Each and every pew is filled at Redeemed Christian Fellowship on Saturday afternoon. Individuals patiently wait in a dimly lit room for the Ecumenical Service of Lessons and Carols. People are dressed in their winter coats, flipping through the pages of the program, minutes before the start time. Soon, an echoing chant fills the room. The service is about to begin.
The Ecumenical Service of Lesson and Carols features Marist singers, Chamber String Ensemble, Handbell Choir, and Campus Ministry. It is a 25-yearlong tradition that started out small then blossomed into a large event. It began as a tiny ceremony in the college’s chapel with just a few of the singers. Then, the event grew sizable enough that it had to be moved to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church located on Mill Street.
But eventually, the service needed an even bigger space to accommodate the large turnout every year. Moving the event to Redeemed Christian fellowship on Cannon Street was the answer. The space can hold a crowd up to 800 people. Inside there are several rows of brown, wooden pews, golden arches above the altar, and stained glass windows throughout the church.
The service commenced with a prelude, “The Oxen,” sung by the freshman women’s choir. The attention was on the choir who stood in the front of the room dressed in long, black gowns. The handbell choir then started to chime in. The bells were rung in a way that instantly set the tone to the Christmas spirit.
“It kicks off the Christmas season and it’s an opportunity to celebrate the beginning of Advent which is presented in the early readings,” said Campus Ministry Director Brother Frank Kelly. “As the service goes through– it progresses to the birth of Jesus. So the event is just a really nice bridge from Advent to Christmas.”
During the ceremony, the crowd listened intently to carols such as “O Come, O Come, Emanuel,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and “Silent Night.” Sarah Williams, the director of choral activities conducted the choir, wearing an adorned, grey evening gown. She moved her hands rapidly while mouthing the lyrics, as the singers astutely followed her gestures.
“I’m beyond proud. Students that harness their love of music and give it as a gift –are the next generation of greatness,” said Williams.
Later in the service, the crowd participated in an “illumination.” Everyone held a candle that was distributed at the door. Usher men lit the candle of the person sitting on each end of the pew. Then, that person turned over to light the candle of the individual sitting next to them. It was a domino effect.
The lights were turned down low. Soon, the whole church transformed into a sea of lights with candles shining in the air. The orchestra played an instrumental, peaceful tune to set the mood.
Brother Frank Kelly concluded the service with a closing prayer. The ending hymn was “Hallelujah.” The audience was invited to come up to the altar to join in on the singing. About 20 members of the crowd took the opportunity.
“It’s a really good event for everyone who comes to church and they get to experience all the songs we sing and get to sing along if they know the songs too,” said Marist singer, Brittany O’Reilly. “We always do the traditional lessons and carols–it’s a packet of all these different songs that everybody knows. So it’s really exciting.”
Members of the crowd left, smiling. They chatted about the service that helped them get into the spirit of the holiday season.
“The service was beautiful and I enjoyed hearing the talented singers and musicians in this room. It really put in perspective for me, the true meaning of Christmas,” said parishioner Thomas Gordon.