St Andrew, Glencairn

Glencairn Methodist Church

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Christmas 2015

For the first 17 years of my life we lived in south Belfast, on the Donegall Pass to be precise. The junior primary school I attended was only 50 yards away, and while I attended the Belfast Model School for Boys on the Cliftonville Road for senior primary classes, it was only a door-to-door bus ride away on the no 77 Gasworks to Waterworks bus. I then went to RBAI which was only a 15 minute brisk walk into town. But we attended All Saints Church on University Avenue, also about a 15 or 20 minute walk, rather than the church of St Mary Magdalene which was only across the road, because All Saints was my father's church from boyhood. We worshipped there every week and I was a member of the 16th Belfast BB, going to activities four or five nights per week as well as Sunday BB Bible class and church Sunday School. I could have joined the more prestigious 1st Belfast Company in the Magdalene. I had a good boyhood, a happy family life and enjoyed most things I took part in. I particularly enjoyed Christmas, through my Santa years, and the "keeping the secret" years while my brother grew through his. There always seemed to be a crowd in our house, including grannies and granddads and aunts and uncles. It was a magical time for a young boy and I have never lost that feeling of Christmas being very special. Eventually I began to understand something about the Incarnation, which is what might be called an unprecedented, and special, event. Something out of the ordinary, something God did purposefully. The traditional carol service introduction to the 9th reading, from St John's Gospel, is "St John unfolds the mystery of the Incarnation". It is, indeed a mystery. (By the way, you have probably worked out by now what age I shall be next month. It is indeed a "prime" age and Emma knows all about prime ages!)

There was one disappointment that I remember. The practice in All Saints was that confirmation services were held only in alternate years in December, AND you have be 14 or over to qualify. In December 1956 I was only 13 years and 11 months, and while many of my friends in the same year group at school would be confirmed, I had to wait another two years, when I would be a month shy of my 16th birthday. Quite old I thought. This rule was a bit like the Laws of the Medes and Persians - immutable. But I think the wait was good for me as I developed considerably in that time and was ready and eager to make my Christian confession in the confirmation service. Confirmed on 7th December, I made my first communion the following Sunday at the 8.30 a.m. service along with most of the rest of the confirmation class.

But what I was really looking forward to was getting up early on Christmas Day and going to the 7.30 a.m. Holy Communion before breakfast. At that time All Saints had not yet discovered the concept of the late night Holy Communion of Christmas. There usual pattern of Sunday services was 8.30 Holy Communion. 11.30 Morning Prayer and 7.00 Evening Prayer. Once a month they held what some people called "mangled Matins". That is Morning Prayer up to the end of the Third Collect plus Sermon followed by a "time out" when people could leave, followed by Holy Communion from the Offertory. This would have been my regular HC service. They had also not discovered the concept of Parish Communion. They held an extra Communion service at 7.30 a.m. on Easter Day and Christmas Day only. I was only to enjoy two more of these because we moved to North Belfast when I was 17 and we joined Holy Trinity which had both "midnight mass" at Christmas and monthly Parish Communion. They even had an Advent Wreath with candles. Like many protestant churches 50 or 60 years ago, All Saints had a "thing" about candles.

In Holy Communion we celebrate the other "mystery" of Jesus, the Resurrection. This is the second great unprecedented, and surprising, event that God did purposefully. But bring the two together and we can see more clearly the "magic and sparkle" of Christmas. Tonight let us just savour the mystery and enjoy the moment.

Ken (24th December 2015)


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