Ring any rector to talk about their carols plans and the enthusiasm is obvious.
“We can sing!” says the rector of Jamberoo, the Rev Jodie McNeill. “It’s a great joy. Having been the guy who’s been song leading [at church] – and looking out you can tell that people are humming or singing on the inside – I’m so excited that we can sing at carols.
“I don’t think we’ll really get our head around it until the moment that we can all make the noise!”
With the majority of community Christmas events scrapped, churches are gearing up to welcome the carol-singing masses with open arms, and COVID plans.
While a number of parishes have gone down the micro-carols route (streaming into members’ homes), and many have in-church events planned – repeating the service if need be to fit everyone in – other churches are going all-out to ensure that joy to the world is spread as far as possible.
We have the opportunity to provide an extra level of hospitality
“We started an outdoor Christmas Eve service last year on our grounds – a free sausage sizzle followed by a one-hour carols service,” Mr McNeill says. “We’re trying to replicate that as best we can this year and, in the light of the inter-church community event being cancelled, we figured that this might be more popular than it was last time... so we’re going to do it twice!
“We now have the opportunity to provide a whole extra level of hospitality and community connection with our church, and with people who might not otherwise have come onto our property.”
At Pymble, St Swithun’s is running carols for 500 people at a local oval on the night of December 18, having been given the final go-ahead from the council last week.
“That gave us three weeks to organise carols!” laughs senior assistant minister the Rev Paul Sampson. “And everything else has been cancelled. As far as Ku-ring-gai Council goes, we’re the only carols event that they know of.”
In addition to the usual COVID-safe elements for those who attend the St Swithun’s event, words to all the carols will be available online for people to follow on their smart phones. Band music will be spearheaded by Hugh Wilson and Mr Sampson’s wife Cathy, with a handful of choir members from the parish also permitted to take part.
Some elements are yet to be finalised
Mr Sampson is waiting to confirm whether, under relaxed restrictions, the council will allow an upper limit of 1000 people – and whether they can sing without masks. And while some elements are yet to be finalised, there will definitely be a donkey puppet for the kids, plus Bible readings and a short talk.
“It’s just a great opportunity to teach people the real meaning of Christmas at a time when we really need a message of peace and joy,” he says.
Not all parishes are hosting public events, but plenty are throwing out the community welcome mat in a big way. Whether it’s a “festival” (Picton-Wilton, Surry Hills, Blacktown), carols in the carpark (Kiama), an “outdoor jazz Christmas” (Lower Mountains), food, fellowship and multi-ethnic music (Eastwood), a drive-in with reflective readings and music (Church at the Peak), or an invite-the-neighbours “Carols on your Driveway” (Norwest), plans are afoot all across the Diocese.
"We need to sit in that tension between the gritty reality of this world and the joy we long for, and I think Christmas is the best time to do that"
Newtown-Erskineville will once again make use of its cemetery to invite people in on December 13. Says assistant minister, the Rev Mike Hastie: “We are all systems go for a 400-person carols event in the graveyard!”
When planning the afternoon, he says, singing wasn’t possible – even outdoors – “so we were thinking, ‘How do we do a carols event where you can’t sing?’ It’s disappointing... especially given that we’ve got something to sing about! So, we thought we’d jazz it up and make it a really fun, Newtown kind of space.
“Now, though, I’ve said to the band that we need to get out some songs people can sing along to!”
The event will include a Christmas-themed Family Feud game, with answers gleaned from a survey the church has done of Newtown locals. Mr Hastie will also use the answers given about Jesus in a short talk, encouraging people to know the real Jesus this Christmas.
“We need to sit in that tension between the gritty reality of this world and the joy we long for, and I think Christmas is the best time to do that,” he says. “God is with us in the mess and we want to capture that – not just skim over it this year and have a happy sing-fest. Yes, we want to sing, but we want to express the rich reason we have to sing at the end of this crazy year!”