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This may seem like an odd thing to offer some musings about, but Evening Prayer from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer is something I find is a highlight of our worshipping life here at St. John the Divine Anglican Church every week. It's a service which offers space for reflection, beautiful music, and a sense of being deeply grounded in a bigger story than ours. Yes, the Elizabethan language may seem odd at first, but it's not the words, but the feel and cadence of the service which takes us out of our everyday and reminds us that the story of our faith tradition has existed for many hundreds of years, and is deeply connected with the story of the Hebrew faith tradition (as shown by the importance of the Psalms and the Hebrew Scriptures in the cycle of prayer and readings).
There was a trend in the 1980s and 90s of making every act of worship 'interactive' - with more prayers said by the whole congregation, more responsive sections, and liturgies offered in everyday language. That's still an important aspect of contemporary liturgies - but is not the only way of praying, worshiping, reflecting. Evensong as we observe it here is led for us by the choristers of St John the Divine with a Clergy or authorized Lay 'Officiant' who welcomes, leads the proclamation of the Creed, offers intercessory prayer, and shares a thought (jokingly referred to as a Sermuncle) either of their own, or a pre-prepared homily. They also close with the saying of the Grace or a prayer of blessing (in the case of a Priest leading). Other than that, our music Director offers both ancient and contemporary settings of the prayers (called Versicles and Responses, or Preces), the Magnificat and Nunc Dimitus, and the Psalms. It gives those of us who are taking part the opportunity for reflection, prayer, and the opportunity to enjoy the invariably excellent music.
For me this offering of worship is not only poetic and reflective, but reminds me that worship and prayer are not all about me, but about the community being joined together as part of a deeper, broader, and more ancient community. In its format it offers a reminder that we are part of a greater whole, the communion of saints, in all its wonder, faults, failings, and faithfulness.
Lastly, as we share in our Choral Evensong Leaflet each week "In our worship, we use language which is poetic and filled with metaphor and wonder - realising that any language about God is limited. We use some ancient words which may seem odd, or seem to refer to God as only male, or in terms which elsewhere we might not choose to use. The poetry and metaphor are not there to restrict or define an understanding of God, but to remind us that our words are never enough to talk about the DIvine: instead we use the beauty of the words and music in our worship to help us glimpse just a little of the God beyond all words."
St John's Choral Evensong is every Sunday at 4.30pm. All are very welcome.