By Paul Freisen-Carper
The evening prayer service that we will use on Wednesdays this Lent is one that I wrote at Holden Village for the winter community in 2006. Like the much beloved Holden Evening Prayer, written by Marty Haugen, its original scope was to provide for a community’s worship in one specific place and time. That community had a particular set of gifts, needs, and values that informed its creation. And so I held that community in my heart and mind as I wrote this service—seeking to be rooted in the environment, to be faithful to God’s habits of empowering the powerless, to honor diversity of experience and belief, and to lift up collaborative leadership.
The service that emerged bears the marks of those commitments. By reimagining biblical and liturgical language through lenses of intimacy with creation and God’s preferential option for the poor, it proclaims our rooted and radical faith. By seeking to honor the plurality of voices and identities wrapped up in the worshipping community, it tries to open points of entry for those who have been excluded. By finding Trinitarian language that is at times non-gendered and at others multi-gendered, it seeks to broaden our vision of the divine while lifting up God’s inherently cooperative nature. By using string ensemble leadership, including a mutual confession and forgiveness, and incorporating a melody meant to be sung in a round, it holds up a collaborative model for Christian life.
My writing of the service owes a great debt to Larry Houff (himself a formidable musician), who has been a generous mentor and colleague to me, and who while serving as interim pastor at Holden suggested that I write the service. He noted that the church’s history of praying at evening includes multiple and polyvalent traditions, which inspired me to borrow elements specific to vespers (hymn of light, Magnificat, incense psalm) and compline (confession and forgiveness, commendation) and to use elements common to both services (psalmody, readings, prayers, blessings). He commended to me the theme of pilgrimage, which gathers us into and sends us out from the service. And it was his idea that we employ string players in the village to surround our Saturday night Lenten worship in much the same way that Bach uses strings to form a halo around the recitatives of Jesus in his St. Matthew Passion.
Like other services written for specific communities, it is not locked into that time and place. And I hope that Gloria Dei will come to appreciate it, and maybe even love it. But more than that, I pray that it generously accompanies us through Lent this year—that it provides us moments of joy, of challenge, and of contemplation; that through it we sense God’s powerful movement within and around us; and that it propels us toward an Easter celebration rich in gratitude for baptism, new life, and resurrection.