Evensong—drawing seekers at home and abroad

Despite reports of growing secularism in Europe, such a liturgical service as evensong is finding steady popularity—in both its birthplace of England and in the Netherlands. Evensong is an evening prayer service that is delivered mostly through song, offering a reflective and contemplative service that combines elements of a choir concert. The blog Church Leaders (September 25) reported that many cathedrals and churches like Westminster Abbey recorded a 30 percent or more increase in evensong attendance between 2008 and 2012. The website ChoralEvensong.org was even launched in order to facilitate the growing desire to learn about evensong and find church services. Guy Hayward, editor of the Choral Evensong website, says that “A lot of people don’t want to directly engage with the church, they don’t want to go in through the front door, as it were. They are looking for a side entrance and choral evensong provides that. They are attracted by artistic expression and then by osmosis they find it spiritually appealing.” More unexpected is the growing interest and participation in evensong in the Netherlands, a country known for its secularized and Protestant culture. The current issue of Tenemos (Vol. 53, No. 2), the journal of the Finnish Society for the Study of Religion, reports that evensong is being adapted to the Reformed Protestant churches even as Dutch Protestantism is being changed by such ritualized practices.

Authors Hanna Rijken, Martin J.M. Hoondert, and Marcel Barnard studied the dress of 30 Dutch evensong choirs and found that the majority of them use English liturgical robes, in most cases the scarlet cassocks and cotta (white robes) from choirs at Cambridge University and Westminster Cathedral. In cases where the clergy take part or are present, they tend to dress informally. The researchers noted that the choir is seen as non-ecclesiastical and therefore can wear these liturgical robes (which are sometimes markers of gender). But, even though these services and forms of dress might take on a non-liturgical Reformed appearance in some cases, Rijken, Hoondert, and Barnard observed that the majority of choirs had undergone a “ceremonialization or cathedralization of choristers’ dress, especially in contrast with what is usual at Protestant Sunday morning worship.” They concluded that there has been “a transformation of the way religion is expressed or ritualized in the context of Reformed Protestant churches in the Netherlands. The popularity of evensong suggests a longing for other forms of worship, with a focus on ceremony, ritualized behavior, and Anglican-like vesture for the choristers.”

(Church Leaders, https://churchleaders.com/news/international/310736-evensong-church-of-england-resurrects-tradition-attract-millennials.html; Tenemos, https://journal.fi/temenos)