My diocese has asked me to provide some helpful stuff for planning for Christmas. I include it here as well.

How important is your Carol Service? What should determine what is included, read, sung, or preached or prayed?

When at York Minster I was approached by a theological student researching a PhD. It was about Carol Services. Two things had ignited her thinking: her own experience as a church organist of realising for the first time what ‘Lo he abhors not the Virgin’s womb’ was all about in O come all ye faithful (after playing it for years and years; and a statistic that said the majority of people worship once a year only, and the majority of them come to a carol service.

In other words, for a large number of people we get one chance only a year to say something coherent, challenging and doctrinally satisfying. And it’s entirely possible that the vast majority of regular worshippers are themselves baffled by, or numb to, some of the language and concepts used in our carols. Rachel researched by giving a questionnaire to the Minster’s congregations, and it was amazing to see how many classified themselves as non-Christian and even atheist, but felt it was important to worship this once.

So: how will you plan your Carol Service, and what will you include? There are some fine resources on offer.

Common Worship: Times and Seasons (Church House Publishing, 2006) is the first port of call. You might be shackled to the Kings College pattern of Nine Lessons and Carols. It’s here, of course, but there are at least six other ways through offerd as well. Patterns are provided in the Advent and Christmas resource sections.

All the CW material is on the web. Bookmark this page – it will save vast amounts of time, and bad typing.

Irritatingly Times and Seasons is only available in PDF form – here

For the thinking behind Times and Seasons, and for useful ideas about making services live, see Using Common Worship: Times and Seasons by David Kennedy (Church House Publishing 2006).

There’s some fantastic stuff for the whole season in the Together for a Season series. The Advent and Christmas one is, by Peter Craig-Wild and others (Church House Publishing 2006). This is more than an ‘All Age’ resource, but that gives the idea.

I’m a great fan of the stories behind hymns and carols. So The Daily Telegraph Book of Carols, by Ian Bradley (Continuum 2006) is a real find (and I found it in a cut price book shop).  The ‘core repertoire’ of carols is surprisingly small, so if you’re introducing a new one it can help to tell its story. Ian Bradley is a respected church historian and hymnologist. The book also debunks some myths: forget the mice chewing through the organ pipes for Silent Night – the actual story is much better.

One of the ways in which we can demystify carol services is to make the words of the carols sung by the choir available in the order of service. It’s good to be accurate though, and Kings College Chapel do us all a service by making their orders of service available: I shamelessly cut and pasted from here. And if it’s in Latin, do the English translation as well.

And finally: when producing orders of service it’s always good to find a shortcut. I found the Hymns and Carols of Christmas site to be pretty accurate and informative too. Cut and paste – but always worth checking the spellings.

And finally finally: there’s a host of more general liturgical stuff on Oremus The site is put together by liturgists I trust – the hymnal and Bible browser are great.