Christmas at Wimborne Minster
The Minster Church of St Cuthburga in Wimborne comes alive in a special way during the Christmas season, writes the Rector, Canon John Holbrook.
Published in December ’07
this photograph was taken in the Minster almost twenty years ago, the message
of Christmas and the pleasure that it brings are timeless.
We often hear complaints that the
build-up to Christmas starts too early. At the Minster our preparations begin
in September – of the previous year! That’s when we begin planning the diary
for December fifteen months ahead to ensure that all the various schools and
local organisations can have their carol services and special seasonal
concerts. Last year we hosted almost thirty festive events in addition to our
own programme of regular worship. In December, over 5000 people come through
the doors, filling the building and raising the roof with traditional and
contemporary carols, beautiful music, often exquisitely performed, and both
familiar and surprising readings. All of this makes for a busy but wonderfully
joyful month, sharing in so many different celebrations.
the Minster enjoy a white Christmas this year?
It also means that by Christmas
Day, I will have sung ‘Once in Royal David’s city’ at least once too often and
made myself hoarse singing ‘Hark’ with the herald angels. It can sometimes be a
struggle to keep the ‘watching and waiting’ season of Advent with its eager
anticipation in the midst of so much Christmas cheer, but I am still captivated
by the message described in the carol service as ‘the tale of the loving
purposes of God’. My heart is full when, just after midnight on Christmas Eve,
we reach the final verse of ‘O come, all ye faithful’, which is traditionally
reserved for Christmas morning, and we begin to sing:
‘Yea, Lord, we greet Thee, born this
Jesus, to Thee be glory given;
Word of the Father, now in flesh
O come, let us adore Him
O come, let us adore Him
O come, let us adore Him, Christ
Our festivities this year will
start on Saturday 1 December at 3.30 pm with carols in the Market Square and
the annual blessing of the Christmas tree before the official turning on of the
Christmas lights sponsored by the Wimborne Chamber of Trade. A few years ago I
told the legend of the spider who saved Jesus from King Herod’s murderous
soldiers. On their escape to Egypt, Mary, Joseph and the baby sought shelter in
a cave. A spider, trying to serve the newly born saviour, spun a web across the
entrance in a vain effort to keep him warm. When the soldiers arrived, seeking to
kill all the little boys, they saw the spider’s web sparkling in the morning
sunshine and said to each other, ‘There can’t be anyone in this cave or the web
would be broken”. So they moved on! It is claimed that the tinsel sparkling on
our trees is a reminder of that spider’s web. True or not, it’s a great story.
west inside the Minster to the pews which will be full of worshippers for
Midnight Communion on Christmas Eve.
The focus then switches to the
Minster with the beautiful and deeply moving Advent candlelit procession on
Sunday 2 December at 6.30 pm. This is a lovely occasion for those looking for
some quiet reflection in the midst of their busy preparations. Father Christmas
visits Wimborne for the grand Save the Children parade on the 8th,
accompanied by civic leaders, the militia and countless colourful floats. The
town fills with people eager to enjoy the spectacle and soak up the festival
In recent years, the annual
children’s nativity play, written and directed by Tracey Nicholls, has been
tremendous fun, re-telling the greatest story ever told with humour and
reverence. This year it will take place during the 9.45 am service on 16
great arches and pillars of the Minster
have looked down on more than
celebrations of the Christmas season
Christmas is a busy time for all
the Minster staff, including the parish office, our verger, children’s leaders,
flower arrangers, our team of bell ringers and especially for the choir. Under
their Director of Music, David Gostick, and Sub-Organist, Sean Tucker, they
will practise throughout the autumn to be at their best for the Minster carol
service at 6.00 pm on Sunday 23 December. This is always one of the highlights
of the year.
For many years it has been our
custom to give away to other charities all of our special Christmas
collections. One of my favourite tasks is to select these good causes and
recently we have supported projects for the homeless, youth centres, local
hospices, AIDS victims, Christians in the Sudan and many other charities.
Minster’s twin towers, seen here across the wintry meadows of the Stour, are
In the immediate run-up to
Christmas, the clergy and our team of Lay Pastoral Assistants will make large
numbers of home visits to those who cannot get to church during the festival
and to patients and staff of the Victoria Hospital. This is a very special
ministry and these visits are really appreciated.
The family crib service on the
afternoon of Christmas Eve is one of our best-attended events of the year and
always springs some surprises. Last year saw grown men dressed as angels! By
Midnight Communion, which starts at 11.30 pm on Christmas Eve, we could be
forgiven for feeling exhausted, but nothing can take away from the magic of
that night. In recent years we have welcomed the Archdeacon of Dorset to
conduct the service. I am always moved by seeing the crib with the Christ-child
in the manger for the first time, hearing the clock strike midnight, greeting
people with ‘Happy Christmas’ and welcoming our new-born King. I love the
opportunity of preaching on this occasion, trying to explain why Christmas
helps me make joyful sense of life.
Christmas Day is full, with services at 8 am,
9.45 am, 11.15 am and in the hospital, but is characterised by great happiness.
The 9.45 am service always concludes with the choir singing ‘We wish you a
merry Christmas’ from the chancel steps.
The celebrations continue into the
New Year. At midnight on New Year’s Eve, as the bell ringers are preparing to
ring in 2008, I shall be privileged to join the town’s Mayor, town crier and a piper
on the balcony of the ‘King’s Head’ in the Market Square to celebrate the start
of a New Year.
On the first Sunday in January we
join with our friends at Wimborne Methodist Church for their annual Covenant
Service, which is an opportunity to re-dedicate ourselves to God for the coming
year. Finally, the Christmas season comes to an end on the feast of Candlemas
(3 February), when in the evening the choir process singing around the Minster
by candlelight. It is quite beautiful. And then – two days later we shall
celebrate Shrove Tuesday with our ever-popular pancake races, keep Ash
Wednesday and start preparing for Easter!