Doubtless by now many readers will have seen the news reports on the news, in papers or heard on the radio that on Wednesday evening, a group of more than 30 singers congregated outside St Paul’s Cathedral to perform an open-air Evensong service. It was all the brainchild of a good friend of mine, Kathryn Rose. After the cathedral announced it was to close due to purported concerns over health and safety issues, she decided to go to the cathedral last Sunday to sing Evensong outside – by herself if need be. She mentioned this on Twitter, and ended up with a quite respectably-sized group who sang Evensong with her.
So on Wednesday she decided to do it again. It was to be a simple Common Worship service from the Book of Common Prayer with sung psalm and canticles from the Parish Psalter and using the same hymns as on Sunday, as she and those who had sung with her on Sunday still had hymn sheets. There was also to be a sung anthem, and @FlashEvensong was busy organising that via Twitter.
Whilst I am primarily a musician, I also enjoy singing and have a fairly reasonable alto voice that can cover a tenor range, so I signed up to sing tenor (at the point I signed up, there were 6 altos already but tenors were decidedly under-represented!).
I arrived outside Marks & Spencers with my 4½-year-old daughter Freda at about 4:45pm and located Kathryn straight away, in the midst of quite the whirlwind of activity and attention. A journalist was asking for a quick 5 minutes’ interview, and she already had another one lined up for a short while later with a BBC journalist – whilst simultaneously discussing who would read what, where we were going to stand, and so forth.
We had not one, but two actual vicars to do the readings and service, and I believe there were more in the choir! 30 people had signed up online to sing, but I believe we ended up with over 40 singers. Despite never having sung together before, we had a brief warm-up – and you would have thought we’d been rehearsing for ages. There are links to recordings and video of us warming up and singing during the service on this blogpost by Dr Bex Lewis, who was one of the choristers. The service was led by the Reverend James Ogley, vicar of St Francis Church in Luton, with another vicar stepping in to do one of the readings. We sang the Aylesford responses, with Kathryn as Cantor.
The readings and hymns were as follows:
Introit hymn: Christ is made the sure foundation
Gradual hymn: Guide me, O thou great Redeemer
First Lesson: 2 Kings 9:1-16
Canticles: Parish Psalter set A
Second Lesson: Acts 27:1-16
Hymn: O God, our help in ages past
Anthem: If ye love me (Tallis)
Hymn: Be thou my vision
About ten minutes before we started warming up, a beautiful rainbow formed in the sky over St Paul’s Cathedral (see photo at the top of this post). It seemed like a very positive sign; and indeed, the whole experience was like the promise of that sign fulfilled. I had a very definite sense of being caught up in something wonderful, momentous, spiritually uplifting and fulfilling and right. St Paul’s was shut, the people barred from worship there – so we brought worship to those who wanted and needed it outside instead. Regardless of the politics involved with the #occupylsx protest and the closure of St Paul’s (which, to be honest, I feel is very much a case of “six of one, half dozen of the other”), we were there to come together in worship, and that was what we did. And I am very glad yet also humbled to feel I was a small part of that; one voice lifted up with so many others in one accord.
And that is what church is all about. It’s not about the building. The building is superfluous. It’s the people and their intent that matter.