I think that the new lay out worked really well. The mobile pews showing their flexibility lined up parallel with the walls creating a whole two additional lanes for standing in at least half the church which were not available last year. The result was that the church felt less crowded. The church was lit with candles forming the shape of the cross as the lights were dimmed.
“Happy birthday to you” rang out during the quieter moments in the service. An entirely inspired utterance, I think you will agree, from a two year old in the huge congregation – a future as an evangelist looks certain! And the congregation was huge – when wedding couples ask ‘what is the capacity of St Mary’s?’ I now tend to say ‘well we have about 350 at the Crib service….’ but that does involve a lot of standing and even sitting on the altar step….so sorry to those of you who found themselves arriving a little later than a reasonable 30 minutes before the service and were standing throughout. Maybe invite rather fewer to your wedding…
The Posada completed its journey round the parish (astonishingly without anyone losing their heads), as Joseph and Mary and the donkey were brought forward by Elisa. These figures had been welcomed into 21 of the families of our parish, offering them the lodging denied to Mary and Joseph 2000 years ago. Each family kept the figures for a night, read a prayer and lit a candle and put the figures in a place which could be seen from outside. Then the figures in their mysterious box were taken on to the next family, the order of families being drawn by lot to try and ensure that families met who might not know each other.
Then the other nativity figures were brought by one child after another to the Crib, as the wonderful story of the birth of Jesus was unveiled; Oliver Denniss relating the story from high in the pulpit. John Purver played the organ beautifully and Hark the Herald, In the Bleak Mid Winter, It came upon a midnight clear, Away in a Manger, Joy to the World and O Come all ye faithful were all sung out enthusiastically with all the descants…
George read the lesson John 1:1-9, often read by Headteachers, Prime Ministers and Bishops at Carol Services, with great clarity (as if to do so was the most natural thing in the world). Then Revd. Amanda Denniss preached on the weeks it takes ready for Christmas that are a tiny amount of time in comparison with the plans of God since the beginning of eternity of which Jesus was always a part and author that we might have the opportunity to be invited into his family. She left us with the question of whether we would accept that invitation this Christmas.
A wonderful afternoon – thank you to all those who prepared the church so beautifully and organised and contributed to, such a great service.