It’s midnight. All is quiet as people wait in their pews, expectantly. A bell rings – Christmas Day has started. The organ strikes up with – what else? – It Came Upon The Midnight Clear. The heady smell of insense wafts delicately through the building as the priests process through the ancient, beautiful building. What could be more Christmassy?
To see in the start of 2014’s Christmas Day, I’ve joined the congregation of St Giles In Reading. This is my first time in the Southampton Street church, a beautifully Tardis-like building that is well cared for. One of three medieval churches in the town, it can trace its history back to the 12th century.
As a fellowship, St Giles describes itself as treasuring “our heritage as Catholic Christians within the Church of England”. Or, in plainer English, there’s a fair amount pomp and circumstance that differs from my experience of worshipping in an atypical Baptist church.
I went expecting to hate the experience. Instead, it was a most moving way to start my Christmas Day and it was a privilege to be part of the congregation.
Led by Father David Harris and Father Sam McNally-Cross, the service was a very traditional Midnight Mass. There’s a real sense of awe and majesty as the centuries-old service unfolded: there’s chanting, much wafting of incense and plenty of reverence from Fathers David and Sam. It was heartfelt.
Ian May’s organ voluntaries were masterful and added to the sense of occasion.
As we came to the liturgy for the act of communion I was moved to reflect on the differences. I’m used to having the communion bread and wine being brought to our seats and everyone drinking at the same time. Here, it’s up to the rail for a more personal experience.
In her Christmas message, Her Majesty the Queen spoke of her personal faith being an anchor in her life. She added: “Christ’s example has taught me to seek to respect and value all people, of whatever faith or none.” That’s something that I too aspire to. I don’t always get it right.
This Christmas, in my rushing around covering events for Xn, I’ve been guilty of not finding those quiet moments in which I can appreciate the season of Advent – preparing for Christmas – and then Christmas Day itself. Sometimes too I’m guilty of approaching God as my best mate; it was good to be reminded that I believe he’s a King too.
At the climax of the hour-long service, O Come All Ye Faithful was sung and Father David placed the final figure in the church’s Nativity scene: a baby Jesus. A child in a manger, but born to be a King. O Come Let Us Adore Him.
Yes, I think I did.