Prayers for Remembrance

Ruined Church

Last Sunday evening we had an extraordinary Choral Evensong. The idea was simple – to mark the start of the First World War by singing some of the music that the cathedral choir was singing 100 years ago. The idea came from Pam Barrowman, one of the members of the choir whose historical research includes work on what the choir here used to sing. In the event, Sunday evening’s service was one of the most powerful remembrance events that I’ve ever been part of.

When that war was declared the congregation here responded on the next Sunday by singing four verses of the national anthem and the organist played the Elgar march which features Land of Hope and Glory. There clearly was a something of a gung-ho spirit around. That was in the August. By November, the news was arriving back in the cathedral and its daughter churches of lives already lost. There was, or course, no memorial to put their names on. There was just the news and the dawning realisation that it would not all be over by Christmas. The mood had changed by now and they were singing movements from Brahms’s Requiem (yes, German music, just as we used music by a German composer to end our two minutes silence yesterday morning) and the Russian Kontakion of the Departed.

Somehow the shadows drew close. I’m not sure whether I wanted to reach back through time to comfort those who were listening to the same music one hundred years ago or whether I wanted them to do the same to us. Anyway, prayer came easily. And compassion. And love.

Several people commented on my prayers. I don’t have a copy as I tend not to write them in advance and pray extemporaneously at Evensong. (Something I always teach people not to do when I’m doing workshops on how to do intercessions).

However, here’s the gist of what I said:

The stone walls of this church surrounded those who went off to war.
Hear us, O Lord, as we remember those who gathered here in in this place to sing and to pray before going off to war.
Help us to remember their sense of hope and adventure and the joy of human companionship.
We remember those who showed courage in leaving for war and also those who showed their own courage in refusing to fight.
Those who went to war went believing they were putting the world to rights.
Help us to try to do the same.
Lord in your mercy. Hear our prayer.

The stone walls of this church surrounded those who remained at home.
Hear us, O Lord, as we remember those who remained home, so many women waiting for news of their men, so many children waiting for news of their fathers.
As we remember them we remember those who went on waiting throughout all their lives.
Help us to pray for those who today wait for news of those whom they love who have gone to war.
Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

The stone walls of this church have surrounded those who in this place have tried to bring peace.
They have surrounded those who have left this place to go on demonstrations.
They have surrounded those who have debated.
They have surrounded conversations and discussions and hopes and dreams.
Hear us as we pray for those who have decisions, important decisions to make which affect the lives of others.
Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

And now the stone walls of this church surround us.
What will we make of the world that we have inherited? How will we live in the world of today?
Help us O Lord to seek out peace and build a world of justice.
Teach us what to do and how to live.
Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

And here in this place, surrounded by these same stone walls, I hold in my hand a bible.
It was carried by a soldier in World War Taken from place to place and returning to this country when he returned at the close of the war.
And inside its tattered cover is a prayer that we may each make our own prayer
this night.
Almighty and Everlasting God,
by whose Grace Thy servants
are enabled to fight the good fight of faith
and ever prove victorious:
We humbly beseech Thee so to inspire us,
that we may yield our hearts to thine obedience
and, exercise our wills on Thy behalf.
Help us to think wisely:
to speak rightly:
to resolve bravely:
to act kindly:
to live purely.
Bless us in body and in soul,
and make us a blessing to our comrades.
Whether , at home or abroad
may we ever seek the extension of Thy Kingdom.
Let the assurance of Thy presence
save us from sinning:
support us in life,
and comfort us in death.
0 Lord our God accept this prayer
for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.

[Picture Credit – Ruined church at Vie Chapelle, France Great War Primary Document Archive: Photos of the Great War –]

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 passionate  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 is  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.