Church is not the first place most people go to today to find inner peace. They might go to be inspired by the sermon, a personal witness, or outstanding musical performance, but I seldom hear people who do attend report they are touched at the level of soul or spirit.
Fewer people go to church these days, even though a majority say that they believe in God. One woman I talked to recently said that she was lapsed Unitarian and was now a Buddhist. Others in my group of friends do not deny their Christian heritage, but they are more likely to attend a Thich Nhat Hanh mindfulness meditation than a church.
I’ve been a member of the Episcopal Church for 80 years. I love the prayer book services, and here in Ashland the music is excellent, but I am one of those people with an active mind, always on the go, needing to do the next thing. I don’t have the patience to keep a daily routine of meditation and prayer and going to church has often become an obligation. Not until recently have I found the quiet, meditative atmosphere that I crave in a service.
I began attending a monthly Celtic evensong at Trinity Episcopal Church, an unusual service for Episcopalians. When I enter on Sunday evenings, I am handed a folder so I can follow the service. An offering plate sits on a chair to one side for anyone who wants to make a donation. Candles flicker in the church and lights are low. A Celtic harp is played. I light a votive candle to remember someone who needs healing, or for myself, and then I slip into a pew and become part of the meditative silence.
The service begins with a familiar hymn and a reading that draws on wisdom of the ages, perhaps that of Rumi or another Sufi poet. Thich Nhat Hanh would not be out of place here. After a short reading from the Bible, one of the church members tells a personal reflection of his or her faith. A few minutes of silence follow. Then comes a brief communion, where everyone is welcome to join in or not. After a final hymn, the service ends as it began, with silence. People leave as they will, no minister is at the door, and one walks out into the quiet of the night.
Celtic Christianity is about “original blessing” instead of “original sin.” There is no contrition, confession, creeds, or long litanies.
One member writes, “I love the quietness, the candles, the music, and the words said. I feel at peace with myself and God. It is hard to explain the whole sense of spirituality that I feel, but when I leave, my cup is full.”
Another writes, “The solemnity of the Celtic service urges me to set aside my daily complexities and invites me into God's love.”
The Celtic evensong and communion originated as an alternative to morning worship at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia. Members of the group that plan the Celtic services at Trinity have visited St. Stephen’s and have gone to the island of Iona, Scotland, a center of Celtic spirituality, to learn more about this form of Christianity.
People from all faiths or none are invited to find inner peace at the next Celtic Evensong at 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 18, Trinity Episcopal Church, 44 North Second St., Ashland.
Bert Anderson is an assisting clergy at Trinity Episcopal Church. He has written four plays since he retired in Ashland, including "Mister Brightside," "The Bonfire Nights" and "TRaNZ." Currently he is working on a memoir.