This year, the season of Advent has been as long as it possibly can be – a full four weeks. In 2017, quite the reverse happens with the Fourth and final Sunday of Advent, also being Christmas Eve!
I have very much appreciated the length of the Advent season this year, for a number of reasons. One slightly selfish reason is the cause of Advent lasting fully four weeks – the result of Christmas Day falling on a Sunday, which is every clergyperson’s delight! No need for services on three successive days, or on three out of four days. Instead, a full week beforehand, to prepare for services on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and then an uninterrupted week afterwards, to take as a post-Christmas break 🙂
I also very much appreciated the way the Sundays fell in Advent this year, allowing me to hold a Service of Lessons and Carols in Dresden, Brno and Prague on separate Sundays. Last year, the Brno and Dresden services had to be held on the same Sunday evening.
As happens each year, I arrived at Church in Prague on Advent Sunday morning, to be greeted by a beautiful hanging Advent ring, with the first candle already lit. This is one of the joys of borrowing the Church building from our host Kliment congregation of the Ceskobratská Církev Evangelická / Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren – the main Czech Protestant Church. They provide the Advent ring at no cost to us! All we have to do is ensure we snuff out the candle(s) at the end of our service, as part of our duty of leaving the building safe and secure.
In previous years, the candles have always been red. This year, for no apparent reason of which I am aware, the candles are white. Certainly they seem to be of a better quality as, over the four Sundays of Advent, none of them has burnt down so much as to need being replaced, despite one of them being alight for nine services 🙂
On the evening of Sunday 4th December, the second in Advent, I conducted the December English-language Anglican Service in the Frauenkirche, Dresden – A Service of Nine Lessons and Carols for Christmas. At the equivalent service last year, I was introduced as the new service coordinator and read one of the lessons. This year, I had to organise the complete service, including finding several different readers.
I fortunately inherited the tradition of a Berlin-based choir, the Embassy Singers, under their musical director Andrew Sims, singing at this service. They sang five choir items as well as supporting the congregational carols. A number of choir members volunteered to read and I took Lay Reader Jack Noonan along with me to also be one of the lesson readers.
Here he is, posing with the choir whilst I was shaking hands with the departing congregation who I suspect numbered about two hundred.
On the evening of Sunday 11th December, I conducted a Service of Lessons and Carols in Brno, marking the fifth anniversary of our first ever Brno service held on 18th December 2011. Despite getting the service well publicised we were only a little congregation of sixteen people but we still made a joyful noise with our carol singing. Most importantly, all those who attended expressed their enjoyment of the service.
On Sunday 18th December, I didn’t travel anywhere further than within Prague itself. It was the one Sunday in the year when we hold two services, our regular 11.00 Sung Eucharist in the morning and a Service of Lessons and Carols in the evening. For both services we were blessed by having a visiting choir of Old Blundellians – former students of Blundells School, Tiverton, Devon UK, under their recently retired music master Andrew Barlow.
In the morning, they sang a setting of Kyrie, Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei, written by Andrew Barlow, together with an Introit, and two anthems during the administration of Communion. In the evening, they sang five choir carols as well as supporting the congregational ones. I particularly enjoyed their final choir carol – ‘In the bleak mid-winter’, to a setting by Harold Darke.
Along with wonderful congregational singing and choral music, probably the most encouraging aspect of Advent 2016, has been the number of people attending worship in Prague on each Sunday morning. This has ranged from 73 to over 80 when our normal average Sunday attendance is around 50 – basically a 50% increase! Unfortunately, I’ve no photographs to illustrate our Advent worship at St Clement’s, Prague, so instead I finish with a photograph of one of several magnificent sunsets that we had during the early days of December.