Evensong as Evangelism

Tuesday, November 16th, 2021

Evensong at St. Thomas' Whitemarsh

The following is an excerpt from an article in our Fall 2021 issue of Caminos. You can download the entire magazine here. 

Think Your Church Can’t Do An Evensong Service? Think Again, Says St. Thomas Whitemarsh Minister of Music Michael Smith

In 2017, Michael Smith joined St. Thomas’ Church, Whitemarsh, in Fort Washington as Minister of Music. He still treasures the beautiful Anglican Evensong service—which follows the traditional pattern in The Book of Common Prayer and consists of choral music (psalms, canticles, and anthems), scripture readings and prayers—as a “worshipful and personal encounter with God.” But Smith also believes it can play an important role in evangelism and faith formation. “I really resist doing Evensong as a concert or doing it once a year as our little Evensong project. I think it has to have a bigger purpose.”

For the past couple of years, Smith has been working with the diocese to develop a plan to enable each parish to do Evensong their way. “This idea that Evensong has to be just like Cambridge and Oxford in England, or at the big cathedrals with loads of resources and two organists—that’s an unfortunate myth,” Smith says. “A beautiful, reverent, holy Evensong can be done with a volunteer choir and no organ and simple chants. For this particular project, I hope it will show people who have always thought, ‘Well, we just can't pull that off,’ that you can, indeed.”

In fact, doing Evensong at a consistent time and inviting people from the community to attend can be a powerful form of evangelism, he says. Smith jokingly calls Evensong “sort of like a gateway drug for the church”, because it doesn't ask anything of you except presence.

“The visitor, the hesitant, the seeker— you come to Evensong and something happens to you. It's like the centuries of that prayer tradition just washing over you and it gives people room to see how they fit into the liturgy. And then that leads them to explore and come to Eucharist and, hopefully, jump in.” Read the full article here.