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Imelda White, office administrator, Memorial Church: (650) 723-1762,
John Sanford, writer, News Service: (650) 736-2151, jsanford@stanford

Now at Memorial Church: compline services, a nightcap for the soul and spirit

For students, Stanford can be challenging, rewarding and intellectually invigorating. But here's an unassailable fact: Stanford also can be stressful, inducing a myopic vision of life grades, finances, job applications and other collegiate pressures.

The Rev. Joanne Sanders, an assistant dean for religious life, recently has organized a series of Sunday night compline services with the aim of giving students, faculty and anybody else who wants to attend an opportunity to meditate on what really matters.

The next compline services are scheduled for May 20 and June 3 in Memorial Church. They begin at 9:30 p.m. and conclude at 10 p.m.

The first such service was held April 22. Sanders said she was surprised by the number of people who attended. "About 90 folks showed up," she said. "It's struck a chord of some kind."

Historically, compline (the word is derived from a Latin verb meaning "to complete") was a practice of monastic communities. The last of the seven canonical hours recited or sung before going to sleep, compline consists of psalms, short passages from the Bible, a hymn, a canticle ("Nunc Dimittis"), a litany and additional prayers.

"Compline is offered when the work of the day is completed, and the quietness of evening settles over the hearts and minds of those who have come together in thankfulness for the blessings of the day which have passed, and in anticipation of God's gift for a new day," Sanders said.

Here in the Silicon Valley, compline is a kind of riposte to the culture of money, ambition and power that has been fed by the booming economy (at least, until recently) and technology industry, she said.

"I really think that we need to give ourselves permission to have some time to sit quietly and get at the root of things like what it is that makes us do what we do, and makes us believe what we believe," Sanders said. "A person is mind, body and spirit all of these things. And paying attention to the spirit, the soul, is the intention here."

When Sanders, who began at Stanford in Autumn Quarter, was pursuing a master's degree in sports administration at Seattle Pacific University, she occasionally attended the compline services held at St. Mark's Cathedral near the University of Washington. St. Mark's has been conducting weekly compline services for more than 30 years.

"Every Sunday night, there would be 500-plus people, and most were university students," she said. "When I came to Stanford in September, I would walk through Memorial Church in the daytime and notice that it is a place of quiet and reflection many students and others need a respite of calm and peacefulness in the chaos of life. All of a sudden it struck me that we could be doing compline here not only because of the space and sacredness of Memorial Church, but because of where we are and where we live. In the Silicon Valley, as well as on a university campus, there are constant demands and challenges and pressures."

The services will take place in candlelight. Choirs will perform in plainsong: On May 20, the Stanford Early Music Singers are scheduled to conduct the service; the St. Bede's Episcopal Church Choir is scheduled to conduct the service June 3.

For more information, contact Sanders at (650) 725-0090 or


By John Sanford

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