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Lessons & Carols Service on Sunday, December 31, 2023

Join us for our Lessons & Carols Service on Sunday, 12/31 at 10AM. There will be only one service that day.

The Lessons and Carols service, a cherished Christmas tradition in the Anglican Church, traces its roots to the late 19th century, combining scripture readings with musical interludes to celebrate the story of the birth of Jesus Christ. This unique format has become a hallmark of the Advent and Christmas seasons, fostering a sense of anticipation and joy among congregants.

The origins of Lessons and Carols can be attributed to the creative collaboration between Edward White Benson, who later became the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Eric Milner-White. In 1880, Benson inaugurated a series of Christmas Eve lessons at Truro Cathedral in Cornwall, England, aimed at providing a more imaginative and spiritually enriching way to tell the Christmas story. The concept gained momentum, and in 1918, out of the grief and horror of the First World War, Milner-White, then the Dean of King’s College, Cambridge, wanted to reform liturgical practices so that the simple beauty of Christian worship would shine through and attract those who had lost their faith in the horrors of the war, whether serving in it or watching it take place.

There is intellectual depth to the service. In Milner-White’s own words, “The main theme is the development of the loving purposes of God,” as viewed, “through the windows and the words of the Bible.” Yet he aimed at simplicity rather than complex explication of God’s purposes in human history. Rather than a lecture, he designed the service to focus on “colour, warmth, and delight.”

King’s College Chapel in Cambridge hosted the first official Nine Lessons and Carols service on Christmas Eve of 1918. The service featured nine scripture readings, beginning with the Genesis account of the Fall and concluding with the Gospel narrative of the Nativity. Between each reading, congregants sang Christmas carols and hymns, creating a seamless blend of sacred text and music. The format aimed to capture the essence of the Christmas story while engaging the congregation in a participatory celebration.

The service’s popularity grew rapidly, and it was soon adopted by numerous Anglican churches and cathedrals worldwide. Lessons and Carols spread beyond the Anglican tradition, finding a place in other Christian denominations and even secular settings. The service’s adaptability and the timeless beauty of its structure contributed to its widespread acceptance.

One of the strengths of Lessons and Carols lies in its ability to convey the narrative of redemption through scripture and music. The selected lessons progress from the anticipation of the Messiah to the fulfillment of God’s promise in the birth of Jesus Christ. The carols chosen for the service complement the readings, serving as both a joyful expression of worship and a means of deepening the congregation’s connection to the biblical narrative.

Over the years, Lessons and Carols has evolved with new compositions and arrangements, incorporating a diverse range of musical styles while maintaining the essence of the original format. Today, the service remains a cherished tradition in the Anglican Church and beyond, embodying the spirit of Christmas by uniting communities in the celebration of the Christian faith through scripture, song, and shared joy.