Clergy Letter for February 2019, by the Rev’d Derwyn Williams
It was some time in the 1970s, I can’t quite remember exactly when. News went round the village (by word of mouth in those days) that something new was happening. There would be a special service called a Christingle, with a collection to support The Church of England Children’s Society. I knew a little about the Children’s Society, to give it its modern, abbreviated title, since we collected funds for it each December when we sang carols around the village. And the Christingle service sounded interesting. So I went along.
I don’t remember much about the service, except that the Christingles, when they appeared, looked rather strange objects, to my boyish mind. An orange with some red tape around it, four cocktail sticks pointing upwards out of the fruit, with raisins skewered upon them. And a candle in the middle, which no doubt we lit. Presumably we were told about the symbolism of the Christingle: of the orange which represents the world God has made, the fruits which represent his gifts to us, the ribbon showing us Christ’s loving blood-sacrifice which surrounds the world, and his light represented by the candle shining in the darkness. I seem somehow to have ‘always’ known what the Christingle means. But I mainly recall thinking that the Christingle service was very different from Matins, which I usually went to, and wondering if this strange new ritual would catch on.
My village’s first Christingle was one of the early ones held in the Church of England. The idea started at Lincoln Cathedral in 1968. So this Christingle season has marked the 50th anniversary of its introduction to England. Happy Birthday, Christingle!
Originating as a Moravian tradition, the Christingle was taken up by the Children’s Society as a way to share Christ’s message of light, as well as raising funds and awareness of its work as a charity. Many Christingle services continue as ‘Children’s Society’ services. But the Christingle has taken on a life of its own, now popping up in churches and schools in all sorts of contexts and formats. For some people it’s their annual moment to come to church.
I still feel a bit of my boyhood ambivalence about the Christingle and wonder about its attraction. I guess for the children there are the sweets (which seem to have displaced the raisins of my youth). And for the adults there’s the prospect of seeing small children’s faces lit by candlelight and gazing in wonder. But when I use my imagination and really think about all its symbols, I begin to see its power. I think of the world, so small. And so precious, like an orange to an eighteenth century Moravian. I think of my fortune in enjoying such an abundance of the earth’s fruits. And I think of the cost of Jesus’ love, its grand embrace of us all, and the light it brings to our darkness. When I really think about the Christingle I’m grateful for it, and for the pioneers who brought it here when I was small.
Perhaps you come to our Christingle every winter. It’s on 3rd Feb at 10 am this year. Maybe you haven’t come to one for ages, or perhaps it’s just not an occasion for you. But if you’d like to join us in this anniversary season, to worship Christ, remember old times, share the wonder, or just give thanks for 50 years of Christingle, you’ll of course be most welcome. May Christ’s light be with us always.