Sunday, February 15, 2009


We went back to Christ Church tonight for the Compline service. Compline is a traditional prayer service that you can learn more about here.

Compline is like no other Sunday night service I’ve previously attended. For one thing, it’s so quiet. Jenna tried whispering to us between songs and she may as well have been yelling, it was so quiet in there. It was kind of like a funeral, without all the sadness. The service is sung by the Christ Church Compline Choir, which is unaccompanied, but so different from the a cappella singing Chad and I grew up with in the Church of Christ. The two are worlds apart musically, and many of the hymns we grew up singing spoke more to each other (“Farther along, we’ll know all about it”) than to God. The Compline choir sings centuries-old prayers, like this one by John Milton:

“Lord, for they tender mercy’s sake lay not our sins to our charge; but forgive that is past and give us grace to amend our sinful lives; to decline from sin, and incline to virtue, that we may walk in an upright heart before thee this night and evermore.”

The service also had “Versicle” and “the Collects,” new terms to me. And another profound difference was the absence of social interaction. No one stood around talking after it was over. That’s not what this time is for. It’s more of an intimate time between God and the faithful. I like that. I just wish that it hadn’t been so short. Compline typically lasts 15-20 minutes, quite a switch for those of us who are used to settling in for at least an hour of church. Even 4-year-old Jenna whimpered “But I don’t want to go home yet.”

Lately I’ve been thinking about what it means to belong somewhere. As a minister’s kid, I moved around a lot growing up until we finally settled in Beaumont, TX, when I was 12. Beaumont was my dad’s hometown. His parents had moved there during the Depression. There have been Hambys in the Beaumont area since around 1930. I remember riding down 11th Street and seeing my last name on the sign outside my grandfather’s accounting firm: “HAMBY, FUNCHESS & WHITE.” The sign reminded me that I had roots in that town. I belonged there. It was my home.

Beaumont is a very different place now, but I’ll always think of it as home, in a way. All four of my grandparents are buried there, in a cemetery thick with grand oak trees strung with Spanish moss on the banks of the Neches River. My parents will be buried there someday, too. I’ll always find my way back to Beaumont because that’s where “my people” are – living and dead.

Now I live in another state where, except for a great-grandmother from Pine Bluff and some distant relatives associated with Harding, I have no familial connections. It’s nice here. I like it. I can see staying here for a long time. Belonging here is another story, though. I guess I don’t have to feel like I belong somewhere to like living there. It’s a feeling I’m not used to, though. I don’t know how to get used to it.

But tonight, in that church I’ve only visited on one other occasion, I belonged. We all did. That entire roomful of strangers. The man behind us who muttered all the words to the service along with the officiant. The woman on the kneeling bench who was oblivious to everyone around her. We clung to the common thread of being sinners who long for upright hearts; who reach upward to a Father who ever reaches down to us. Maybe church is only supposed to be about one relationship – that relationship that sin should sever but there, amid the candlelight and ancient words, is whole and complete.

I probably could get used to that. I just need more time, though. Any churches out there with three-hour Compline services? That would be a good start.

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  • At Mon Feb 16, 08:26:00 AM, Blogger Jared Cramer said…

    The longer service than Compline would be Evensong, but that typically occurs a bit earlier in the night. It does last for about 30 minutes or so, so you get more time. The really long one would be the Easter Vigil, a service I'm sure Christ Church will have the Saturday night before Easter Sunday. It is hands down the best liturgy of the year, I'd highly recommend it, particularly if you liked Compline.

  • At Mon Feb 16, 09:11:00 AM, Blogger Kate said…

    For me, Little Rock has always been "home" for me. There's been a sense of belonging here. But, during the 7 years I've spent moving around the country, God really used that time to help me completely "belong" with Him and not seek refuge from man. Family, friends, church, etc....will always let us down sooner or later. This is not to say that those things are bad...they are a means of God's grace! But, I think when we find ourselves having faith in people rather than God, we are going to be sadly disappointed every time.

  • At Mon Feb 16, 11:06:00 AM, Blogger Nellie said…

    I know just how you felt. I love the liturgy. You might want to check out Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" series. She has a volume for different seasons.

    I'll be praying that you find that sense of belonging that you are seeking. It can be elusive when you make moves (as I did for much of my growing up years), but it comes with time. Love and miss you!

  • At Mon Feb 16, 11:17:00 AM, Blogger Scott Walters said…

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • At Mon Feb 16, 11:20:00 AM, Blogger Scott Walters said…

    "Collect" was one of the new words you discovered at Compline. It's essentially a prayer spoken by one person that collects those of the rest of us there. Some people don't believe prayer can be authentic if it's in someone else's words. But one of the prayers you may have heard at Compline was written by Augustine of Hippo more than 1600 years ago. I've never heard these words read nor have I ever read them myself without slipping, or being pulled into prayer:

    "Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love's sake. Amen."

    How about that. It just happened again.

  • At Tue Feb 17, 06:49:00 AM, Blogger Liane Jerry said…

    I love the prayer that Scott posted. It is my favorite. That prayer strikes a chord deep within me and resonates in a way that I can't seem to express well. *sigh*
    About belonging...
    I guess it is human nature to desire connectedness. But what does it mean? We can belong to a church but not feel connected. We can be surrounded by people but still feel alone. We can call ourselves Christian but still feel empty. There is still that place deep within that longs for the Eternal....
    Being a Christian is more about the movements of the heart than it is about where we go to church and sometimes it is the church itself that is the hinderance to the music of the soul.

  • At Tue Feb 17, 02:05:00 PM, Blogger Brian said…

    I don't know if you knew Deana, but for the last several months, I've been singing in a Episcopal Compline Service.

    I have had to back off this month since my schedule no longer allows me to go.

  • At Tue Feb 17, 07:35:00 PM, Blogger Keith Brenton said…

    God is wherever you find Him.

    (That may be a truism. But it is also true.)


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