web analytics

Chant Matters

choirKelvin Holdsworth (Provost of St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow) writes about a weekly traditional Compline service at St Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle with around five hundred present. It starts each Sunday evening at 9.30pm and lasts half an hour. The hundreds are young. The majority are less than 25 years old.

Kelvin writes:

That service breaks almost (and that almost is important, as we shall see) rule in the How to Attract Young People Big Book of Church Growth.

The building is as close to hideous as makes no odds.
The choir sing from behind a pillar and can’t be seen.
You don’t get a service sheet on the way in. You don’t in fact get anything.
The service is uncompromisingly old fashioned.
The service is based around Plainsong Chant.
There are no guitars. Not one.
It is unaccompanied by anything.
You don’t get to do anything.
You don’t sing.
You don’t speak.
You don’t engage.
You don’t form community.

And still they come. Hundreds of them. Every week they come.

Of course, there is one rule that they don’t break – there is a sense of mystery and awe and wonder about the whole thing. And there is beauty.

If I am coming to any conclusions about what churches need to develop in order to attract people, emphasising mystery, awe, wonder and above all beauty would be right up there high on the list. Read more of Kelvin’s account and reflection here

ps. Thousands more, unable to attend, follow the service on the radio or on the internet.

pps. I was recently asked where one could go to a service on a weekday evening if one worked all Sunday. I must admit to being a bit stumped. We continue to be short of lateral thinking in our new context…

Thanks to Fr Ron Smith (one of NZ’s few blogging priests) for pointing me to this story. Here’s Fr Ron’s very helpful site. He recently published his 1,000th post.

image source

Similar Posts:

21 thoughts on “Chant Matters”

  1. Compline is certainly special. In our smaller environment in Victoria, BC, we do a Compline once a month – attendance is varied – usually 30-50. Our order is based on a service close to the prayer-book developed by Sarah MacDonald in the 90’s in Halifax and used by her all over the world wherever she teaches. 90% of the service is sung: introit (varies) polyphonic, seasonal, psalms, usually 2, plainsong, short lesson (varies), hymn Before the ending of the day (unison, women, men, full with tenor organum on the last verse – that’s a Garth MacPhee add-on), Lord’s prayer (Stone, polyphony), cantor always from the choir, male or female, anthem (polyphonic, seasonal). We used to have the prayers also from the choir, but in our current location, a priest is available and we have let them take over this function. The incumbent still uses our traditional prayer of John Donne, the one with ‘an equal music’ (from one of his sermons), to conclude. As a chorister, I never fail to look forward to this event (even if I have to sing tenor). I wrote on it about 10 years ago to keep the tradition going. Can’t find the document – nothing that couldn’t be written again.

  2. The service is uncompromisingly old fashioned.

    When we are in Church we are on God’s time, not the world’s, there is no such thing as old fashioned on God’s time – in fact fashion is irrelevant.

    The choir sing from behind a pillar and can’t be seen.

    So what? The choir isn’t there to be seen, in some of the Churches where I have worshiped overseas the Choir is in a loft completely out of sight, worship services are not about the choir and when choristers, choir masters or music group leaders forget this, trouble ensues and disruptions are the consequence.

    You don’t get to do anything.

    Point totally missed, you get to worship the Lord

    You don’t engage.

    You don’t? I guess that is up to the individual, the whole point is to engage, with our God.

    You don’t form community.

    You actually form community not only with those who are worshiping with you in the here and now but also those throughout the world who share our faith as well as those who have gone before us.

    Worship is timeless, updating it for the 21st century is a waste of time because the innovations to make it “relevant” for 2012 will be old fashioned soon enough and we don’t go to Church to be entertained

    1. Thanks, Andrei. I took Kelvin’s points to have a tone of irony as he compared and contrasted this experience with the “rules” of “Church Growth” and “Greening-the-church” approaches which so often see screens, bands, etc. as the way forward. Blessings.

  3. John Paul Hoskins

    You might like to know that Bishops Mary Gray-Reeves and Michael Perham discuss compline at St Mark’s in their recent book on emerging patterns of worship “The Hospitality of God” – see especially pp58-60.

  4. As someone who spent the majority of my life in Seattle and lived near St. Mark’s, this type of service is what the neighborhood is about. Capital Hill is all for freedom of expression and this includes the church. Yes, it is beautifully simple and it attracts young people because it is come as you are. In this area we dress casual on Sundays and wearing jeans and a sweater is not uncommon. Having a free-spirited attitude is why they attract every social class from wealthy to poor and there is no disparaging divisions amongst them.

  5. I haven’t been to it for a while. One problem is that I’m tempted to stay for the typical organ concert following the service, and I live a half-hour north of St. Mark’s.

    It makes for a very late evening.

  6. thanks for this.

    I think it is why I love Evening Prayer in the New Zealand prayer book, strongly influenced I think by traditional compline. I have used it myself before bed, read it beside the bed of a dying friend. It connects to something deep within us.

    I am all for having it more often publically, it is an amazing service and ritual.

  7. Yoy may be interested to know that the St Mark’s Seattle compline service features in the book The Hispitality of God by Bsps Mary Gray-Reeves & Michael Perham. They include this and another Seattle service alongside a number of US & UK emergent churches.

  8. Oops. Just noted that someone else had already mentioned the Hospitality of God – so just consider this an extra encouragement to check out the book:)

  9. All Saint’s Dunedin does “Sunday night @ All Saints'” which is a simple service with candles, incense and icons with some prayers (it seems similar to a compline liturgy) and loads of a capella Taizé chant. It has a wonderful atmosphere and this is the service that gets the largest student attendance of the three on any given Sunday.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.