A Benefice Christmas

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Christmas lights reflected in the painting of Madonna and Child at St Peter’s
St Peter’s
Every year, all the Advent and Christmas services which take place in the Dorchester and the Winterbournes Team Ministry are listed on this website. This is mainly due to the hard work of our webmaster Steve Ryder, who starts to gently prod the clergy for information several weeks before, and who creates the first draft, revises it several times and puts the final list onto the website.

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The chancel at St Thomas
St Thomas
As one of our website administrators, I then copy information from this list to several other places on the website, and I always marvel at the number and variety of Christmas services and events that happen across our nine Anglican churches. This year I found myself wondering: Would it be possible to go to one Christmas event in each of the nine churches? And so I sat down with website and calendar and tried to work it out…

First of all, the limiting factors. One – the smallest churches have very few services, so they would have to be worked into the calendar first. Two – as a member of the choir at St George’s church, there would be lots of times that I would have to be at St George’s. Three – it’s Christmas! There would be lots of other things going on!!

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Handbells at St Michael’s
St Michael’s
I love solving puzzles though, and this was better than Sudoku. After an evening’s work, I had a plan which would allow me to get to all the churches once, but still be at St George’s when I needed to be. And having found that it was theoretically possible, I figured that I’d better just get on with it.

First was St Peter’s, Dorchester, where I went to the Darkness to Light Advent Carol Service. At St Peter’s there is always a sense of being right in the heart of the community – so close that you can hear cars and people in the street outside – and yet the candlelight and the choral singing gave this service a real sense of peace. I sat next to Thomas Woodhouse, and whispered my plan to him, knowing that I was more likely to stick to it on dark winter evenings if I told someone about it.

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The Christmas star at St Mary’s, Winterbourne Abbas
St Mary’s, Winterbourne Abbas
Thomas suggested that if I was going to the Carol Service at St Thomas, Compton Valence, I might like to give a lift to Jeremy Powne of St Mary’s. I hadn’t met Jeremy before, but on the way there he told me a little about his links to the area, and I was very glad of his local knowledge as we drove down the pitch-dark lanes. It was a beautiful service, with the children and young people of the area doing the readings, and afterwards we went to the village hall for mulled wine and mince pies.

The next evening was The Light of the World service at St Michael’s, Winterbourne Steepleton. I had no idea that this small church could boast so many musicians! The service was filled with music: piano, organ, woodwind, strings and a choir that packed the chancel. And to top it all off – the truly lovely and joyous sound of handbells. More mulled wine and mince pies afterwards – this time in the church.

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Christmas trees at St Mary’s, Dorchester
St Mary’s, Dorchester
St Mary’s, Winterbourne Abbas was next, for their Carol Service. In between the music and the bible readings, there was also poetry, the music of words. I managed to persuade my younger son Calvin and his friend to come with me, and we squeezed into a pew near the back and I thought about how lovely it was to be with family. Mulled cider with our mince pies for this one!

The Sunday before Christmas, and it was time to go to St Mary’s, Dorchester, for the Community Carol Service. St Mary’s looked quietly elegant as usual, with gorgeous flowers and the clergy all dressed up in their finest, and the choir sang beautifully. I particularly loved their rendition of Lully Lulla Lullay by Philip Stopford, a modern version of the Coventry Carol, which sent shivers down my spine.

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Christingles at St Andrew’s
St Andrew’s
On Christmas Eve I went to St Andrew’s, West Stafford for the Crib and Christingle Service. All the children were invited to dress up, and as there were more parts in the Nativity than there were children, I got to put on a tinsel halo and pretend to be an angel – brilliant. After the Nativity, which involved lots of audience participation and animal noises, we were given Christingles to take home.

There was only one place I wanted to go for Holy Communion on Christmas Day, and that was my home church of St George’s, Dorchester. On Christmas Day, we choose the carols by shouting out hymn numbers, and our wonderful organist, Evelyn Kingman, will immediately play whatever is requested. My family and I sang along with the congregation of regulars, visitors and occasional churchgoers, and I felt very blessed.

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Various knitted animals surround the crib at St George’s
St George’s
With Christmas Day over but the Christmas season still going, there were just two churches left to visit. On the Sunday after Christmas, it was time for Favourite Carols at St Martin’s, Martinstown, where all the carols had been chosen by the congregation, some of whom got up to talk about their choices. There were also Banns to be read and notices to be given out, so the whole service had a lovely community feeling, and I was made to feel very welcome.

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Greenery decorating the outside of St Martin’s
St Martin’s
Last but of course not least – on the Feast of the Epiphany, my husband Stuart and I cycled to St Simon & St Jude, Winterborne Monkton for Holy Communion. We were warmly welcomed by Thomas Woodhouse and the small congregation, and congratulated on achieving the full set of nine churches! It was lovely to be there and I enjoyed the Book of Common Prayer communion service, which I haven’t experienced for many years.

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Christmas flowers in the chancel at St Simon & St Jude
St Simon & St Jude
So, nine churches visited, dozens of carols sung and much consumption of mince pies and mulled wine. It did take up a bit of time, and as a result, some things didn’t get done (my apologies to those of you who didn’t get Christmas cards) – but each service was an absolute blessing and I enjoyed it so much. Thank you all for making me welcome, and can I encourage some of you to take up the baton next year and have a go?