Note for Leatherhead Deanery Synod, 6th February 2019

What we here at St Mary’s, Stoke D’Abernon would like to share with our fellow congregations in Leatherhead Deanery isn’t a new alternative to Lent Groups or the Alpha Course. It isn’t a new way for lonely grannies to meet little ones without having to bounce up and down on trampolines or romp about in tanks of plastic balls.

We bring this, not because we’re the only ones who’ve got it, around here, but because we probably have more of it, and have a jolly good example of it which we’d like to share with as many of our neighbours as possible.

What I’m talking about, if you haven’t already guessed, is our sung Evensong, which we have every Sunday at 6. The only days we miss out are if Christmas or Easter are on a Sunday and if we are not the host church for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity joint service. Otherwise, every Sunday at 6 there is a full sung Evensong at St Mary’s, with a proper sermon, traditional ‘school’ hymns and, if not an anthem – and we do put on a full Choral Evensong every few weeks, with an anthem sung by our Choral Scholars – anyway there’s always a good organ voluntary played on our famous Frobenius.

We are finding that Evensong is a great way to reach out to new people. Its simple structure, and its beautiful words and music, appeal to people. Cranmer wrote most of it in 1549, and like Shakespeare it has stood the test of time. The words aren’t necessarily that easy, but they have lasting meaning. We are bringing the best of ourselves to God. As a preacher I heard once put it, we are offering ‘worth-ship’ to the Lord.

There is powerful theology in Evensong too. This is liturgy for socially concerned Christians. Read the Magnificat from Luke 1 – which is the main canticle which we sing, along with the Nunc Dimittis – and you are reading something almost revolutionary. It is right in the spirit of the Servant King or the Good Samaritan – and it’s just as disruptive, in the spirit of this age, as the Gilets Jaunes. ‘My soul hath magnified the Lord’. Fair enough. Praise to the Lord, the Almighty. But then – ‘He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble and meek. He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he hath sent empty away.’ It could be a text for our Foodbank!

This Sunday at 6 we are offering our absolute best, a full Choral Evensong with the admission of some new Choristers as well. The responses are as set by Richard Ayleward in the 17th century; the canticles, the ‘Mag and Nunc’, are by the splendid Irish 20th-century composer E. J. Moeran, and the anthem is ‘Behold the tabernacle of God’, by the Queen and Princess Margaret’s music teacher, Sir William Henry Harris.

There will be a five-part Amen set by Orlando Gibbons, Renaissance polyphony at its finest, and the organ voluntary will be the Finale from Sonata no 1 in C Minor by the Victorian organist Joseph Gabriel Rheinberger.

The music will be conducted by Prof Robert Woolley, of the Royal College of Music.

And let’s not forget the Word: Revd Godfrey Hilliard will give you a solid sermon on Colossians 3, ‘If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.’

So do come. Help us to share our riches, the beauty of the worship which we have offered in our Saxon church since time out of mind – and join us in our new service, new to us really, since it’s only been offered since 1549.

We hope we can become a kind of Sunday evening prayer resource for all the Deanery. Everyone is welcome, and maybe we will inspire some new disciples with some of that Gilet Jaune stuff – or maybe it was the Sermon on the Mount after all. Godfrey will explain. ‘If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.’ We hope you can climb up there with us at Evensong some times.