One of my most abiding childhood memories of the Christmas season is the Anglican service of lessons and carols that was held every year in the 11th century church in the English village where I attended school.
As a small boy, I did not know that the evening service had a tradition dating back to 1880 and that it was made world famous by King’s College, Cambridge.
What I loved was the smell and warmth of my mother’s fur coat as I sat beside her on the wooden pew and the wonderful knowledge that the service marked the beginning of the school holidays. I can close my eyes and see the packed church ablaze in yellow candlelight, the wax pooling at the top of each candle and then, later in the service, bursting its bonds and running down walls and columns until the cold stone forced it to solidify.
As the congregation stood, I can recall pangs of jealousy as a boy about my age sang the opening verse of Once in Royal David’s City, his shrill voice heralding the start of the journey we were about to embark on. I can half remember poetic prophesies being read with posh, Oxford accents, but can clearly recollect the story of the Virgin birth aptly recounted with a lovely rural intonation.
Decades later, I am grateful to be able to attend and participate in this very special service of lessons and carols at All Saints’ Anglican Church, right here in Vernon. Although we do not have boy choristers and are not able to let candles burn unattended in every nook and cranny, the sense of mystery that exudes from the telling of the ancient story in songs and readings from the Bible is very much the same as I remember as a young child.
As it is often held several days in advance of Dec. 25, the service of lessons and carols allows the congregation to reflect, to meditate and experience, without distraction, the deep and universal yearning for reconciliation, healing and peace that is at the heart of the Christmas message. I’m sure that even the most determined members of “the keep Christ in Christmas” crowd find it challenging to attend a Christmas Eve service without visions of turkey cooking times and still-to-be-wrapped presents stomping around in the head.
If you are not a church goer, but miss singing carols, this is your chance to give free rein to your voice. For music lovers there is the opportunity to hear some beautiful new anthems sung by the All Saints’ choir under the skillful directorship of Marge Close and Molly Boyd. The service of lessons and carols is a gift that we, Anglicans, have received and would love to share with you with absolutely no expectations.
Please join us at 3 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 17 at All Saints’ Anglican Church at 3205-27th St., Vernon (parking lot entrance is on 26th Street).