Featured Stories, Lutherans in the Twin Cities

How to close the day with reverence

Minnesota Compline Choir to celebrate 20 years

The Minnesota Compline Choir initiated an evening service in 1992 at Central Lutheran Church, Minneapolis. The service has rotated over the years, including the Basilica of St. Mary, pictured here. Photo: Jeanette Anderson

They have been sending their healing, calming tones over the airwaves for the past two decades. The Minnesota Compline Choir, a churchly version of the Energizer Bunny, just keeps on going, Sunday after Sunday, as it has since 1992.

Thousands of listeners in Minnesota — and now, through the miracle of Internet streaming, around the world — tune in to hear the liturgy for an ancient “office.” It’s called “Compline,” “Vespers,” or “Prayer at the Close of the Day.”

Founded at Central Lutheran Church (ELCA), Minneapolis, the choir sang there beginning when the Rev. Steve Cornils was senior pastor. Now on the pastoral staff at Mount Olivet Lutheran in southwest Minneapolis, Cornils still sings with the choir, as he has since its inception. He is a co-founder of the group, along with Charles Parsons, who was music director at Central 20 years ago.

Originally, the choir found a Sunday-night program slot on WCAL-FM, the highly-respected radio service of St. Olaf College. Reports from the station manager indicated that the weekly Sunday night Compline Choir broadcasts were the most widely listened-to program broadcast from the Northfield campus.

After the sudden and unexpected sale of WCAL to Minnesota Public Radio in 2004, the Compline Choir broadcasts were put in jeopardy. A Twin Cities station, KKMS-AM (980), has been airing the services in recent years (currently at 11:30 p.m. on Saturdays). But many Lutherans have some resistance to tuning in to a station mostly dedicated to conservative Christian programming.

The alternative is the Internet, where the services are available on demand at any time. A visit to www.MinnesotaCompline.org will let you find current and archived programs. Click the link that says “Listen.”

Cornils says the Internet broadcasts are reaching far more widely than the WCAL broadcasts ever did. “Words of appreciation have come to us from people listening in places like Japan and Iraq.”

Choir member Jeff Anderson, who provides technical support, reports that visitors from 31 separate countries and territories have logged onto the website.

Dismissing the servants

The choir’s current director is Clarance Smith, an accomplished church organist and a member of Central Lutheran. Clearly he loves the choir, because he’s agreed to serve without salary. Previous directors were compensated; but funding, much of which originally came from Central, was finally depleted.

A special service marking the choir’s 20th year is planned for Central Lutheran on May 6.

Smith says the 16 singers have shown commendable resilience and flexibility in recent years. No longer anchored at Central, they have sung of late in a variety of venues — Hamline United Methodist in St. Paul, the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis, Assumption Roman Catholic Church in downtown St. Paul, and Mount Olive Lutheran Church (Chicago Avenue) in Minneapolis. There are also concerts in area congregations, sung on request.

“The music we sing is about peace and reconciliation,” Smith says. “We follow the ancient liturgical order appointed for this service. It comes out of the Order of St. Benedict, and includes confession, two psalms, an anthem, prayers, the ‘Nunc Dimittis’ (‘Now dismiss your servant’), and a hymn.”
“The service and its message is a gift,” says Cornils. “It’s really unique.”
Compline services are not limited to the Twin Cities. St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle has been offering them for nearly half a century. The Lutheran Church of Honolulu has a 30-year history of doing them. Says Cornils, half jokingly, “So you have your pick of climate. You can hear compline in frigid Minnesota, foggy Seattle, or balmy Hawaii.”
During Lent this year the choir will sing in area churches. During the Easter season, the venue will be the Basilica in downtown Minneapolis. A special service marking the choir’s 20th year is planned for Central Lutheran on May 6. Metro Lutheran will carry details as the time draws nearer.
One unexpected bonus that comes from having the compline broadcasts available on the Internet is that a listener can create his or her evening prayer schedule and have the service available at precisely that time. So, an individual inclined to have evening prayers at 9:00 p.m. each evening can go to the Minnesota Compline website, click on “listen,” and end the day in the most contemplative way possible.
In today’s hectic environment, that’s a gift that keeps on giving. Opportunities for providing financial support for the choir are listed at the choir’s website, www.minnesotacompline.org.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,