It was a chilly but sunny Friday evening, and the Lincoln Singers had trundled up to Durham to do the weekend singing in the cathedral. First port of call— evensong. Evensong is one of the great Anglican choral traditions. It’s sort of like having Christmas Eve candlelight service all year round. Like any BCP service, it has certain elements— an OT and a NT reading BUT no preaching, except by special exception (say a special festival day). The apostle’s creed said and the Lord’s Prayer sung. The Magnificat and the Nunc Dimittis, which is to say sung versions of Mary’s famous tune, and that of Simeon as well, plucked from the A.V. versions of Luke 1-2. Then there is the singing of a full Psalm…. on this particular Friday the Psalm was 107…. all verses sung. Of course there are prayers as well, but there are rarely hymns sung by the congregation. The best part? Getting to sit in the stalls with the choir, and singing along with them at appropriate junctures.
There is definitely a solemnity to a candle light service of any kind, whether its Vespers or Evensong. The Anglican tradition fully takes advantage of that, and there has been no end of great Anglican choral music composed just for Evensong. One of the things I most noticed this time around, is the great care taken in reading the Scriptures carefully, slowly, and then at the end pausing before saying ‘here ends the lesson’, as if one is allowing it to sink into the congregation. My only small niggle about Evensong is it is too much performance and too little congregational participation in the acts of worship. I certainly remember the many times I got to sit with the King’s College boys in Cambridge and sing with them…. I was ready to be beamed up after some of those occasions.
If you ever get a chance to go to Evensong when a great choir is leading it…. carpe diem. You won’t regret it.