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Protests at move for radio evensong

16 November 2006

Feminine on the fens: Ely Cathedral Girls’ Choir, seen rehearsing, were to sing their first weekday evensong on Wednesday. The choir of 16 girls made their début at Sunday services in the cathedral on 5 November

Feminine on the fens: Ely Cathedral Girls’ Choir, seen rehearsing, were to sing their first weekday evensong on Wednesday. The choir of 16 girls made ...

by Bill Bowder

PLANS to move BBC Radio 3’s Choral Evensong, usually broadcast from a cathedral or college chapel, to 4 p.m. on Sundays from its current Wednesday-afternoon slot have aroused a suspicion that the BBC aims at confining its religious programmes to Sunday.

The Archbishop of Canterbury had reportedly lent support to the change, but his spokeswoman said on Wednesday: “Lambeth Palace was not consulted.”

Sue King, co-ordinator of the Association of English Cathedrals, said that the cathedral deans were seeking a meeting with the BBC. They had been told of the proposed changes, but not consulted.

“They are concerned that there is a secular agenda here, which is pushing everything to do with Christianity on to Sunday. But the evensong on Wednesday sends out the message that the cathedrals are worshipping 365 days a year, and that Christianity is not just a Sunday phenomenon,” she said on Tuesday.

The deans wanted a meeting to find out whether the decision was a fait accompli. The change could present problems for smaller cathedrals, which could not move morning worship to the nave to allow the broadcasters to set up their equipment in the chancel; and there were also issues of timing.

Sunday evensong was usually “enhanced” by a sermon; but the BBC would not want that, she said.

Cathedral organists were said to be “in step” with the deans after a meeting last week. The president of the Cathedral Organists Association, David Hill, said that they were working closely with the deans, and there was no difference of opinion.

The Ven. Alan Wolstencroft, Archdeacon Emeritus of Manchester, in a letter to the Church Times this week, invites others to join him in protesting to Michael Grade, the BBC Chairman. The midweek service is an “oasis”, he writes. “This proposed change seems yet another move by a once loved BBC to marginalise even further mainstream religion, and especially acts of worship.”

The Royal School of Church Music “broadly welcomed the move”. Professor John Harper, its director general, said that he was delighted that the BBC was protecting Choral Evensong as a live broadcast. “Perhaps the biggest loss will be the reminder that around the country some 100 communities of choirs, clergy, and congregations are gathering to sing the choral office of evensong on weekdays, maintaining the cycle of singing psalms and canticles, hearing scripture, and praying, as they have for at least 1000 years,” he said in a statement.

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