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concert or common prayer?

Yes, you can find God at a concert. God is present there. Yes, God is with those who do not claim faith in God, do not entrust themselves to God. God can work through atheists. And agnostics.….

I was recently at a service of Choral Evensong. The acoustics were such that I could not pick out a single word that the choir was chanting as the words of the psalm echoed throughout the building. Not a single one. I presumed they were chanting in English, but had they been chanting in Latin or another language, I would not have been able to tell.

All that the audience congregation we were given to do in the nave was to recite the Apostles’ Creed, and sing a hymn at the end (Oh, yes, we all stood when someone figured out the choir was singing the Glory be).

At another recent service I attended in this choral tradition, only two of the adult choir members received communion. Certainly I understand that sometimes there will be members of a choir who are there for the music – full stop. Also, I understand that individuals may fluctuate in faith; there may be a Sunday when a regular, for whatever reason (including unreconciled sin), may decide not to participate fully and not receive communion. The choir is part of the leadership of a service. Is there a critical mass of people of faith needed in a choir (in the leadership of any service) to move a service from the concert end of the spectrum to the common prayer end? Is 14% enough critical mass?

At the start of the echoing Choral Evensong service we are informed this is the pinnacle of our Reformation heritage; this is the treasure bequeathed to us by Cranmer; I guess – this is what Cranmer died for.

Or do you think that Cranmer was concerned with having liturgy where there is full, conscious, and active participation by everyone present? [Obviously, this is not to say for a moment that one is not/cannot be participating fully, consciously, and actively when you are listening or in silence.]

In New Zealand when Anglicans and others hear the word “liturgy” – I think the first image that regularly springs to their minds is of this experience of Choral Evensong – or similar events. Because there is little to no liturgical training, study, and formation those who are into that type of thing pass on practices by non-reflecting example. So that, in liturgy, the emPHAsis increasingly is on the wrong syLLABle. There is more ritual and reverence with burse and veil and silver collection plate than there would ever be with the consecrated bread and wine…


Yes, apparently, I was told later, I could have picked up the BCP amongst the plethora of books provided in front of me, found the place which indicated which psalm was set, and construct the words that were echoing around me. Concluding on a less serious note you, of course, hear whatever you read:

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12 thoughts on “concert or common prayer?”

  1. I don’t know Fr Bosco.

    I do know that subtitled video made me feel a little uncomfortable, the placing of nonsense words sometimes with unseemly connotations in the mouths of those at worship ……

    With the Liturgy there is a rhythm of worship which to grow ever more in sync with as you mature. You come to feel the meaning.

    Here is the Cherubic Hymn in a small church, the Church of the Dormition, in Novokuznetsk, a city in South Western Siberia. A concert it isn’t, holy it is.


  2. You know full well that you are bound to now have at minimum one overly serious and self pious complaint. There is no place for humor in liturgy. Weren’t we recently admonished about that?

    1. To be clear for other readers, these two comments went through moderation at the same time – Brother David is a prophet and is not responding to the previous comment. 🙂 Blessings.

  3. This post kept growing as I kept typing – apologies for the length.

    Feel free to correct me, but I thought Cranmer’s concept of “COMMON prayer” was that it was in the common tongue of the congregation and included everyone. Other languages or unclear words means that there will be a substantial number of people who are not included – especially those who do not know the service that well. Also not having an obvious order of service (especially for visitors) is foolish – the visitors are unlikely to return.

    However, the problem sounds like it was the acoustics. Was there amplification? – if so, they need a professional to come take a look. If not, the choir needs to move, or they need to organise some amplification (preferably, get a professional in (mic’ing choirs requires a different microphone type to the standard icecream cone variety)).

    On the subject of acoustics, rectangular or square churches are really bad designs acoustically. The problem is that with parallel walls, the sounds bounces off one wall to the opposite wall where it bounces …
    This gives a really “muddy” sound . The only real solution here is dampeners (two options are fill the church with people, or hang lots of banners). When building churches, we should ensure that no two walls are parallel to each other – this way sound will bounce off a wall and not return (most modern buildings designed for concerts / productions are designed this way).

    Many years ago when I was a young chorister, diction was more important than note accuracy – the main reason is that we have a message to proclaim – and it needs to be clear and not garbled (re-reading that there’s a message for the wider church there as well :0)

    As a musician, I actually prefer leading from the back – as the worshippers can hear voices they can “blend” with, but there is no-one up front to watch, so they tend more to join the singing. In some cases this is also good for the music team (especially younger ones) – they can concentrate on leading worship rather than looking good up on stage.
    Music team off to one side of the congregation (my current church) and the singers sitting amongst the congregation also work.


    1. Thanks, Dave. No need at all to apologise for length. You make good points for the particular issues – I am also trying to generalise from that particular experience, and will, in tomorrow’s post, explore some further thoughts around common prayer. Blessings.

  4. Having been one who was in that same Evensong, and having an even greater handicap of not being an Anglican, I was also lost. I however, out of curiosity more than anything else, found the Psalms in the BCP (whatever that is) and was able to follow.

    With Evensong not being part of my church tradition, I did find it touched my spirit. I am deeply grateful that God works in spite of my audio/intellectual/experiential limitations.

    1. Thanks, Rodney. I appreciate your points very much. I hope it is clear that certainly we can experience/grow into God through this sort of event. That’s why, intentionally, I started with that point. I also want to continue to think about common prayer – and will continue that thread in tomorrow’s post. Blessings.

  5. As a professional musician the music video especially makes me smile: making words intelligible, especially in a large cathedral echo, or with imperfect sound systems, can be a fruitless task! Every choral director or chorister has had many moments like this!

  6. You make a good point here Bosco. Where I am at present the appointed psalm for evensong is printed in the bulletin (with SATB and pointing) – this works well. However, what does bother me is if a choir slips in a latin hymn – for which the congregation are given neither words nor translation. That and prayers by some ministers which are said too quietly for anyone to hear more than a mumble!

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