On Sunday, Dec. 15 at 3:00 p.m., All Saints’ Anglican Church on 27th Street will be holding its annual service of Lessons and Carols.
“A service of lessons and carols?” you might wonder. “I know what carols are, but lessons are something you do in school.”
Well in the Anglican church, lessons are readings from the Bible that are meant to guide and instruct. Many of the passages heard during the Service of Lessons and Carols are poetical and powerful in themselves, but together they carry a profound message.
In my mind, this message is succinctly expressed in Joni Mitchell’s ode to Woodstock “…you know life is for learning. We are stardust. We are golden. And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.” Like salmon, there is something pure and bright that calls us to turn from the way we are going and journey back to our true home.
As for carols, you might understandably think that they are church songs about the birth of Jesus, but this is not actually the case. Originally, carols celebrating the Saviour’s birth were sung around the hearth at home or raucously in alehouses with a tankard of the finest in hand.
The Anglican Church frowned on carols because the words were not strictly out of the Bible (the Pharisees and sinners all over again!). Around 1700, however, permission was granted for “While Shepherds Watched” to be sung in church. As the only approved Christmas hymn, it was sung to dozens of different tunes.
My very favourite is a version from Yorkshire called “Sweet Bells” (do google it!), although research shows that the carol was most often sung to the same tune as “Ilkley Moor”. With so many great options, it is beyond my comprehension as to how “While Shepherds Watched” became chained to the funeral dirge that most of us recognize as the tune.
Gradually, other carols were approved for use in church, but I am pleased to report that the tradition of carol singing in pubs survives to this day!
So now that you are perhaps a little better informed about lessons and carols, why not take a break from the bedlam of the season and join us for the service?
In addition to the readings, you will hear some wonderful anthems sung by the All Saints’ choir directed and accompanied by the incomparable Molly Boyd and Marge Close.
Of course, we trust that you will sing the carols “lustily and with good courage” as the great 18th-century preacher, John Wesley, admonished us to do. Although it won’t be hearty cakes and ale, we hope you will stay for some refreshments afterwards.