Compline as Pastoral Care

It has been a good and joyful thing to watch laypeople and priests and deacons lead Compline and other daily offices across the web.

In a time when so many are feeling grief, anxiety, or fear, the orderly, regular personableness of the daily offices offers reassurance and structure in an easily accessible way. Leading Compline and noonday prayers in Virginia Theological Seminary’s community Facebook group has become a wonderful way to stay connected. For myself, it is both a devotion to attend and to lead; the rhythm has made it possible for me to lose myself in the service even as I lead.

The simple rubrics and straightforward nature of the daily offices make a great vehicle for those who are shy or unused to leading from the front of the church. Sharing across the internet allows us to gather as community in ways we have never been able to before — all gifts during this time of physical distancing.

I’ve found the migration of the service of Compline from offline to online to be beautiful and its sense of pastoral care continues, even on platforms we don’t think of as “spiritual.” The roots of the daily offices, after all, are in individual and intimate worship: in homes or in monasteries, with family or in solitude. It has been a good and joyful thing to watch laypeople and priests and deacons lead Compline and other daily offices across the web. The comments or chat box becomes a sacred space for prayer and holy conversation that is unavailable during an offline service.

The less formal, quiet nature of the daily offices allows for the leader to shape it in ways that suit the particular gathered community – adding reflections, prayers, music, or quietude.

Here are some take aways from my own experience:

  • Choose the platform that suits your community. We started on Facebook Live and experimented briefly with Zoom, but found that FB worked better and engaged more people for Compline. It’s at the end of the day, people are looking for a space that is peaceful, where they don’t need to feel the pressure of being seen (pajamas are perfect for Compline).
  • Be welcoming. If you’re hosting a service on Facebook, you can see when a person joins, and you can see when they “like” or “love” the video or when they post a comment. Greet them by name, be conversational, and allow for gentle interruptions in the liturgy to respond to comments or prayers offered. (I’ve found some inconsistency in how visible comments and likes are, so experiment with devices and browsers to determine which is the most reliable.)
  • Look at your camera. When you look at your camera and at not your screen you are making eye contact with your congregation, and there’s a greater sense of connection from their end (and likely from your end too, knowing that they’re meeting you face to face).
  • Guide your congregation. Include the appointed Psalm for the evening in the Facebook description; you might also want to link to the online BCP for those who may not have a hard copy.
  • Don’t be afraid of silence. Some breathing room may feel awkward the first one or two times, but some space for quiet is just as effective online as it is in person. I usually start with a few moments of silence, and I leave space in the prayers.
  • Speak both the officiant’s and the people’s words (call and response).
  • Use add-ins. Where the rubrics call for a “hymn suitable for the evening” is a wonderful place to add a poem or devotional reading, or the biography of a saint, or an original reflection. If you’re confident in singing, you could lead a chant or a short hymn here.
  • Take time with the prayers. Feel free to explore collects and prayers from elsewhere in the BCP. I usually end with one of the last two (“Keep watch, dear Lord” or “O God, your unfailing providence sustains the world”) because they are familiar, comforting, and beautiful.
  • Don’t sign off too quickly. Ease folks out of the service with a few words of good night, any announcements about upcoming services you might wish to include, etc.
  • Read through the comments after you sign off. Acknowledge individually any comments or prayers added to the comment thread after the video has posted (or during the service, if you are comfortable multi-tasking).
  • Post a link to the reading, or a photo of the book cover, if the words are not your own.

If you click on this link you’ll find a customary for online Compline, created by the students at Virginia Theological Seminary. I think you’ll find it helpful in any parish or organizational context. 

Cara Ellen Modisett is a rising second-year M.Div. student at Virginia Theological Seminary, a postulant for holy orders from the Episcopal Diocese of Southwestern Virginia. A pianist, essayist and teacher, she has served as music and communications director at the parish and diocesan levels. She curated and wrote the Prayers of the People for General Convention 78 and is a contributing editor for Episcopal Cafe.

This article originally appeared in longer form in Liturgy and Music, a sister publication to Building Faith.

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