I went to Choral Evensong at Durham Cathedral a few days ago. It was very beautiful, sure, but I felt that the choir stole the whole service from me, including – horribly enough – the Lord’s prayer(!) and the Magnificat (which just feels weird to take away from the people, considering its content). Here is the order that was used, from the Book of Common Prayer. Of that we got to say exactly two things; the Creed and the grace at the end.
I can (sort of but not really) understand that the choir sings the Biblical psalms. But just about every response? I felt unwelcome and alienated. I felt that it wouldn’t have mattered one bit whether or not I was there. And that is not a feeling you want to have in Church. I felt like I was at a concert, not a prayer. I have prayed vespers for years and I came to evensong to pray the service, and I was denied that.* There wasn’t a single hymn to sing either, and the anthem was of course also the prerogative of the choir for some reason. Suffice it to say that I probably won’t be back for another evensong at the cathedral. I’ll prefer to actual be allowed to pray vespers when I’m at vespers. It’s not supposed to be a show or a prerogative for ‘professionals.’ It is the prayers of the people but it felt like the prayers of an elite.
* Well, almost. As the choir sang the psalms and responses I didn’t listen. I said them myself, out loud. Well, not loud per se, but in a low voice. I was there to pray, I wasn’t there to listen to Palestrina.