The following are short stories from parishes up and down the country., submitted by STP supporters.
Parishes are the centres of so many communities at Christmas time. They are places of reflection, sanctuary and shared joy.
Postlebury, Bath & Wells
Cloford is one of 5 churches in the Parish of Postlebury near Frome in Somerset. We had our annual carol service on Monday 19th December at 7pm. As usual, the church was lit only by candles and oil lamps (with the exception of the Christmas tree and crib electric lights). I attach a photo of the church, lit and prepared for the service (with huge thanks to Jonathan and Miriam Cheal who decorated the church).
We had 70 people in the congregation, most of whom stayed for wine and mince pies afterwards.
Our newly installed 1840s Bates pipe organ was brilliantly played by our superb organist Julie Costley-White.
It was a magical evening, enjoyed by everyone.
The large attendance reminded us all of the importance of the church at all times, but especially at Christmas.
Melcombe Horsey, Salisbury Diocese
St Andrews Melcombe Horsey is over 1/2 mile from the small village of Melcombe Bingham,(pop< 150), but beautifully situated in the grounds of Bingham Melcombe house. In a Benefice of 6 parishes, with a vicarage house some 8 miles distant, and currently in Vacancy, relatively few supporters keep the ancient church active. The highlight of the year is the Christmas morning service of carols and readings, which this year was attended by some 60 people. A local retired clergyman was able to attend at the end of the service to offer communion.
Garrowby Hill Benefice, York Diocese
Christmas concert – church boiler failed, wine un-mulled because only one power point working but the choir, hatted and gloved, sang their hearts out to warm applause and much generosity.
Nativity in a church which nearly closed a few years ago, now resurrected by the villagers as the centre of their community – full of shepherds, angels and kings – one unprepared king draped in a chasuble, Mary and Joseph with Jesus in an Amazon box, a five-year-old boy playing Twinkle Twinkle on the cello. Mulled wine beside the crib, music from a moth-eaten harmonium, all glued together with laughter and love. Christmas Morning Eucharist in a church filled with families.
St George Colegate, Norwich Diocese
We are a benefice of two churches, St George Tombland and St George Colegate, both located just off the centre of Norwich. Whilst we always endeavour to give a warm welcome to all regular worshippers and visitors alike, increasing heating costs have had an impact.
Not to be outdone our non-stipendiary curate, and with the Rector’s support, decided she would like to do more on a regular basis and extend the activities already in place. So, she decided to set up a Community Hot Spot in St George Colegate, opening every Wednesday from 10.30am to 1.00pm. This is free and open to all to drop in for as long as people wish, to enjoy a warm-up, coffee, cake and a chat. Annie our curate is quite persuasive and so she applied and received a grant of £2000 from Norfolk Community Foundation. Given the bleak mid-winter, this has proved invaluable in helping with the heating costs for the event.
There are other churches offering a similar facility but none in the area served by St George Colegate. Apart from reaching out to the local community, and already some new friendships have developed, Hot Spot provides a place for less fortunate people to enjoy, particularly over this Christmas period and cold weather.
St Peter’s Shipton Bellinger, Winchester Diocese
We started our advent journey with an advent carol service, darkness to light on 27 November. Tuesday 29 November we welcomed our primary school retelling the story of the nativity. This was closely followed by our Christmas tree exhibition with over 10 entries. Christingle came next on 11 December, at 4 pm with everyone receiving a Christingle.18 December saw our carol service telling the Christmas story but using alternative readings and modern carols, joined by our friends from the community church.
21 December carols under the Christmas tree, all the above accompanied by mince pies and mulled wine. Tomorrow at 4 pm we will be making and blessing our crib, to be followed by midnight mass beginning at 23.30. We look forward to the birth of Christ, the light of the world.
St Michael Caerhays, Truro Diocese
Our Christmas Carol Service was held last Sunday at 6 pm and was once again wonderful, bringing together parish members both young and old and also we welcomed friends from Gorran and indeed other neighbouring parishes.
We were welcomed into the Church by the bells being rung by our local team of bell ringers. There were six readings between the Carols which were all taken by young members of the congregation, the youngest of whom was six years old. It was a very moving Service attended by a congregation of 58 and enjoyed by all and conducted by the Rev’d Brian McQuillan.
Waddington and West Bradford, Blackburn Diocese
Our super-vicar, Christopher, has been extremely busy as usual this year; in fact, one of our churchwardens suggests bringing our beds and dossing down in the refectory as it’s so busy, it’s not worth going home.
Christopher has overseen the Carol Service at the Almshouses, with port and sherry afterwards to warm up the ladies on a very cold and frosty night. We enjoyed the yearly Village Carols around the beautifully lit village Christmas tree. At Saint
Catherine’s in West Bradford the Family Service was very well attended and the children had great fun building the crib inside the altar. It looks fab! Our Carol Service took place this week, and thankfully the weather had improved so that we didn’t all go skating about.
At Saint Helen’s in Waddington, we participated in a new venture, an Advent Carol Service, which passed off splendidly. The congregation fitted neatly if a little closely, into the choir stalls enabling whole-hearted singing and the small choir had a good go at “Adam lay y-bounden”.
The church was filled to capacity last week for Waddington and West Bradford School’s Carol Service, which was quite emotional for some as we hadn’t been able to gather like that for several years.
We had a lovely Winter wedding last Friday with jolly music and carols, and we were glad to have a warm church; I bet the bridesmaids were too; their outfits were definitely not winter-weight. We have another wedding just after Christmas with carols and festive music also.
On Christmas Eve, Christopher celebrates a Crib Service at West Bradford for the little ones, a Christingle at Saint Helen’s for the older ones and a Midnight Service for everyone. On Christmas Day there will be services at both churches.
We are very lucky to have a vicar who is so interested in music, and the life of the parish.
St Augustine’s, Edgbaston, Birmingham Diocese
As we do every year, our church celebrated the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, with the lessons read by an array of congregants, PCC members, local councillors, churchwardens and, as is our custom, the vicar reading the final lesson.
A particular highlight is the inclusion of Christmas songs you almost certainly won’t hear amongst the staples of Last Christmas or All I Want for Christmas, such as Gaudete, or a Welsh folk song written by the grandfather of the vicar’s wife.
Attended by people across the parish, city and even county, I can’t imagine how things might change if we were to lose this sacred place.
St. Peter’s Raithby Nr Louth, Lincoln Diocese
Nothing really special about my story and is probably very similar to the carol services of many small churches over the last few weeks.
We have had for many years a service the Sunday before Christmas. This year I suppose was no different except our vicar for the last four years has departed so like so many we are on our own again. The experience is not new so this year as before we had a simple traditional carol service with the lighting of the Advent candles 5 lessons and carols followed by mulled wine and mince pies. Father James advised me to keep it simple Barnie and let it flow and so it did. What made it special and so heartening this year was our little church in the wolds was filled with a congregation of over 80 made up of local families with mums and dads, grannies and grandpas and lots of children. It just seemed to make our battle to stay open and be recognised so worthwhile.
St Andrews Owston, Leicester Diocese
Owston is a small village in East Leicestershire with a population of just over 100 people.
St Andrew’s church is the remains of a 12th-century Augustinian priory where Christians have worshipped for over 800 years.
We only see a priest once a month and all the other services are conducted by the 2 churchwardens of whom I am one. Our vicar now has 10 churches to minister to. We are being pressed to give more and more money to the Diocese.
Last year we raised £95k to carry out urgent repairs to the spire and tower and East window without any financial help from the Diocese.
This year we have raised £21k to carry out further urgent work to the rainwater pipes and rebuild a section of the East wall which has bulged because water had got into the stonework. Again without any financial support from the Diocese.
On Sunday 18th December 2022 during a miserable cold wet evening 65 adults and 15 children attended our carol service which included a nativity play when Mary rode into church on a small pony (no donkey was available). It was glorious to see the church almost full. Afterwards mulled wine and refreshments were served. It was a marvellous community event.
That is why rural churches should receive more help.
The collection including gift aid raised £450.
St Mark’s Regent’s Park, Diocese of London
I write this article as the Licensed Lay Minister and Parish Clerk serving St. Mark’s, Regent’s Park. The cost of living crisis means that this Christmas is not an easy time for many people and so here at St Mark’s we offer what we can to lift people’s spirits by showing the love of God through our services and activities. One example is the beautiful singing by our choir in our beautiful building.
We have kept to our programme of carol services and have visited the social housing estate nearby to sing carols with the residents (now an annual event in our church diary). One of my duties is to ring around parishioners who cannot, for whatever reason, come to church and this offers them companionship, warmth, and a continued sense of belonging, particularly at Christmas time.
Frampton on Severn, Gloucester Diocese
Our church of St Mary’s held the Parish Carol service last Sunday, the church was lit with candles and more than 100 people came to sing and hear the readings, the youngest being four months old.
The school also held their Carol Service in the church last week, filling the church with children and their parents. The nursery school children also held their Nativity and ‘Singalong’ in the church and on yet another day the Open Door Group had a coffee morning with coffee and cake FoC for anyone who wanted companionship and good cheer.
St Peter and Paul Exton, Diocese of Portsmouth
Exton is a small parish set back from the main road and across the river Meon. There is a lot of faithful support for the parish church and it was decorated on Sunday, December 18 magnificently with greenery, candles, and ribbons, and Victorian oil lamps were lit. It was a foul, wet evening for the carol service, and there was competition from the World Cup final BUT the church was full. The pathway was illuminated by flairs. The Victorian organ was magnificently played and a choir had gathered and practised. Afterwards, hospitality was generously offered to all at the central Manor House. There was a touch of Thomas Hardy in the air. Timeless. Villagers of all ages and stages gathering. Carols sung. The Christmas message proclaimed. The parish is in vacancy, but all is alive and well in this tiny Hampshire village.
Willingale, Diocese of Chelmsford
St. Christopher’s Church Willingale at the heart of the community.
Willingale is a rural village in Essex with a dispersed parish population of approximately 500. Over the years our two pubs, school and shop have closed but our church, village hall and social club are the pillars of a strong community.
Snow in the second week of December gave us Christmas scenes especially on the evening of Friday 16th December when carol singers toured the village to the sound of the church bells and then stopped at the Christmas tree in the churchyard to sing. The tree is a holly that was planted to celebrate the Queen’s silver jubilee, a columnar yew was planted to mark the platinum jubilee.
The church held its carol service on Sunday 18th when the readers represented the various organisations of the parish, and mulled wine and mince pies were served afterwards. A true coming together of parishioners.
St. Christopher’s is central locationally and societally in this parish. The carollers, bell ringers and congregation look upon their locale as the parish. I cannot imagine the same camaraderie if we were not a parish but a remote, ethereal Mission & Ministry Unit.
St Michael & All Angels, Diocese of Leeds
We held a well-attended Christmas Carols and Readings on 11 December, a Carol concert is planned on the village green around the Christmas Tree, followed by mulled wine and mince pies in the Memorial Hall tonight 21 December, a Crib Service for families on Christmas Eve which always crams the church, and, finally, Holy Communion on Christmas Day morning.
The church will be bedecked with flowers for Christmas Day.
The church and village have contributed a substantial amount of food for our nearest food bank in the run-up to Christmas, and we have several Ukrainian refugee families staying with us. The church is the major focal point for the community at Christmas, and saving the parish is vital for all the residents and not just for those who worship regularly.
A Parish, Diocese of Hereford
The problem with our village is that we don’t know where the centre is. The church is on the highest point, of course, but roads meander into a cul-de-sac and there is no natural meeting place. The church Lychgate was nominated as the gathering point for 20 singers bedecked with torches and high visibility vests. Armed with song sheets from Embrace the Middle East and an official collecting tin – St Michael’s Hospice is a popular charity – a crowd of carollers forth they went together.
In the village, dark streets require torches to shine a light bright enough to illuminate our reflective strips. Motion detectors automatically switch on porch lamps, and Ring doorbells alert residents of the approach of the carollers gathered all above and down below.
Glor- or-or-or-or breath or-or-or-or -ia Ho sanna in ex cels is
The look on the faces of the householders changed from suspicion to shock, to surprised delight as they recognised that the neon-vested assembly were not disoriented road maintenance workers, but rather neighbours and colleagues who had travelled afar to take part in this odd tradition. It was also a joy for the carollers to peer into the comfortable homes, to see the children, the decorations and watch the parents scrabble around for some loose change. Who keeps cash in the house nowadays? A portable card reader would be a worthwhile investment for next year.
The first Nowell and an ill-advised descant.
As the drizzle intensified and song sheets sagged, the prospect of returning to the church, with a promise of mulled wine and mince pies, became ever more attractive. The church was officially closed in 2011, repaired in 2018, and the pews have recently been removed from the nave to prepare for its future use as a community hub. It’s a small church, with its origins in the 11th century and much altered since. The altar, windows and screen had been profusely decorated with holly and ivy, mistletoe and garlands of yew branches. Candles – LED – had been arranged on the panelling and, as the choir entered and prepared to sing Silent Night, the church lights were switched off. Breath steamed and shadows retreated as torchlight shone into the vaulted ceiling. The blend of voices high and low, young and old and the dim candlelight allowed us to imagine the occasions hundreds of years ago, in this very place, where people also stood and sang. If it is possible to reach back through the years, to mingle with our great-great-grandparents and consider their lives, the medium of a shared song might be the means of transport. The voices resonated, rebounding from the walls, rather than disappearing into the open air, and we felt that echo of timeless endeavour and praise. And many thanks for the delicious mulled wine and homemade mince pies.
We wish you a merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Towednack and Zennor Parish, Diocese of Truro
We have just been to the annual Christmas tree festival at Zennor Parish Church. It was a magical experience with different themed Christmas trees presented by local parishioners at the primary school. There was even a dinosaur tree arranged as a countdown to Christmas which I sent on to my grandchildren! There was a message tree for the people in our lives that we are missing. The local school was practising for their carol service and their excitement and sweet singing filled the Church.
How can we lose this precious Church that offers so much to us?
Ludham St. Catherine, Diocese of Norwich
Ludham is a handsome village of some 1400 people in the middle of the Norfolk Broads. One of a small benefice of three close-knit rural parishes. This is our first real Christmas since covid faded and we had hoped for a return to normal. Did it happen? The 70 villagers gathered on Saturday around the village Christmas tree in the churchyard and carolled lustily and the traditional service of lessons and carols on the following Sunday evening with over 80 in attendance told us that it certainly did (We also have quite a reputation for the quality of our mulled wine and homemade mince pies served afterwards!).
Why persistence? Our diocese wanted us to be part of an eight parish benefice, but steady and prolonged opposition has resulted in the small ‘Waterside’ Group with its own Vicar, who lives here with his family. Good local leadership and a supportive PCC always carry the day.
PS. Our church is in excellent nick and we pay our share in full.
Winterton Group, Diocese of Lincoln
Last night the Parish which is in interregnum due to my retirement hosted a Carols and Readings service. As ex-Vicar I was involved in the music side of things, being part of a band consisting of a couple of fiddles, cello, flute, accordion and several Ukuleles. Singing was joyous and spirited and we also had our local Singing for Pleasure group (Saints Singers) do some items thereby giving us musicians and the assembled congregation a rest.
Beer was available courtesy of our local friendly pub’s pop-up bar, so after I’d put my fiddle to bed I enjoyed a couple.
This regular event has of course not taken place for 2 years or so and when we started it, we took the church into the pub, hence the band, not organ, but after a few years the pub became way too small for us, especially if you were trying to play the fiddle as you DO need a spot of elbow room. So we moved it back into church and brought the pub with us.
A good time was had by all and it made a good start to the Christmas season, and this sort of event reflects the importance of our local Parish churches.
The Rev’d Alice Nunn
A Parish, Diocese of Hereford
Ours is a recently merged 6-parish benefice which until recently was 2 benefices with 2 full-time vicars. I am the curate living in the vicarage in one of the (old) benefices and arrived to find the parish church, in a village of some 1500 souls, totally cut off and irrelevant to the majority of parishioners. The previous vicar left some 3-4 years ago and was never replaced. The new vicar (of the larger benefice) lives in the neighbouring village and so is stretched in terms of time and also finds it difficult to be present locally.
This Christmas we set about advertising our services properly, engaged with the local (non-CofE) primary school and pub in order to establish some proper traction with the village. I have been a regular in the pub (a hardship I know) and also a regular leader of assemblies at the school and so the ground was set – essentially through a member of the clergy doing his job and being seen – as such we were able to create a Christingle service with the help of the school, so that the children made the Christingles one afternoon and also were taught Christingle carols – this service had an attendance of approximately 50 split equally between adults and children. We ran a Christmas party in association with a small after-school messy church and again had approximately 45 attendees – in both cases, 95% of attendees did not customarily attend church.
In conjunction with the village pub, we organised the local brass band to come and play carols, the pub closed off the taps for half an hour and everyone went outside in the cold and dark and we sang various carols. It was a lovely evening, well attended and a good number advised that they had come specifically to sing.
In all after a presence of roughly 6 months, it is exceptionally clear that local parish ministry, where the church is seen to engage with the community around it, works! The challenge now is to look to build on these small successes going into 2023.
St Stythians, Diocese of Truro
Our Church organist got the newly formed choir singing carols round the village in aid of St Petroc’s, the charity working to end street Homelessness.
At the same time as we started collecting toys for the Penryn Foodbank. Never seen so many toys. All on display in the Lady Chapel. The local primary school had their Carol service in St Stythian’s Church. A packed church. And a great event.
Then the school choir came and sang at the Church Carol service alongside our new choir. A packed community event, and a goodwill service followed by mulled wine and mince pies. Next up: Christingle on Christmas eve at 5pm. A candlelit service which all the local families come to. Plus midnight mass and then a communion service on Christmas day. In Jan we spark off with a Community Dog walk. Followed by a blessing in the church.
Ilminster, Diocese of Bath & Wells
I have just completed 50 years in this Diocese, mostly serving in small rural parishes (with 19 years teaching in a Sixth Form College as well); for several decades now we have chosen a local farm and had a ‘Stable Service’ there, with cattle, a donkey, sheep, and of course a real baby in the manger. The Angel Gabriel singing the appropriate solo verses of ‘While shepherds watched ..’ from the barn roof. . . . All designed to give children a real feeling of the Bethlehem Nativity; and decades later they still remember it. God bless you all.
The Rev’d John Tyler
Adlington Parish, Diocese of Blackburn
This Friday we will be singing carols and bringing the good news of Christ’s birth to the 10 hostelries in the middle of the parish. There are more, but these are the ones within wobbling distance of each. We will sing, chat, drink, raise money and have fun in the name of the Lord. This will prepare us well for our Christmas Eve Nativity, where 400 have booked to attend. We will then mark the birth of Our Lord at Midnight Mass and start all over again in the morning!
Sedlescombe with Whatlington, Diocese of Chichester
I write as one of the Churchwardens at Whatlington, the smaller church in a combined single Parish, now in our 14th month without a Priest – the vacancy is House for Duty and there has been next to no response to our adverts to date.
Our Archdeacon and Bishop of Lewes have been supportive, and we are extremely fortunate to have wonderful support from a local retired Priest, there has however been no real support at a Deanery level.
We started Advent with a 4 pm Evensong for Advent. Then on 11th December, we had a Confirmation with the Bishop of Lewes in our small rural East Sussex church, followed at 4 pm by a well-attended Candle Light Carol Service. This was much enjoyed but a little marred by the snow, which resulted in some awful journeys home for members of the congregation!
On Sunday 18th, despite the snow and ice we managed to hold our traditional Christmas Pageant, brought forward to 2 pm to avoid a clash with the World Cup. With the nearby village hall car park unsafe a nearby hotel allowed the use of their car park. The mixture of ice and rain meant that what is usually a partly outdoor event was all held in the church, we had children dressed to create the Nativity scene, a 12-piece brass ensemble in the gallery and in all some 64 adults and children, who stayed for mulled wine, soup and biscuits after the service.
On Christmas Eve we have an early ‘Midnight Service’ at 10 pm (so timed not to clash with our other and larger church) and this will be followed with festive refreshments. We do not have a service on Christmas Day at Whatlington, instead holding a combined service at Sedlescombe.
As a church, we strive to be flexible and imaginative, always seeking to reach out and encourage new people and we pray that 2023 will bring us a new Priest-in-Charge.
St Mary’s Warsash, Diocese of Portsmouth
The church has been packed out this December with a Carol concert by the Salvation Army band starting the season on the 4th of December, where we raised nearly £700 and had three carloads of goods for them to give to those in need this Christmas.
It was standing room at the back, with local people who rarely come to church, the local primary school choir sang and the 25-piece brass band of Portsmouth Citadel SA played carols for the first Christmas service of the month.
St Mary’s in Warsash does not have the capacity to do this on our own, we do not have the knowledge or volunteers, but the people of Warsash came together to help those in the diocese with the help of the Salvation Army. It was a great community event, an example of outreach involving different members of the community and the astonishing generosity of people is still being discussed.
Olveston Parish, Diocese of Bristol
Yes, Christmas is important to us – it always has been, but this is a tale of our whole year because it brings us happily up to Christmas.
We are a (relatively) wealthy rural parish, a part of 5 churches in the North Severnside Benefice, served by one clergy, supported by 2 retired vicars and a handful of lay preachers. Attendances at our Sunday and Wednesday services fell like a stone in 2020 and 2021, and 2022 didn’t start off very well either. Of course, we enter attendance numbers in our register but it was actually the numbers attending our monthly Monday Movie Club which shone a light on recovery. Most of our members are non-churchgoers but good people all the same.
The first 6 months’ films were poorly attended. Pre-pandemic, the average attendee numbers would be 50/60, but we were getting only 15 to 20. We talked about packing it in, despite having been successfully operating for 10 years.
Nevertheless, after our usual Summer break, we reopened in September – with 40 people present, then October – 60 and November and December 60 or so too. People were coming out of their shells for social communion.
Church attendances tend to vary from week to week, but when we compared the MONTHLY figures with the Movie Club – lo and behold, they matched! People are coming back to church, perhaps not quite as many as in 2019, but not far off, so let’s be grateful and pray that 2023 will see everywhere back to normal.
St Sampsons South Hill, Diocese of Truro
We are a deep rural parish of 500 residents and St Sampsons church is a focal point over Christmas. We had wonderful atmospheric carols by candlelight service, with choir, organ, fiddle and cello. The smell of mulled wine permeated the ancient church and we heard the age-old words of the Christmas story, whilst raising the (in much need of repair) roof.
We also had a cafe tingle service making our own Christingles and the following day hosted Sampson’s Supertots singing the jingle-ring and meeting Santa.
Despite the snow and rain, we had nearly 100 people through our doors, not counting the daytime pop-in visitors. That’s 20% of our community.
Benefice of Haughmond and Wrekin, Diocese of Lichfield
Around the village of Withington, we’ve worked with the PCC and wider parish to bring festive cheer whilst also increasing traffic to our social media pages and getting people talking about the church positively. A rattan star, festooned with fairy lights, has been moving around the village throughout Advent, stopping at a different villager’s house each night. People have been out each night, looking for the star and wondering where it will be next. The village Whatsapp has been awash with positive chatter about the church’s initiative, and we saw an increase in people at our Follow the Star Carol Service this weekend.
It was only meant to be for one year, but the villagers have already been asking if we can do something for them again next year. It’s really brightened the mood of the village and alerted some of them to the fact that their parish church is still here and still for them.
St Margaret East with West Wellow, Diocese of Winchester
Wellow is a parish of approx 3000 with an 800-year-old Grade I listed church building.
We have been in vacancy for over a year and are likely to be like that for another year with a proposal to merge us with 5 other parishes up to 10 miles away.
We are maintaining regular Sunday services with excellent visiting clergy provided by the Winchester Clerical Registry
This Christmas our Church was full for the Festival of 9 Lessons and Carols with excellent playing of the merry organ.
The Carol Service concluded our 3 day Festival of Christmas Trees and Cribs with an open church raising money for “Crisis at Christmas”. Our Christmas Market in the village hall raised close on £3000 to help pay our annual £35000 charge to the Diocese Fund.
Every week we hold a pay-what-you-like lunch for elderly and isolated people and a weekly coffee morning on another day in our warm and cosy church rooms. Christmas lunch today was excellent but we would like a Vicar or at least a house-for-duty priest committed to the Parish.