First Baptist hosts Advent service and reception

King's College, Cambridge, has been the site of the BBC's "Carols from King's" broadcast since 1928

As part of its Advent season observances, First Baptist Church of Greater Cleveland will present a service of Lessons and Carols, followed by an International Tea reception, on Sunday, Dec. 15, at 4 p.m. All are welcome to attend this traditional service, and the reception afterward, which will be held in the church’s Spahr Center, and feature edible treats from many countries around the world.

The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols is a service of Christian worship that is traditionally celebrated on Christmas Eve. Thanks to the inspiration of Bob Schneider, the church’s late music director, the First Baptist Chancel Choir several years ago began presenting this traditional service during Advent, as a  way to prepare hearts and minds for the coming celebration of the birth of Christ.

In the service, the story of the fall of humanity, the promise of the Messiah, and the birth of Jesus is told in short Bible readings—or “lessons”—from Genesis, the prophetic books, and the Gospels, interspersed with the singing of Christmas carols, hymns and choir anthems.

Until the late 19th century, Christmas carols were primarily performed by singers visiting houses. Generally considered to be secular in content, carols had been excluded from Christian church worship.

In the Victorian era, the rising popularity of hymnody encouraged church musicians to introduce carols into worship services.

On Christmas 1878, the composer and organist John Stainer introduced carols into the service of Choral Evensong at St Paul's Cathedral in London. In 1880, Rev. Edward White Benson, at that time Bishop of Truro Cathedral, conducted the first formal service of Nine Lessons and Carols on Christmas Eve. Benson, concerned at the excessive consumption of alcohol in Cornish pubs during the festive season, sought a means of attracting revelers out of the pubs and into church by offering a religious celebration of Christmas. The first Nine Lessons and Carols service took place there at 10 p.m. on Christmas Eve, with more than 400 in attendance.

In 1918, Rev. Eric Milner-White, the new Dean of King's College, Cambridge, introduced the service to the college chapel, taking advantage of the established choral tradition of the King's College Chapel Choir. It proved highly successful, and began an annual tradition from 1919 onward, with some alterations to Benson's original format. Notably, Milner-White introduced the tradition of opening the service with a solo treble (child) singing "Once in Royal David's City”—a tradition that First Baptist observes each year.

The BBC began to broadcast the service on the radio in 1928 and on television in 1954, establishing “Carols from King's” as the most popular and widely recognized presentation of the service. It can be heard here in Cleveland every Christmas Eve on WCLV 104.9 FM.

Even during the Second World War, despite the stained glass having been removed from the Chapel, and the lack of heating, the broadcasts continued. (For security reasons, the name "King's" was not mentioned during wartime broadcasts.)

G. Michael Skerritt

G. Michael Skerritt is a retired engineer and a member of First Baptist Church. Music and theater are his avocations.

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Volume 12, Issue 12, Posted 11:52 AM, 12.03.2019