Traditional Compline Service Draws Millennials

Christ Church Anglican in Georgia attracts college students with Sunday night liturgical service.

Stan Lindsey faced a low time in life and felt estranged from his group.

The 25-year-old found solace in a dark, candlelit sanctuary during Compline. “You go in and you sit down, and things really kind of melt away,” Lindsey says. “You don’t really care about your phone anymore.”

The monastic tradition—1,500 years young—unfolds Sunday nights at 9 p.m. at Christ Church Anglican in Savannah, Georgia.

“They come because they crave the holy,” says Mark Williams, parish musician.

Williams didn’t know how to pronounce “Compline” (KOM-plin) when he attended his first service in Seattle in the ’80s—but he wept nonetheless. “It got to my interior,” he says.

From the word “completion,” Compline is how monks ended their day in the Middle Ages. The 30-minute, “come as you are” retreat is Christ Church’s primary seeker service, an entry point to the faith.

Students make up almost half of the roughly 65 attendees, and a third of the choir, according to Williams. Morning worship attendance is about 220.

Millennials want authenticity, and tend to distrust anything large or branded, according to Lindsey. Compline offers unedited time with God, guided only by ancient texts and music. “I think that is one of the great draws,” says Christ Church Rector Rev. Marc Robertson.

It doesn’t matter what hipsters from the nearby art college wear; the sanctuary is dark. “People feel anonymous,” Williams says.

Williams awoke one night believing God wanted him to start Compline in Savannah. It was 2005, and he had already started Compline at a Houston Presbyterian church. Any denomination can host it, he says.

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The black-robed choir climbs to the loft where they sing prayers and chant simple songs and Bible verses about protection and peace for the night, and gratitude for safety that day. A sanctuary’s echo may frustrate a soloist’s song, but it’s perfect for Gregorian chant. Williams writes about a third of the music.

At its core, Compline is the choir’s prayer discipline. The 16 singers commit to the weekly worship and preceding hour-and-a-half rehearsal. Attendees merely listen.

Also, Robertson offers a roughly 3-minute meditation from the front of the sanctuary. His homily doesn’t answer questions as much as ask them, another appeal to skeptical millennials.

“Compline never claims to know the answer,” Lindsey says.

“I think the gospel is best received when the right questions are asked,” Robertson says.

“It’s just a little bit different,” Lindsey says. “It’s a lot easier to trust.”

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