Lessons and Carols Service on Christmas Eve

All are welcome to attend the annual Lessons and Carols Service, December 24, 2011, 7:00pm.  There will be no Sunday School or Coffee Fellowship on Christmas Day or New Year’s Day – Worship will begin at 11:00am.

The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols was first held on Christmas Eve 1918 at King’s College in Cambridge. It was planned by Eric Milner-White, who at the age of thirty-four had just been appointed Dean of King’s, after experience as an army chaplain which had convinced him that the Church of England needed more imaginative worship. A revision of the Order of Service was made in 1919, involving rearrangement of the lessons, and from that date the service has always begun with the hymn ‘Once in Royal David’s City’.

The service was first broadcast in 1928 and, with the exception of 1930, has been broadcast annually, even during the Second World War, when the ancient glass (and also all heat) had been removed from the Chapel and the name of King’s could not be broadcast for security reasons. Sometime in the early 1930′s, the BBC began broadcasting the service on overseas programmes. It is estimated that there are millions of listeners worldwide, including those to Radio Four in the United Kingdom. In recent years, it has become the practice to broadcast a digital recording on Christmas Day on Radio Three, and since 1963, a shorter service has been filmed periodically for television.

Wherever the service is heard and however it is adapted, whether the music is provided by choir or congregation, the pattern and strength of the service, as Dean Milner-White pointed out, derive from the lessons and not the music. ‘The main theme is the development of the loving purposes of God’ seen ‘through the windows and words of the Bible’. Local interests appear, as they do here, in the bidding prayer, and personal circumstances give point to different parts of the service. Many of those who took part in the first service must have recalled those killed in the Great War when it came to the famous passage ‘all those who rejoice with us but on another shore and in a greater light’. The centre of the service is still found by those who ‘go in heart and mind’ and who consent to follow where the story leads.

~History of the service, King’s College Chapel

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