Over the past couple weeks, I toured Great Britain. There were a few wonders there, though I might say that there were few so universal yet so outstanding as the churches there: massive architectural wonders, even in the small towns. As someone who once attended church in a synagogue, I valued highly the Christian imagery wrapped around me. These monuments to Jesus and His glory are well past their age of peak attendance, with tourists outnumbering attendees by several orders of magnitude. Still, they maintain one tradition that I think would be quite valuable in the States: Evensong.
Evensong is a series of scripture readings, choral pieces, and prayer that takes place at about 5 PM. They last slightly shorter than a Sunday sermon, but they happen every weekday. The exceptions are church holidays, which have special services, and Mondays (possibly also Tuesdays), when the choir rests its collective voice for Evening Prayer. Across the island of Britannia, they maintain similar themes and similar phrases. “As it was in the beginning / is now, and shall be for evermore / Amen” is perhaps the most common among them, at least for its length. The variants thereof, such as Morning Prayer, are just as scheduled and formal, though the attendance for Morning Prayer gave the feel of a Bible study more than that of a service.
This world bestows the title of “devout” on those who attend a Bible study once a week and usually attend Sunday service. Making communion a daily part of one’s life stands on a wholly separate level. It requires the commitment to show up, the endurance to stand, and the fellowship to worship with others. Perhaps it is a shame to modern generations of Christians that we don’t provide that same application to our faith.
Those attending Evensong could never give God the respect He is owed, but that doesn’t stop them from trying. The pastor, deacons, ushers, and choir all gather in ornate dress, very expensive clothing, because the Being they worship is worth their very best. That is what those who built the church believed, both the building and the congregation. There are incorporated moments of silent reflection, even inside the cavernous echoing halls of the great churches. All there pay homage to the Almighty. Taking pictures is prohibited, because the solemn faith between the worshiper and God is too important for fleeting photography or selfish vanity. Even so, most of the attendees wherever I went weren’t locals. Some weren’t Christian. They came simply for the beauty and light emanating from the cathedral. Evensong is a testament to the glory of God.
What’s more, Evensong has a timeless nature to it. There are no praise songs dragged through the annual cycle of popularity in megachurches or on the radio. The hymns were created when many nationstates were mere concepts and will be sung when they are naught. The scripture carries its teachings through each generation; the audience present is a small but equally important step along the way. We are all the body of Christ. There are many faithful buried under the stone floors of British churches; the chairs on which we sat stood on top of their flat graves. We gather not just with those alive in the present but with those who have gone before us and in the recognition of those after, because there, Christ is with us.
I very much enjoyed Evensong, and attended it several times in several different places. I hope the United States incorporates it more in their religious tradition. It is a humbling experience to know that the gold-painted stonework of thousands across centuries is not the most majestic entity in your midst.