Fourth Advent Sunday, December 20, I visited First United Methodist Church in downtown Anchorage on the Parkstrip. I was intrigued because they advertised a service of A Celebration of Lessons & Carols for Christmas. Despite my weak welcome, the service morphed into a treat of word and song unlike anything else I’ve experienced in Anchorage. It was an amazing display of talent for a smaller congregation. Churches many times their size are unable to muster the numbers of people needed to make this type of presentation. I was disappointed more of Anchorage was not there to enjoy this wonderful service.
Regular readers know I mention this often, but a weak welcome lessens the chance a visitor will ever return. My entrance this morning was noted with a handshake and greeting by a younger man in some type of robe. I proceeded unimpeded and otherwise unnoticed into the sanctuary after taking time to help myself to a cup of coffee. In performing this ritual in most churches, I provide an opportunity for churches to extend themselves.
Methodists have a strong liturgical tradition, often lengthy services, but for this service it was kept extremely short. The service started on a high note with a brass quartert, (trumpets, trombone, and tuba) playing. After preliminary announcements by the Rev. Debra Lindsay-Hudgins, slendidly attired in a native kuspuk, lovingly crafted by a congregation member, FUMC’s talented and versatile organist, Janet Carr-Campbell, played a traditional carol prelude. The call to worship was followed by “O Come All Ye Faithful” with organ, brass, choir and congregation joining voices. It was wonderful. After the invocation by Rev. Lindsay-Hudgins, the main program commenced.
The service was structured around seven lessons, each lesson based on a particular scripture and it’s reading. I’ll briefly describe each lesson below.
First Lesson – Isaiah 9:2, 40:5, 7:14
After this reading the Advent candles were lit by one of the church families. Soloist Lauren Green then beautifully sang Handel’s “Rejoice Greatly” from the Messiah.
Second Lesson – Luke 1:26-33, 46-49
This reading was followed by choir and all singing “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus”..
Third Lesson – Luke 2:1-7
We all joined in singing “O Little Town of Bethlehem” after the reading.
THE ANGELS AND THE SHEPHERDS
Fourth Lesson – Luke 2:8-14
A beautiful rendition by the chancel choir women of well-known composer Craig Courtney’s song “Where Shepherds Lately Knelt” echoed a message of the real impact of Christ’s birth.
AT THE MANGER
Fifth Lesson – Luke 2:15-16
Once again Lauren Green sang, this time the beautiful solo from the Messiah, “He Shall Feed His Flock”.
THE VISITATION OF THE MAGI
Sixth Lesson – Matthew 2:1-11
“God Rest Ye Merry” was the focus of the music, given in wonderful bell tones by the Handbell Choir.
A WORD OF BLESSING FOR ALL
Seventh Lesson – “Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem” by Maya Angelou
This extraordinary poem is truly amazing for it’s power in it’s brevity concluding with:
“And we say without shyness or apology or hesitation:
Peace, My Brother.
Peace, My Sister.
Peace, My Soul.”
In a rousing climax the chancel choir sang “Jazz Gloria” by Sleeth. A very contemporary reminder in the jazz idiom of what Christmas is really all about.
Wow! I enjoyed the time at First Methodist and was truly ready for Christmas. The instrumentalists, vocalists, readers, choir, Rev. Debra’s music directing husband, Douglas Lindsay, and of course Rev. Debra herself, all certainly deserve thanks for their Christian love and hard work in bringing this wonderful celebration to the Anchorage community. I certainly enjoyed every aspect of this service.