The annual tradition of a Christmas Candlelight Service at St. Peter’s English Sector started in the mid 1970’s with its introduction by Pastor Siegfrid Otto. The church lights are dimmed, the Christmas tree ablaze with lights sits in the corner, candles flicker on the altar. The Pastor lights the first candle and then the flame is passed and shared from one congregant to the next. A hushed silence falls upon those gathered as the organist begins to play the first strands of the carol Silent Night.
Why is this such a moving moment for me and for so many others that have come to enjoy this wonderful tradition? It isn’t as though I haven’t heard the popular carol before. It is sung over and over every year, for during this season, Christmas carols blare it at us constantly from speakers in every shopping mall and the radio. Along with songs about reindeer, snowmen and jingle bells, I find myself blocking out all this “holiday time” background noise. The words have lost their meaning within this context.
Did you know that there are even rock versions of the popular carol written in 1818 in Austria by Father Joseph Mohr (lyrics) and Franz Xaver Gruber (melody). But in the dark and quiet of St. Peter’s I am not distracted by the busy Christmas shoppers and marketing around me. I sit in the quiet darkness of the church of my forefathers and as I sing the words by flickering candlelight, their meaning is clear and moving – Heavenly hosts sing Alaleluia! Christ, the Saviour is born. And is this not the purpose of coming to church – to take a break from our hectic lives and reflect upon spiritual matters in order to gather food for our souls?
This year’s Christmas service was held on the evening of December 16 th by Pastor Richard French. Much to our delight a Toronto-based vocalist Jelena Ćirić was the guest soloist, accompanied by St. Peter’s new organist Hanne Becker. The service was followed by fellowship and the Sector’s traditional Pot Luck Dinner.
I thank Pastor Otto for starting this beautiful tradition, and all the other pastors who have served the English Sector for continuing with his moving evening service. Christmas is not complete for me until I’ve sung Silent Night by candlelight at St. Peter’s.