Advent & Christmas services….

…were in the main well-supported. Our thanks to all who prepared church – the crib, the tree, the tricky suspended candles, the flowers – and also to Sue and Robert Nelson, Alex’s parents, who came to run a Traidcraft stall on 16 December, doing good business and raising £121.90. News International’s carol service was of the usual high standard, with no less than three excellent choirs: St Bride’s Fleet Street (resplendent in their traditional russet gowns), marking that church’s links with the press; Wapping Great Voices, made up of NI staff, recently reformed; and children from our own school, St Paul’s, who sang songs from their Christmas presentation.

This presentation, given in full in school (and reprised in church at the end of term service), was excellent: it told the nativity story from the shepherds’ point of view, accurately and accessibly, with excellent songs which the children sang with great enthusiasm. Having endured Christmas ‘productions’ in my former parish which seemed to have the parents in mind more than the children, I was greatly encouraged that this was something done for its own sake – and with a clear educational rationale! End-of-term party arrangements were also very civilised – sitting round beautifully-prepared tables to share a meal before the games. Congratulations, St Paul’s!

We also welcomed Green Gables staff, children and parents for their end-of-year nativity. Later that day, our organist Elspeth gathered a choir for our own carol service; they sang four items, and led the congregational singing (with all the traditional descants, of course) – thanks to all who made this possible. And, although a number of our regulars go away for Christmas, this year’s innovation – a Crib service on Christmas Eve, with children in mind – seemed to be appreciated, and is something to build on. (We started such a service in my last parish with ten people; this Christmas, I gather, there were over 300.) And when Christmas came, there was a sense of hushed expectancy at the midnight service, and a joyful gathering on Christmas morning.

Epiphany to Candlemas services….

The feast of the Epiphany, which this year falls on a Sunday (and, happily, on an ‘all-age’ service so that children can participate in the procession of the magi with their gifts) is, of course the twelfth day of Christmas, and part of the continuation of our celebration of the incarnation – even though many homes ditch their trees as soon as Christmas is over! We then have a month of services that continue the theme of ‘God-with-us’ in various ways. As Times and Seasons, the Church of England’s resource book for Common Worship, explains,

In the Western churches, the Epiphany (‘manifestation’) became an occasion to celebrate one element in the story of Christ’s birth, the visit of the far-travelled magi, understood as the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles. Matthew’s account speaks simply of ‘wise men from the east’; later tradition fixed their number at three, made them kings and recalled their resonant names – Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. In this perspective, Epiphanytide is an apt season to pray for the worldwide mission of the Church.The feast of the Conversion of St Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, appropriately falls in the Epiphany season, as does the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. In the Eastern churches, the Epiphany is, rather, the celebration of Christ’s baptism at the hands of John, when the heavens were opened and a voice from heaven declared Jesus to be God’s beloved Son.The miracle of Cana in Galilee, where Jesus ‘first manifested his glory’, follows immediately:

Manifest at Jordan’s stream, Prophet, Priest, and King supreme;
and at Cana wedding-guest in thy Godhead manifest.
(Christopher Wordsworth)

The arrangement of the Sundays of Epiphany in the Revised Common Lectionary deliberately draws out these aspects. The season of joyful celebration that begins at Christmas now continues through the successive Sundays of Epiphany, and the festal cycle ends only with the Feast of the Presentation (Candlemas).The child who has been manifested to the magi at his birth is now recognized by Simeon and Anna, when he comes to be presented in the Temple according to the Law of Israel. He is both ‘a light to lighten the Gentiles’ and ‘the glory of God’s people Israel’. But the redemption he will bring must be won through suffering; the Incarnation is directed to the Passion; and Simeon’s final words move our attention away from the celebration of Christmas and towards the mysteries of Easter.

We shall also keep this feast on a first Sunday, with the children sharing in the special service for the day. And because Easter is so early this year, we ‘lose’ the two pre-Lent Sundays with their themes of creation and transfiguration, and move immediately from looking ‘back’ to Christmas to looking ‘forward’ to Holy Week and Easter, with our Lent programme, when we shall be offering additional weekly events, both daytime (Wednesdays) and evening (Thursdays) – on which more next month.

Meanwhile, as the above note indicates, there are other special services in January: for the Baptism of Christ, for the mission of the church, and for Christian Unity. This year’s Week of Prayer marks the centenary of the week of prayer (which is kept in the seven days leading up to the feast of the Conversion of St Paul on 25 January). It was first marked by Father Paul Wattson, an Episcopalian Franciscan priest in the USA in 1908. The resources have therefore been produced in this centenary year from within the United States of America, on the theme of ‘Pray without Ceasing’, and we shall be using these prayers and songs at St George’s. They remind us of the violence of our world and the urgency of prayer for peace and reconciliation, both within the world and the church (not least our own Communion at this time!) Appropriately, Churches Together in Shadwell and Wapping holds its AGM during the Week – details in the calendar.

Soyyten Sen

Soyyten Sen is the largest Bengali music and drama group in Tower Hamlets. They teach traditional folk songs to children (including a number from St Paul’s School) and adults, and have an accomplished drama group which performs a variety of plays. They have outgrown their current premises in Cannon Street Road and are looking for a new rehearsal venue. Although as an open and broadly progressive group (cultural, rather than religious) they have the full support of the Borough, Tower Hamlets is unable to offer any accommodation, so they have approached us, since they want to remain in this locality. We are currently exploring with them the possibility of using our premises on Saturdays. We would like to help, but are not yet sure if we can meet their needs - so watch this space!

Godspeed to Apple

It was, of course, to Thailand (not Taiwan) that apple returned before Christmas – having provided cakes for her farewell party after church. Her ‘real’ name and address are Maneerat Chonnawat, 184/64 Soi Samsen 13, Samsen Road, Dusit, Bangkok, 20300 Thailand, if you wish to keep in touch with her.

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