While in London, my wife and I attended a Sunday Evensong service at St. James Paddington Anglican church. While walking in, I noticed the sign advertised: “Professional choir at both service.” This made me worry a bit. Are folks coming to hear beautiful music, or to worship and commune with God.
As it turned out, not many people were there for either experience. Though the church could hold a few hundred people, there were probably fewer than ten people present, plus two priests and six members of the professional choir. Indeed, the choir sang beautifully. And their music echoed throughout the sanctuary. It was so acoustically alive that it was very hard to understand the spoken part of the Evensong service.

I can’t comment on what was in the hearts of the others who gathered that evening. I know that I found it difficult to pray, partly because I was so moved by the aesthetic qualities of the service. The choral music was, indeed, of highest quality. But, even more, I found the visual aesthetics to be unusually striking. With incense filling the sanctuary (technically, the nave), and with the evening sunlight shining through the high windows, I was moved by the beauty of the moment. Perhaps if I were a regular participant in this Evensong, I’d learn to let the aesthetic experience point me in the direction of worship.

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