The Joy of Evensong

There are reports in the media today that a service of Choral Evensong in Bath Abbey was abandoned last Sunday because those inside the Abbey couldn’t compete with amplified music coming from outside the building. It is a bit of a sorry tale and I’m surprised that the police did not deal with it as a Breach of the Peace.

When I came to St Mary’s I had never been in a church which had Choral Evensong as a regular service before. It had seemed to me to be something which was a bit of an anachronism- something that was dying out along with the users of the Scottish Prayer Book. I’d tried to avoid encouraging it in the churches that I’d previously worked in and was a bit suspicious of coming to a place where there was evening worship every week. It seemed like one unnecessary extra thing to do at the end of a busy day.

However, I couldn’t have been more wrong and within a very short period of time, I had worked out that Choral Evensong was going to be one of the things that would sustain me in my ministry at St Mary’s and also that it was a devotion that was not only still relevant to some people but actively bringing people into church for the first time.

Evensong is so different to the Eucharists we have in the morning at St Mary’s. In the morning, at the main service, there is quite a lot of activity and movement. It feels wonderfully busy and exciting. Choral Evensong feels wonderfully calm and peaceful.

That’s not to say that there isn’t excitement at Evensong – the music is sublime. Here at St Mary’s we are lucky to have some of the most exciting singing you’ll hear in Scotland. The choir, who are all volunteers, make a passionateĀ  sound that ranges from quiet and intimate to full-on ranting for some of the psalms. I love the diversity of music we get and I love the shape to the service which doesn’t change much each week.

Choral Evensong is a perfect chill-out zone. You sit, you listen, you meditate, you absorb. You don’t need to be seen to do anything very much. It isĀ  like bathing in a deep warm bath of musical spirituality.

I’ve noticed that some people engage with St Mary’s for the first time at Evensong. I think it is because it is so easy to come to. Somehow you get time to think at Evensong – re-imagining the world that you’ve left outside the building and preparing yourself for the week ahead as the music and the peace of the building refresh you.

I hope they sort out their troubles at Bath Abbey. Choral Evensong is a lovely thing and it would be terrible to lose it when you have it regularly.

It is Sunday at 6.30 pm here at St Mary’s if you are looking for your soul to be soothed.


  1. Kennedy says

    Does England-shire have Breach of the Peace as an offence?

  2. I’ve long been a Choral Evensong addict. You might be interested in the article linked to, which I wrote on a similar theme. I’d also say, apropos the BCP, let alone the delightful SPB, that rumours of their death are greatly exaggerated, despite what was in many places a quite conscious attempt to kill them off.

    Rather as the worship of the pre-Reformation English Church lay dormant for centuries waiting to be rediscovered, the same will apply to our historic prayer books with their wonderfully rich language, incomparable Collects and Prayers, and realistic take on the human condition.

  3. Richard says

    Someone once described to me that evensong was the jewel in the crown of Anglican services. Never having experienced the service at that time, I had no idea what he was talking about. Since then, I have been fortunate enough to attend evensong regularly in various places where I have discovered the subliminal quality of evensong worship. There is a feeling of intense and intimate communion with God, where the music encourages one to slip in and out of meditative consciousness. Fabulous stuff- it can leave one drained in the most delightful way.
    Incidentally, I have heard people complain that they don’t like evensong because there isn’t anything “to do”. Tragic.

  4. As a singer in a choir recently returned to the US from two weeks of ‘subbing’ at Norwich and Wells Cathedrals, I love the evensong. All the hubbing and bubbing in rehearsals previous to the service left one almost panting for breath. Then the choir gathered outside the quire as the organist played the prelude and we entered. Yes, we worried about the singing, but the prayers were most wonderful and gave even us that time to be in communion. I love it.

  5. Beth Thomas says

    Summer evenings, evening chorus of birds, peace at the end of the day, time to reflect on the week past and that to come, treading in the steps that people have taken since the 16th Century plus some of the most sublime liturgical music written. What’s not to like?

  6. Evensong at St. Mary’s is sublime you sum it up wonderfully Kelvin. A peace that passeth all understanding and speaks to the soul.

  7. Graham Ward says

    I find Choral Evensong is often the easiest service to bring people who are strangers to church to. It doesn’t demand the same degree of commitment sort involvement as the Eucharist. No-one’s going to shake your hand and offer you the Peace whether you want them to or not, you don’t have that awkward moment that says “I don’t go to church” when everyone else goes up for communion and you’re left alone in the pew.
    The pattern of the daily office is easily explained, as are the cycles of psalms and bible readings. The idea that this form of service has been used, virtually unchanged, for hundreds of years reminds people of the permanence of the church – and instantly makes them a part of it. And crucially, much of the best church music is not found in settings of the Mass, but in the canticles and anthems used at Morning Prayer and Evensong.

  8. Evensong was certainly what brought me to St Mary’s at first-and it is still one of the things (along with morning prayer) that I miss the most.

    I’ve always loved the service – the words,music,silence all come together for me into something which yes, very much soothes my soul.
    In Cape Town, they do a Jazz Vespers once a month which is basically, Evensong with some really smooth cool jazz music…. that’s a nice twist on an old friend…

  9. Melissa Holloway says

    Evensong changed our life, I think.

    And afterward we would take the almost adults across the street for some of their first ales and pizza.

    Now I see it was such a fleeting moment. Most evensongs seem like that to me still- wonderful and fleeting.

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