Once a month, I attend Fast and Testimony Meeting in the morning, then sing in the choir for an Episcopal Evensong service as dusk falls. One of these services is appealing to me as a theological abstraction, but usually leaves me cold in practice; the other regularly moves me to tears and is a major source of spiritual sustenance.
First, a little history and description of the Evensong service: Prayer services have been the heart of Episcopal worship ever since the Reformation. Part of the innovation of Anglicanism was the belief that the performance of worship was the duty of the whole people of the church, and not just the monastic orders. The first British prayer books in both England and Scotland, took as their models the monastic daily office, and made those daily offices (worship services) the holy work of all the people.
The prominence of morning and evening prayer (Matins and Evensong) increased over time as Puritan and other influences made the Eurcharist less frequent. Until the late 1980s, when the Eucharist re-emerged as the principal Sunday form of worship, Morning Prayer was the usual Sunday service at most Anglican/Episcopal churches around the world. As a result, Matins and Evensong became a distinguishing characteristic of the Anglican branch of the church, marked by a great deal of excellent music and liturgy.
Music for the liturgy of Evensong is always marked by settings of two New Testament texts: the Magnificat (the Song of Mary: “My soul doth magnify the Lord”) and the Nunc Dimittis (the Song of Simeon: “Lord, now lettest Thou thy servant depart in peace”). In addition, there are a sung psalm, sung collects (prayers) and usually one hymn and one anthem. The full texts of the preces and the collects can be found here.
Some of the questions I have: how are instruction and worship related? Or are they? Is listening to testimonies or talks really worship, or is it something else–religious community-building, theological instruction (heaven help us!), a chance to develop patience and charity, a medium through which God’s spirit can offer glimpses of truth?
Should we expect that the liturgical structure of “the true church” will be similarly “true”, or can we assume that human innovation plays a large part in the construction of our worship services? Does the temple ritual do the liturgical work that other churches try to accomplish in their Sabbath worship?
Do different styles of worship work better for people of varying temperaments? If so, should we expect all members of our church to appreciate our worship services anyway, or should we encourage people to seek the kinds of spiritual experiences they crave in whatever setting they find them?
Given that our Testimony Meetings, Conferences, Sacrament Meetings, and temple ceremonies have changed, sometimes quite dramatically, in our relatively brief history, should we expect further changes, or have our liturgies settled into a form that will last for a while?