Apostates for Evensong

Some interesting things have been happening on the Facebook group for fans of Choral Evensong in the last few days.

Firstly, people from some fairly major cathedrals have been highlighting when they have spare days for visiting choirs – and there has even been some suggestion of setting up a Facebook Scratch Choir. Which would be hugely fun, even if only to get some po-faced precentor to thank the Facebook Singers at the end of evensong.

Secondly, there was this rather good article from an Australian atheist called Apostates for Evensong that ticks rather a lot of boxes for things I have been pondering lately.

I’m fairly ambivalent about things Godly these days, but I maintain pretty strong links with the church through bellringing. Somehow I’m more into that than now than I have been for years and even my Sunday morning attendance – for ringing if not for services – is now hugely more than it has been for years.

How do you square a fairly strong agnostic position on the whole God front and still turn up week after week to ring the bells? I think bellringing and choral singing, especially evensong, are huge parts of the English cultural heritage. It may be that the church has the monopoly on all the equipment and costumes, but it’s culturally important that evensong and bellringing continue, whether or not it’s to do it just because it’s beautiful or to the glory of God. If God is there and listening, then it’s an expression of human worship. But there’s a purely humanist dimension as well. Hearing the bells and the choirs as an expression of human skill and talent, with no spiritual dimension, is just as uplifting.

I spend a week every year singing choral evensong with a touring choir, and every year think to myself I should a) sing routinely and not just in August and b) I should make a greater effort to go and hear other choirs singing evensong. Heck, on at least two nights a month I ring for evensong in St Peters but never stay for the service. St Peters and St Marys in Nottingham both have strong choirs and it’s not that far from Southwell Minster, which has a choral foundation. And yet in almost every year since I started singing over the summer, thirteen years this year, I don’t think I’ve been to evensong for the rest of the year more than once or twice. (I do remember one particular year taking P to evensong at St Mary’s, only to get lumbered with a Surprise Eucharist, and overly keen meeters and greeters on the door who wouldn’t let us leave afterwards…)

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