My church in London, St. Helen’s Bishopsgate, puts on a great carol service. Come December, there are anywhere from two to five carol services a week. I look forward to them every year. I think my friends who stay in London for the majority of December find the services can become a bit repetitive (especially if you’re one of the musicians who plays at nearly every one); but I don’t stay in London for most of December. In fact, I usually only get to catch one carol service before I head home for Christmas.
Now, of course, I would rather go home early than stick around for a carol service or two – even if they are lovely. After all, we do sing carols in the States. But there is something special about the carol services at St. Helen’s. Here are the top five reasons why…
1. The building is transformed. The lights are dimmed and the place is totally kitted out – Christmas trees, wreaths, garlands, candles, flowers. The two pictures below don’t do it justice.
2. Each service is totally rammed. There are often more than 800 people at the Sunday 6pm carol service. They squeeze more chairs into an already crowded church; the spacing between the rows means leg room is virtually non-existent. You have to get there early if you want a seat; otherwise you’re likely to be left standing in the back. But when you’re singing carols with a crowd that large, the sound is amazing and the feeling is absolutely wonderful.
3. The music is incredible. I suspect any church in a major city like London will find themselves with numerous talented musicians on hand. In fact, the music at St. Helen’s is always outstanding, but they really pull out the big guns at Christmas: choirs in the balcony, full use of the organ, horns, beautiful solos, drums, etc etc. It is often breathtaking.
4. The teaching tells the truth and good news of Christmas: that God sent his son into this world to suffer and die so that sinners like me could have a relationship with him. Like the music, the teaching at St. Helen’s is always excellent, but it’s particularly great to hear the truth during a holiday season that is so often about anything but.
5. Mince pies! Mulled wine! Stollen! All are circulated after the service. If you weren’t already feeling Christmas-y, these treats are sure to fill you with a festive spirit. And they help with the stomach-expansion-training that I find is useful in the lead up to the big day.
Yesterday was the first and (sadly) only carol service that I’ll be able to get to this year. It was a delight to have a final Christmas-y Sunday with my London church family this year before heading back home for even more seasonal joys with family!
What about you? Do you go to a special carol service in the lead up to Christmas? What’s your favorite part?