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My Experiences Attending Evensong at Kings College, Cambridge


The entrance to Kings College can be either from the west via the busy
street into the courtyard or from the east as seen from the River Cam

November 11, 1997

By: Rev. Larry D. Ellis

The Prelude
Tonight I heard something new - new to me. At 4:45 PM we queued (stood in line) to enter the chapel at Kings College, Cambridge, England for Evensong. We were numbers 31 and 32 in the line which within the next thirty minutes grew to well over 200 persons. Through the stain glass windows we could see the lights on inside the chapel. They dimmed around 5:10 and a television production crew carried out a great deal of television equipment. People were talking with each other as we visitors were standing in line. The bell at the gate chimed five times at 5:00 PM. At 5:15 PM the bell atop the chapel began to strike. I counted 10, 20, 30, 50 and then the line began to move up as people entered the chapel for the service. At the 100th peal, we entered the chapel and I could barely hear it continue to ring.

As always before, when I entered the building, I was uplifted in a way that no words can adequately describe. The very high stone fan vaulted ceiling captured my full attention. There I was torn between the high vertical lines, the arched struts reaching into the heavens, and the circular, conical vaulted stone ceiling.

The chapel organist began a very pensive prelude. The melody was not familiar to me, but its style was congruent with the majesty of all else around me. We were slowly led through the opening in the screen given by Henry the 8th and his temporal wife, Anne Bolyne, under the organ to the sacred end of the chapel. We passed by the large brass lectern and the choir seats, each one illuminated by the light of a single white candle surrounded by a clear glass flue. All worshipers quickly arrived at their seats and opened the book containing the order of worship. We had a booklet that told of the specific service music for each service, a Psalter, a service booklet and an anthem book. This was a lot to hold, but it was manageable since I am, after all, an Episcopalian.

The Introit
As soon as we were seated the choir of men and boys and clergy processed into their respective places, without any fanfare whatsoever. It was as if they wanted to in no way disturb those many persons who were kneeling in prayer. Following the completion of the organ prelude and a few seconds of silence, the cantor began the sung portion of the service. For the next 45 minutes we heard heavenly music sung by the choir. We heard the three lessons read by a young man who must have been eight or nine years old. He spoke elegant English, but not very forcefully. We recited the creed and prayed silently. Nothing was fast paced. Nothing moved slowly. The choir magnificently chanted the entire 32 verses of Psalm 134. The musical dynamics reinforced the text phrase by phrase. As the Magnificat, Nunc Dimetus and anthem were sung, the far removed organist never missed a single nuance of a single phrase. He or she was not visible from the ground floor. After the completion of the last note and the silence following the 4-8 second reverberation no one would even dare to take a breath or cough. The pitches sung by the choir were perfect. The choir pronounced their t's, k's and p's so clearly that the building reverberated with the percussiveness of these sounds which were always in perfect synchronization. Stephen Cleobury stood to one side of the choir to conduct, seemingly to avoid being "center stage". Several times as I listened to the words of these magnificent text, I had to wipe away the tears from my eye because of the incredible work that God has done and is doing and for whose work we were then offering thanks together.

The Recessional
As we turned to the last page and the cantor sang and the choir responded, silence fell on the room. Then as the candle- light flickered the organist started another piece and the choir and clergy recessed followed by all of us. This moment had now moved on in my life, but will never be forgotten.

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