Often used as an example of what could get young people to come to church, the compline service at St. Mark’s Cathedral has gained notoriety for the hundreds of young people who show up each Sunday at 9:30pm to listen to a small group of men sing the night service. As we walked to the cathedral late last night, a car pulled in front of it and out jumped six college age men who raced up the steps to the service that had already started. When we walked in the giant doors, we were met with a room full of people. We joined the group of younger people who were lying or sitting on the floor in the back.
Not too surprisingly, I had been skeptical. The idea that you could just sing night prayer and draw young adults to church seemed ridiculous to me.
But it was beautiful. The cathedral is an old giant building with white brick walls marked with water stains and patched cement floors. And the music was peaceful and gentle. People sat silently with their eyes closed except to stand in unison for the singing of the Nicene Creed. When the service was over the choir filed out and people milled about, listing to a presentation of the altarpiece from
When we were in
When we were in
I left the
Compline at the cathedral works because it does not demand conversion. Instead it is a beautiful offering of an ancient practice that honors God, which the cathedral chooses to share with the community. I’m sure there are people who come to that service and eventually convert to Christianity or being Episcopalian or going to St. Marks, but it didn’t seem like that was the intended result. It seemed like the men who sing compline loved it, and wanted to give it as a pure gift to the larger community in the hopes that it might give them a glimpse of something eternal.
My generation can see a salesman a mile away. So when churches start new services or open coffee shops or put up cool websites in the hopes of attracting people to come to their church or accept Jesus as their personal savior or whatever, they’re mostly like to skip it. What makes compline attractive is its an offering of pure joy. The service itself is the expected end result.
We have good things to offer. The early Christians built the church by living as Christians and offering what was life-giving to them to those around them. Maybe its time for us to do the same.