Sunday, 18 December 2011

Carols at Thornton Steward

St Oswald's Church, Thornton Steward

St Oswald's Church, Thornton Steward is approached down a long lane leading from the from the village. Driving out to the annual carol service on a dark and frosty evening, you can be forgiven for wondering if you have taken a wrong turn until, suddenly, through the trees - there it is, the lights flickering in the darkness! A dedicated member of the congregation waves a greeting and ushers you into the car parking spaces and there is a truly warm Wensleydale welcome. This church has been here since 1086 (the village, meanwhile, has moved a mile or two away) and today it is still lit by gas lights and candles and the enthusiastic singing accompanied on a foot-pumped harmonium. The site is almost certainly of Saxon origin or even earlier - Thornton Steward features in three of the best maps showing Saxon influence noth Yorkshire as a place of importance.

Decorated for Christmas

The church was beautifully decorated and surprisingly warm and it was three quarters full. We enjoyed a traditional service of lessons and carols followed by mulled wine, mince pies and all sorts of tempting snacks. I could not help but look around and be moved by the fact that the local community has been worshipping like this for so many centuries with little change. Some of the carols we sang could well have been sung two hundred years ago in much the same fashion. As we sang and listened, the story of the incarnation - God's dealings with the world - emerged in time honoured fashion and the sense of joyful anticipation that settles on congregations every year was there among us. Thank you, Thorton Steward, for a wonderful start to the celebration of Christmas! 

The warmth of worship was tangible

John Wesley's instructions for singing (1761)
  • Learn the tunes well.
  • Sing them exactly as they are printed without altering or mending them.
  • Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can.
  • Sing lustily and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength.
  • Sing modestly. Do not bawl so as to be heard distinct above others, that you may not destroy the harmony.
  • Sing in tune. Whatever time is sung, be sure to keep with it. Do not run before it nor stay behind it and take care not to sing too slow.
  • Above all, sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing Him more than yourself or any other creature.

What excellent advice which we might follow at our carol services this year! It is amazing how singing heartily and with enjoyment for an hour uplifts the spirit and opens us up to God!

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