So it begins ....
In this weekend, sandwiched between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, lies the first Sunday in advent and the 1st December this year on the same day.
In the church I used to go to, the first candle was lit on the advent ring on the first Sunday, with one more added each Sunday, until all five were lit on Christmas Day. The lighting of the candles was originally done by the children of the church. As time went on the children grew up and left, leaving the adults another job to do. I have lit them on occasion myself, having taken part in worship during that time, often leading, but not preaching. My skills are more suited to prayers, poetry, readings and short addresses with the odd bit of drama, puppetry or singing. I am also good at planning and organising worship, finding people to take part and writing my own material.
On this Sunday, the Sunday School, or Junior Church as we later called it, would be rehearsing their Nativity so that they would be ready for the Sunday before Christmas. In the days of a large Sunday School we had sheep, attendants for the wise men and quite the host of angels. Some of the Guides and Brownies joined in as Sunday school numbers dwindled. Eventually we had to use adults to make up the numbers and in the end we had to resort to telling the story without acting it out. I was a shepherd, the innkeeper and sometimes, unbelievably, the Angel Gabriel. I did not share the girly dream of wanting to be Mary although I did get my chance a few years ago in an adult production.
We had a stage for many years, it was borrowed for the production. I dreaded the Saturday morning dress rehearsal, even more so when I became a Junior Church Teacher myself. We rehearsed in the freezing cold church, an impossibility on a Sunday morning, obviously not an attractive proposition and we always had some no shows.
The day itself always had last minute issues, more than once having to change some of the cast's clothing because it didn't fit or they couldn't walk in it, usually because of non-attendance at dress rehearsal. During the production there would be someone a the back of the church making sure that those coming down the aisle came in at the right moment. They would also try to encourage those with speaking parts to speak up, our mic system being static I am not sure if the congregation heard anyone apart from the narrators. When we had narrators and I was old enough, they often let me do it. It came in handy as training for leading worship.
My other role as a teacher was to sit in front of the stage being a prompt with lots of signalling that wouldn't have looked out of place as a school crossing patrol. I sometimes had to remove a crying child, luckily usually small enough to lift down. The congregation always loved the Nativity and it was a big miss when we had to stop. Just another indication of the changing role of the church in people's lives.