Christmas Eve, 24 December 2013, 11.30pm
Ministers: the Reverend David W Denniston, the Reverend Charles Robertson and the Reverend Jane M Denniston
Bah Humbug! Soul Searcher is not a fan of Christmas, at least not of most of it. Yes to turkey and sprouts, but no to rampant consumerism, queuing in Sainsburys and the awful loop of Christmas pop songs played just about everywhere from mid-October onwards.
But I couldn’t not go to church on Christmas Eve. My dear friend C, the cafeteria Catholic at whose behest I attended St Peter’s last year, kick-starting the whole year of blogging, had suggested a return visit, but then she bottled out, so no brownie points for her. So I thought I’d try St Cuthbert’s, last experienced through a fug of soup odour in May, the week the general assembly was in town and Princes Street gardens were playing host to the Heart & Soul festival.
No soup this time, but lots of electric candles to light the first half of the service, until the house lights came up at midnight. A reversal, if you will, of the Tenebrae service at Old St Paul’s, with all the lights going out until we ended in darkness.
St Cuthbert’s is one of those churches that seems too ornate to be CofS, with friezes and frescoes and all manner of fripperies to distract the eye. They also have an organ, played by one Dr Jeremy Cull, who treated us to Bach’s Christmas chorales from the Orgelbuchlein on the way in and Widor’s Toccata in F on the way out. After all the dire “praise” music I’ve endured this year, it’s nice to hear some old-school church music played well.
But as for the choir, well, not so great. Six feeble voices were largely drowned out by one of the male ministers (wasn’t sure which was which) who left his microphone on throughout all the hymns, although they attempted a feeble descant for See in Yonder Manger Low. I feared that they might try the same for O Little Town of Bethlehem and O Come, All Ye Faithful, but we were spared what could have been a car crash.
Congregational enthusiasm was difficult to judge because of the mic’ed-up minister, but there were 60-something people in various degrees of mufflement against the mid-winter weather, although one woman had opted for bare arms, bare legs and peep-toe stilettos. Brrrr! Soul Searcher, who likes to be prepared for draughty churches, wore her new hat, crocheted by her own fair hand, but still found herself coveting her neighbour’s white fleecy, furry, ear-flappy, tie-under-the-chin hat. But Where did you get that hat? wasn’t what we were there to hear about.
The carols were: On Christmas Night All Christians Sing, Child in the Manger, See in Yonder Manger Low (complete with errors on the OHP), While Humble Shepherds, O Little Town of Bethlehem, Still the Night, Joy to the World (which I didn’t realise had quite so many verses), and O Come, All Ye Faithful.
The readings were Isaiah 9:2-7, Titus 2:11-14, and Luke 2:1-20, and the sermons, or “talks”, of which there were two for some reason, were about the innkeeper, starting with a grim little piece of doggerel called “The Tale of the Innkeeper”. In a nutshell, we are all of us innkeepers, thinking there is no room in our lives for Jesus, but let us not miss another opportunity in life, because he always has room for us. Quite why it took three clergypeople to deliver this I’m not sure; maybe they just don’t want to be alone at Christmas.
But I can’t say that I felt moved or uplifted at any point. Maybe after all these churches I’m just bored now. The year is nearly ended and there’s nothing new under all those vaulted ceilings.