The congregation at St George’s Church, Leeds, recently gathered together for their Contemporary Carols service to give a ‘fresh’ and ‘vibrant’ welcome to the festive season.
This annual service which features fresh arrangements of traditional carols and performances of artists including Ed Sheeran, Rudimental, Queen and Christina Perri has been held since 2006 and has brought many new faces into the church.
Chris Sayburn, Ordinand at St Barnabas’ in Leeds and head of the team organising the service, says, “Contemporary Carols is a vibrant alternative carol service that has been running on the first Sunday of advent for nine years.
“Over this time, we have been able to reach over 10,000 people in the city through our church services and engagement with local high schools.
“We have seen many people come to faith in Jesus and changed many perceptions of the Church and faith in Christ.
“In fact, one of our current staff members first came into contact with ‘Church’ through Contemporary Carols.”
He adds, “The service is held with three aims: to share the unchanging truth of the Gospel in fresh ways; to serve our congregation in their incarnational mission by offering a high quality attractional service they can invite their friends/colleagues to; and to act as a springboard for other relational contact through the Alpha Course, Networks (mission communities) and other services.”
The carol performances were led by Dan Hebden, leader of the Musical Worship Team, which included fresh arrangements of songs such as Once In Royal David’s City, In the Bleak Midwinter and Joy to the World using a wide range of instruments including, drums, guitars, keyboards, synths, loops, and brass.
The service also offered free mulled wine and mince pies for guests to help get into the Christmas spirit.
St George’s also ran the same service for Abbey Grange High School with just two acoustic guitars in one half an hour slot.
Chris Sayburn says, “Christmas is an amazing opportunity to reach people with the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ that transforms lives and places.
"Culturally, there is no doubt our society is changing.
“The historic downward trajectory of Church of England attendance in the UK is well documented.
“Hollinghurst argues in his book ‘Mission Shaped Evangelism’ that the church operates in a post-modern culture, or as he calls it ‘The Collapse of Christendom’.
“Whatever we want to call it, times have changed / are changing.
“At St George’s, we want be sharp in sharing in our culture and context."
Chris mentions, “At St George’s we already offer beautiful traditional Carol services alongside energetic, and let’s face it, slightly crazy Nativity services (of which one year we had a claustrophobic donkey who refused to go in the lift…or walk up the stairs!).
“However, we wanted to offer something different to the church and the city.”
He continues, “Through the service we take people on a journey (a key strength of Anglican worship) but we do it by using the carols against ‘popular songs’ and interspersed between the songs are short, sharp talks that share the grand narrative of the Christian story.
“As part of the grand narrative we focus in on the Gospel and offer an invitation for people to respond in the ways mentioned in the vision.”
Chris explains, “This year, our overarching Christmas theme is #unexpected.
“Following the lectionaries use of Luke’s Gospel we wanted/want to share the many unexpected occurrences in Luke.
“In Luke there is a ‘great reversal’ going on. It's the nobodies that are lifted high and the somebodies are brought down low.
“For Contemporary Carols, rather than looking at the Shepherds and the Angels and little baby Jesus still trying to work out colours and shapes etc. we wanted to journey through Luke 15:11-32, the story of the lost son, which is actually a story about two lost sons.
“Jesus shows us that you can be lost in wild living or proud living!"
St George’s also held Carols by Candlelight on Sunday 13th December, offering a more traditional carol service to the community featuring St George’s and St Augustine’s Choirs.
The Contemporary Carols service was filmed by Made in Leeds TV and the scaled down / edited clip, titled ‘Christmas at St George’s’, can be watched at the following link: http://www.madeinleeds.tv/player/