I was at a social gathering about a month ago, enjoying the chance to catch up with friends from New Zealand. Guy Jansen had covered my duties during a sabbatical 5 years ago, during the academic year in which he was also covering 2 choral sabbaticals at the Wheaton Conservatory. He and Judy became good friends with many in the area, and as they were passing through town a barbecue was planned so we could all catch up with them.
Also present was a church music colleague who commented that "College Church is now the last church in Wheaton with a Sunday night service." Whether or not that is technically true, it is practically true. And this friend was simply informing me that his own church had decided to stop limping along with a struggling Sunday eve concept and attendance. (Strangely, the decision to cancel the service was made while he was out of the country! Not that he seemed to mind...) I do know that only a few years ago, when Wheaton College surveyed the colleges with which they have some relationship (staff or students or alumni), of over 100 churches in the area only 7 reported having regular Sunday night services.
I'll say right here that I have long felt it would be OK by me to be called to serve a church that does not have a service on Sunday evening. Especially if that church had multiple morning services, even in one "style." I'm not looking for a job change, don't get me wrong. But there's many a Sunday afternoon when I wish I did not have to get back to prepare and lead the evening service. (On the other hand, there are a very, very few services when I regret having done so. For which, read on.) At the same time, my Karen and I found ourselves surprised about the Sunday evening option, on sabbatical in 2004.
Our top priority while away was to be in a place where we could enjoy gathered worship, and spend Sunday evenings at home, with friends, family, and in fellowship with others in our sabbatical church home. So, imagine our surprise when from the very first Sunday away, we were drawn back to an evening service, thoroughly enjoyed our time there, and ended up in that pattern for the season. Naturally, for us, the experience was very different because we did not have responsibilities and duties in and for the service. What a rich summer we had at St. Andrew the Great, the Round Church, Cambridge, Summer Sunday evenings, 2004!
I reflect on that again today because yesterday was another of "those days." After a full, rich morning, what a pleasure it would have been to sit down to a leisurely dinner with others, no concern for the clock, no early trip back to church for the PM music rehearsal, to stay in blue jeans for the rest of the day, and to watch the sunset from our garden porch. And yet.
And yet, to work with musicians who are all about helping people sing. To stand in front of this congregation who love to sing. To hear a well-prepared sermon from someone who knows and loves God's Word and God's people. To hear and take part in the buzz of friendship and introductions after the service. To get back home with a sense that the day is complete.
College Church is the only church I have belonged to and not grown tired and disaffected with the evening service. It is the only church that has had a clear purpose for this service, and hewn closely to that purpose: gather, sing heartily, hear a well-prepared sermon, end the Lord's Day together. Not that the church at large "gets it" - we still only have about 15% of our morning attendance* back in the evening. But it is a cross-generational crowd, and man do they sing!
We may be the only game in town, but it's still a good one, and most Sundays when I get home - tired, retreating, and hungry - I'm glad we're still playing.
* To be fair, we do have another 200+ children in the building for choirs and Musikgarden classes. So that puts us closer to 30%, I suppose.