The Joy of the Advent Procession

Clergy Letter for November 2016, by the Rev’d Derwyn Williams

Advent CandleOne of the blessings of St Michael’s church is the range of our worship. We offer a variety of services in which God is praised and prayed to in different ways. Services can be with or without music, formal or informal, messy or unmessy, in the evening or the morning, on Sundays or weekdays, with or without Holy Communion. Across our range of acts of worship there’s space, I hope, for us diverse people to meet God in all sorts of different ways.

That’s great. And there’s nothing wrong with finding a way of worshipping that engages you with God, and making that style of service the centre of your offering of praise. It’s natural. The great thing about a ‘comfort zone’ is that we feel at home, at peace and relaxed there – a sense of comfort which gives space to calmly pray and think, without worrying whether we’re doing what we’re meant to. ‘Pray as you can, not as you can’t’, said a theologian once. It’s good advice: I don’t personally attend many Appalachian snake-handling services, as I find them too scary to pray properly (even when watching on TV).

Yet I wonder if sometimes we Christians might grow a bit more, if we stepped occasionally out of those ‘comfort zones’, and tried something different. God may perhaps have something to give us through occasional exposure to a new way of worshiping. We might possibly meet members of the church whose paths don’t often cross ours, and find them to be a blessing from God, or people whom we can bless. And if life’s commitments mean we don’t worship at the time we usually do one Sunday, it can be a healthy and profitable discipline of faith, to find another service when we make the commitment to devote time to God, even if it’s of a different style to our usual one.

So in the spirit of sharing some of the gifts of our varied church life, I’d like to begin an occasional series of articles on ‘The Joy of….Worship’. I propose to write about different services of praise which we offer to God here at St Michael’s. And perhaps you might be encouraged to come along to one or two services which you haven’t experienced before, and see if they help you on your journey with Jesus.

To begin, let me sing the praises of The Advent Procession. It happens once a year, in the darkness of Advent Sunday evening (6pm on 27th November, this year). The church is hushed, candles are lit, and old plainsong is used to engage us with the ancient Advent hope, which is also eternally new. The melodies take us out of time towards the hope of heaven. We sing hymns which give voice to our deepest longings: for peace, for consolation, for the presence of God to redeem and to heal. The singing of the choir gives space for meditation and reflection. Scripture passages remind us of the promise and the power of God to shape a kingdom different to the kingdoms of this world. And we are given a moment away from the frenzied, damaging rush that consumerism has made of the modern December. A moment to re-connect with what really brings value and meaning to our time on earth – the presence and the hope of God.

It’s beautiful. The Advent Procession isn’t very modern, trendy or modishly ‘relevant’ to our age of instant communication and self-absorption. Quite the opposite. It points us beyond ourselves. It employs words, ideas and musical modes which are far older than any of us, and which will continue to inspire long after we are all gone. And for that reason it seems to me to be deeply relevant and revelatory: directing us to deep, precious and lasting truths. Truths which we profoundly need to hear, in our impatient, superficial, throw-away contemporary culture. The Advent Procession. It’s joy and grace. Why not come and share it?


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