Thursday, 15 October 2015

The 'Evening Service': a thing of the past? (setting the scene)

A friend (and colleague) asked me whether the evening service slot was a declining and dying church service.

Another friend (who is also a colleague) told me that the evening service was a dinosaur and in his church had been laid to rest.

Yet another friend (and again, a colleague) - bet you're surprised I have three friends aren't you? - told me how they wished they had the courage to draw stumps and, 'Put the dreadful evening service to death!' The numbers coming were low and it was 'doing church because they'd 'always done it at that time!'

It seems that many of those around me are struggling with the numbers of people coming to an evening service on a Sunday. One colleague (an acquaintance) said recently that, 'If they didn't have to go to evening service they wouldn't!' What chance does any service (or perhaps church congregation have) if this is the attitude shown by the cleric I wonder?

The question many of us engage with is this: 'Are we are letting Church run in a rut that has it's origins in the monastic order of life and its reality in something done by rote and not relationship'... and if so, how do we change it?

When the followers of 'the Way' got going we kept certain times set aside during the day to worship God. These became a formalised part of the monastic life's worship, giving us: Matins, Lauds, prime, tierce, sext, none, vespers and compline (we have a local order which keeps it). This became condensed into the Matins (the daily office - the early stuff),  the Lauds (our main Sunday service) - Vespers (our evensong) and Compline (the ready for bed service) - a service which sometimes appears in the evening service slot.

So what's so special about Sunday? It was a day when most people were not working and so we broke bread together and made it a special day: Our mini Easter Sunday in which the resurrection was celebrated, the word was preached and the bread and wine offered. Just like every other day (many start each day with the daily (morning) office and end it with evening prayer or Compline - adding Communion too when they can) with the added benefit that it was a day set aside from the daily toil.

When I was a student we tended to go to an evening service on a Sunday. When I worked shifts I tended to go to the evening service because I worked on a Sunday. The Sunday evening service was for some  the forerunner of Fresh Expressions (a service put on by Christians for those who otherwise wouldn't be church). During the war years, it enabled those working on a Sunday on the war effort to come into fellowship and 'be church'.

I have always enjoyed the evening service slot because it has provided a time for me to charge my batteries and get ready for the week ahead. My experience of Sunday evening services varied from place to place:

+ In one place it was a light service with 'fellowship' afterwards (we had quizzes, talks and the like).

+ In the Baptist church in our town (Marlow) it was fellowship time. Sometimes all the church and
   sometimes the 'Young People's Fellowship' where we played guitars, had meaningful discussions,
   and chilled out. A place of safety and somewhere for the kids to go!
   (a lesson to be learned here already then?)

+ In St Helen's, Bishopsgate (as a student) it was note taking and then off to 'Mr Natural's Burger Bar
   (Ludgate Circus), where we would stay until chucking out time discussing the text and comparing
   notes from the service.

+ In the Pentecostal church I was part of, Sunday evenings upstairs were almost as popular as the,
   even later, service in the basement! Sunday evening service was a lighter, more relaxed and 
   focussed part of the day where thematic stuff took place and healing services and other stuff 

+ In Holy Trinity Hounslow, it would be a celebration. The morning service was formal and a bit up
   the candle, but in the evenings it was sound teaching, good music and the fire falling!

+ In Christ Church, Ware, we would find ourselves in a light conversation and gentle music providing
   the setting for some real dialogue, the gaining of knowledge and becoming challenged.

+ Coming to serve my 'Title Post' I found myself in a very different place to anything I had ever
   experienced before. Here we had a pattern of Sung Eucharists and Evensong (with the occasional
   'Prayer and Praise'). Those who came were the people who had always come - and there were few
   new people added to their number - which perhaps accounts for the decline in numbers at the
   'evening slot'. They are all slowly being taken off the shelves that no one has restocked!

+ Moving to where I am now, having never had an evening service, I decided to offer one!
   During the Sunday slot we have done a variety of things which have included:
   Taizé services, Healing, 60 minute theology, Compline, Café Church, Prayer services (prayer
   stations, Labyrinths and the like), contemporary services, Celtic praise, courses and more besides -
   all to varying degrees of success inn terms of numbers, but always successful in terms of growth
   and praise (and surely that is the defining factor).

I will leave you to select upon what I have written - there is much more to consider here, but this hopefully lays some foundation and gives direction for us to move from. Hopefully I have started you thinking about your own experiences, because this is where you need to start from. 

Consider the merits and pitfalls of your own experience and use this to start drawing out some good and bad practice, remember who came, remember why you went (or perhaps didn't come - for this is equally important). After all, how can you move anywhere without knowing where you are and where you need to be travelling to?

It's good to see so many here for a Sunday evening!

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