The candles flicker, casting long shadows over the vaulted ceiling. Incense wafts through the nave, as Gregorian chants echo throughout the dark expanse and men in monks’ robes walk solemnly under the arcades.
Even in the center of modern New Haven, many Yale students, regardless of their religious backgrounds or lack thereof, are making the ancient tradition of compline part of their weekly schedules.
Every Sunday evening at 10 p.m., the Christ Church on Broadway offers students and New Haven residents alike an opportunity to participate in the service.
Maura Leahy FES ’05 said she recently started attending the services because she finds them peaceful.
“I don’t have enough silence and beauty in my life,” Leahy said. “This is one place to find it, and it reminds me I need more.”
The half-hour-long compline service has existed since monasteries were first established.
“When monasteries were founded, they had many services throughout the day,” Senior Seminarian Intern Kevin Morris said. “Compline was always the last of the day, a time for prayer before bed. It’s [become] a lot more than that now.”
As Morris noted, students have flocked to the Episcopalian Christ Church in recent months to attend the compline service. Many become weekly regulars, citing the unique chance to simply relax and reflect in the midst of their otherwise hectic student schedules.
Emma Ashburn ’04 and Erin Hoppin ’04 both said they did not consider themselves religious, yet both attend the service with regularity.
“It’s a time for quiet reflections and it helps alleviate the Sunday night blues,” Ashburn said.
Hoppin said she also appreciates the community among the people who attend the service.
Rosey Watson ’05 also said that she is not religious, but she finds herself attracted to the service each week. She said she has attended the compline service since last year.
“I like the music, the incense, the candles,” Watson said. “It’s just a good, peaceful break to start the week.”
Some even cross religious lines to attend the Episcopalian service. Leahy said she was raised “very Catholic” but now considers other spiritual tenets as well. She said she heard about the compline service a few weeks ago through a recommendation and has attended three services since then.
Morris said the Christ Church is happy to provide students with this opportunity to reflect in silence. The church conducts the compline service only while Yale is in session and always welcomes visitors.
“At Christ Church, the doors are open, literally and figuratively,” the Rev. David C. Cobb, Christ Church priest-in-charge, wrote on the church’s Web site.
Cobb was unavailable for comment.
Morris said there are no current plans to alter the compline service. But the church does hope to build on this popular form of worship, as it has become integral to attracting youths, he said.
“It’s become the primary service for younger people,” Morris said.
Summoned by the church bells each Sunday night, stressed-out Yalies will continue to come to the church in search of inner peace as the Christ Church Choir chants and the incense burns.
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