A tale of four Christmas Carol Services

Preparing the lanterns in St Mary's. 200 of them have their candles replaced after the town carol service in preparation for Christmas Eve.

In the past week there has been a Christmas Carol Service in each of the four churches.  All have been quite different, and all wonderful in their own way.  We started last Tuesday evening in St Nicholas’, with the Christmas tree by the pulpit and the Advent wreath beside the lectern, and candles burning here and there lighting up both the old stones of the building, and the people of all ages gathered to sing; the atmosphere in this ancient church recalled the centuries of Christian worship in this place.  The procession in, and the doors shut against the December weather, we snuggly settled to hear again the story of our Saviour’s birth unfold; the choir in good voice reminding us of the Angel Gabriel’s foray from heaven to announce to Mary that she would bear a son.  We moved through the familiar readings and almost with reluctance left the candle-light and walked the short way through the dark churchyard to the hall for refreshments.


Thursday, and St Mark’s brought the school up at 1.30 p.m. for its carol service. Parents and grandparents filled the pews, whilst the children, like a carpet of green covered the whole area from the choir pews eastward to the altar.  They sang and read, stood and sat, and once again the narrative was taken up by one reader after another.  The lessons were spoken from the pulpit.  The youngest child to read was a tiny year three girl.  We couldn’t even see the top of her head above the stone sides of the pulpit, but we heard every word, in innocent wonder of what she was reading with such clarity and meaning.


Sunday evening, in the more expansive setting of St Mary’s, the town gathered for a civic carol service with the Mayor present and representatives of all the Swanage Churches reading the lessons.  This more formal occasion, with full orchestra and choir, processions and more than two-hundred candle-lit lanterns was different again, yet the same story was told, albeit in the flowing language of the Authorised Version of the Bible, with glorious choir pieces to accompany the familiar carols and soaring descants.  Every reader produced their lesson with such passion and conviction, they alone held us awe-struck.  The orchestra added that little extra that reminds us what Swanage does so well.  Music is important to our town; so special at Christmas.


Last night the fourth of our churches experienced something marvellous and up-lifting.  The story was indeed told once more, but so sensitively and differently.  David Nunn produced a woven tale of God working with his people throughout history leading to the birth of his Son in Bethlehem.  Within this we sang carols which gradually worked towards a play reworking the story of the wisemen and Herod.  David had written this too, but it relied on the fine performances of a cast of, mostly men, who brought to life the tensions of power and authority that revealed Jesus’ kingship with some drama!


And so, in a tale of four fine but very different Christmas Carol services in the four team churches, and a total of more than 700 people attending, we are preparing for this day next week, and the festival of Christmas itself.  St Mark’s and St Mary’s have their own carol services to come, on Christmas Eve; these are followed by the communion services that bring us to the holy night of the Nativity itself.  There is much to look forward to….   


And then there is the crib service in St Mary’s with live animals - we are promised a donkey again this year - as well as the lambs and a calf….. But that will need a separate notice all to itself!


John Mann