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.