his most holy Word, and to ask those things which are requisite and necessary, as well for the body as the soul” (BCP, 19), we confessed our sins, prayed the versicles, then recited the psalm appointed for the day, alternately by the half verse.
This was followed by the First Lesson, from Isaiah 6. And then we sang in the stark yet beautiful and (for me) comfortable plainsong the Magnificat (Mary’s song from Luke 1:46 ff). This was followed by the Second Lesson, wherein our Lord and Saviour healed the man at the pool near Bethesda. Following this, we sang in another stark yet beautiful plainsong the Nunc Dimittis (Simeon’s song from Luke 2: 29 ff).
We recited our faith in the words of the ancient baptismal creed of Rome, the Apostles’ Creed. We prayed more versicles, then the Collect for Christmas, the Collect of the Day, the requisite Collects for Peace and Aid Against All Perils.
The priest sermonised about Isaiah and the Apostle John, about the great glory of God, and the cleverness of the early Church as they prepared their delivery of the Good News.
We proceeded to sing “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear.” An offering was taken up during the hymn. This was followed by the prayers from Morning Prayer, pp. 13-15. We sang “Joy to the World.” Richard played a beautiful postlude on the organ that made me glad to be there.
Then we (now numbering 8, not 6) drank Orangina and ate cookies, discussing various things. Questions re my future were a topic of interest, since I only turn up about once or twice a year, and my future is a bit vague at this point.
I wouldn’t call this service high or low. Simply traditional. It was sung, but we all sang together. Evensong at St. Alban’s is liturgy as it should be — the work of the people. We are worshipping God using the words of Scripture, the hymns, the tradition, and so forth. The music, the beautiful setting, the people, the stillness, the smallness — these contributed to an atmosphere wherein I (at least) was able to focus my attention on the words and their meaning and the God whom I came to worship.
This service of Evensong is very special. I hope it stays as it is for many more years to come.