Upcoming Concerts and Events
Lessons and Carols
Saturday December 16, 2023
Christ Episcopal Church, Chattanooga
663 Douglas Street
Admittance Free | Donations Welcome
The traditional Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols grew from the ashes of the First World War. In 1918 former British army chaplain, Eric Milner-White was appointed Dean of King’s College Cambridge. His experience as an army chaplain had convinced him that the Church of England needed more imaginative worship. He devised a service of Nine Lessons and Carols upon his appointment as a means of outreach to those who felt alienated by the church or religion as a whole. Instead of a complex mass, this service was much simpler, alternating between choral anthems, congregational hymns, and lessons.
Although imaginative, the 1918 service was adapted from one drawn up by the then Bishop of Truro, E.W. Benson. The first Truro service took place at 10:00pm in 1880 in the large wooden structure affectionately known as a ‘shed’, which then served as Truro Cathedral. Archbishop Benson’s son recalled: ‘My father arranged from ancient sources a little service for Christmas Eve—nine carols and nine tiny lessons, which were read by various officers of the Church, beginning with a chorister, and ending, through the different grades, with the Bishop;’ a tradition that endures to this day at King’s.
Other churches adapted the service for their own use as soon as they heard about it: King’s was by no means one of the earliest adopters. What made Milner-White’s appropriation so significant, however, was that he introduced it immediately after the end of the First World War and used it as an occasion to invite the city to fill the college Chapel and to acknowledge the suffering of the community following the impact of the Great War. King’s College alone lost 211 men in the war. This loss prompted Dean Milner-White to write what he called a ‘Bidding Prayer’ to honor the fallen. It begins with a call to prayer and meditation that invites those who hear it to go ‘even unto Bethlehem’ in their imaginations. He calls all to make the Chapel ‘glad with our carols of praise’. Then he movingly urges the congregation to hold in prayer the many who then, as now, may be suffering from personal or shared toils. Finally, he invites the whole congregation to extend their prayer for those who have passed, and to recall their own loved ones with the sentence: ‘let us remember before God all those who rejoice with us but on another shore and in a greater light.’ In the congregation that day in 1918 would have been many who were bereaved by the violence of the war who would have felt the presence of their recently lost loved ones through the prayer.
In 1928 the service was first broadcast live on BBC Radio and was instantly popular. With the exception of 1930 and 2020, it has been broadcast live annually. It was heard for the first time overseas when, in 1932, it was transmitted on short-wave radio. In the years that followed, it was relayed to Italy, Switzerland France and the United States. The number of listeners in the United States is huge, with Minnesota Public Radio relaying it to over 400 other stations. In total there are estimated to be several hundred million listeners worldwide.
Lessons and Carols is now celebrated across denominations and in various forms throughout the world. The service we offer this evening is shares is traditional structure with the service celebrated at King’s. The nine lessons and carols told as a part of this service walk through the Christmas story from Earth’s creation to the arrival of the Magi to witness the birth of Jesus Christ in the manger. The scriptural readings are interspersed with choral presentations and hymns, all of which recall mankind’s longing for liberation from sin and death, and our hop and expectation for the birth of Christ.
The 2023 service will feature the festive sound of brass accompanying traditional carols, well-loved hymns, and reimagined anthems for choir and congregation.
Checkout our homepage for our full 2023-2024 season schedule!
Check back here as upcoming concerts draw near for more details.