Advent and Christmas in Liverpool

Realistically, the thought of not being busy this time of year was dead at least by the time November rolled around, with more and more talk of the things called Carol Services and other activities. It turns out that I ended up at least as busy (and happily so!) as I was at University. And it’s been such an activity-filled month that I haven’t had a moment to stop and take stock of what Advent and Christmas is like in Liverpool. 

When I arrived here, it’s safe to say that I didn’t then expect to be performing in three months time in a theatrical production in the Cathedral’s Main Space. But the Director of Choral Outreach Stephen had me playing Bob Cratchitt in a musical version of A Christmas Carol, for which he wrote songs and a local music director wrote the script. The true stars of the production were the many school children who sang the songs, but folks from around the Cathedral pitched in to play a role and help get the whole thing together. It was quite the revelation to consider myself having a wife and six children as Bob Cratchitt!

Another new exciting part of my work at the Cathedral has been preparing for the Christmas Questionnaire. The Canon Theologian of Liverpool Cathedral, Canon Leslie Francis, put together a questionnaire in order to learn more about the folks who come to the services in Advent and Christmas at the Cathedral. We administered at both Carol Services on Christmas Eve, as well as the Evening Service on Advent IV called the Holly Bough Service. The questionnaire is designed in two parts, the first to be completed before the service begins, the next towards the end. The differences in the responses between the two parts—and between the responses between the surveys taken from the different services—-will hopefully tell us something about the people who come to these special services, and furthermore, how the Cathedral might attract them back. It was quite a production to make sure each soul received a questionnaire upon arrival at the Cathedral for each of the services. The first Carol Service on Christmas Eve at the Cathedral ends at 3pm and the next begins at 4, which meant myself, Jen, Canon Leslie and others were running around collecting questionnaires like mad before returning to the West End to distribute more to the next group of worshippers as they arrived! 

A word about the Holly Bough on Advent IV— I understand it to be a service originally created by the first Dean of Liverpool, Dean Dwelly. A Holly-adorned stand with five lit candles (four red, one white) is processed from the West to the East End of the Cathedral, or, from where the Nativity Scene is to the High Altar, over which the Crucifixion is enshrined in the Reredos. The holly, walked from “Crib to Cross” as it were, represents a central tension in the Christian Faith—the Baby in Bethlehem is also the Dying Savior on Calvary. These two salvific actins of the Savior betray an even deeper mystery of our faith, that through these events, we know for certain that the God of Bethlehem and Calvary loves each of us unconditionally and knows the inner life of our souls. 

I was very excited to lead Morning and Evening Prayer at the Cathedral a few times this month. Both Jen and I have cassocks in the Cathedral burnt-red color with cloth cinctures to wear when we take part in liturgies here, and we are both scheduled to lead Offices a few times between Christmas and New Year when many of the clergy are out on holiday. At Evening Prayer, we use the 1662 Prayer Book (the official BCP of the C of E), which means I now can speak Elizabethan English (sort of). It’s a simple service, but part of the daily round of worship that is the core of life here. The one thing the officiant does get to “do” is add their own (or read from a different book of) additional prayers at the end of the liturgy. The Dean has a great collection of books of prayers for this purpose. On each Wednesday evening, the Vergers place a basket of written prayers on the Altar before the service, prayers left by visitors throughout the week. At Wednesday Evening Prayer, then, we pray for what those visitors have prayed for. It’s a rather beautiful practice that speaks to the communion between those who pray—whether we actually know each other or not. 

Perhaps the greatest thrill is after the liturgy, when putting my cassock away in the Vestry. Whoever is the leader at any of the services signs the service register, a rather large book (in which I assume Justin Welby’s signature must appear because he was Dean here not too long ago!) with a fountain pen reserved for the purpose. 

I was prepared for many liturgies this Christmas, but expecting not much else since I’m away from home. However, Mentors extraordinary David and Debra picked me up after Midnight Mass to stay with them for Christmas Day, and the Dean invited Jen and myself for Christmas Eve dinner. While I certainly miss home and family, I’m also happy to be celebrating with my new family in Liverpool. 

And now I must return to finding prayers for the next time I lead Evening Prayer and beginning to tackle the boxes (and boxes) of questionnaires that await me in the office. 

May Christ, who by His Incarnation gathered into one things earthly and heavenly, fill us all with His joy and peace. 

Thanks for reading this update on my missionary blog! I’m a missionary of The Episcopal Church, serving in Liverpool, UK. Make sure to subscribe at the bottom of the home page to get an email when I next post an update. God bless, and thank you!

Eager to read more? Check out the “Meet the YASCers” page of the website of the Young Adult Service Corps (YASC) of the Episcopal Church to find the blogs of my missionary colleagues: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/YASC/meet-yascers.

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4 Comments

  1. I’m interested to know what form the congegants’ prayers took. Were they prayers of gratitude? Requests for divine intercession? Specific help (heal my husband), more general (heal the world), or more personally spiritual (heal my heart)? Or were they all over the place? Did you pray generally over all the prayers in the basket, or did you choose some to read? (Did you read them all?) If you chose some, how did you choose?

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    1. Ah! Just getting around to responding. I chose not to read any out–seems like an invasion of privacy. I believe the prayers ascend the Presence regardless if I’ve seen them or not. As such, I try not to look at them at all–though I often have to if they’re in front of me. Lots of healing prayers, across all the spectra you mentioned. Many are prayers for a loved one. Comments on the Questionnaire I also blogged about indicate the Cathedral is seen as a place of prayer and refuge, alive with God’s presence. I love that I’m around such a welcoming place of prayer.

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  2. Nelson, love reading your updates. Sounds as if your Christmas was frantic but very rewarding. So happy you had a “family” dinner! I pray for you daily. I hope I am able to post this; I have not been successful so far. Miss you! HUGS! Jill

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  3. Happy Holidays Nelson, thanks for posting info about your exciting adventures in Liverpool. Truly you are in the right place doing your missionary work. I am proud of you and wish you the very best as you continue your missionary journey. Looking forward to seeing your new blog. Miss you and would love to sit and chat with you when you get back home. Blessings Nelson. As ever, Jack

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