Holy Trinity Brompton Church in the Knightsbridge area of London. I’ve heard about this church for years because the Alpha course was born there and some friends used to attend. This is truly a church whose reputation precedes its reality in the sense that millions of people around the world have been touched by Alpha, but relatively few have attended a service where it all began. I visited today.
The reality was quite different than what my imagination expected. My mind was conjuring a contemporary hipster church a la Nashville, not the traditional, moss covered walkway leading up to the scaffold clad ancient building. Lots of greeters chimed “HellO” as in “cheerio” as I walked through the arched entrance. The interior was buzzing with zillions of hyped up children who had already taken multiple trips to the sweets tables in the back. As I sat down a kind man in a Christmas sweater informed me that it was “Christingle today” so his kids were beyond excited. I thought he said “Chris Kringle” which struck me as a bit odd we’d be celebrating Santa in the middle of Advent, but this is England. Last night hundreds of teenagers were milling around downtown London, dressed in full Santa suits for St. Nicholas’s feast day. A somber Advent is not the tone here.
The entire service was run by kids with the exception of the narrator of the drama being one of the pastors. The donkey in the drama was a giant, goofy creature who could have been out of the movie Madagascar. His name was Keith. By this point I’m a bit disappointed. I was hoping for a killer sermon by Nicky Gumbel and transforming worship, but instead Keith the donkey is dancing his way across the stage to cowboy music (not kidding, as in Happy Trails to You). While shifting around in my seat, wishing I’d gone to Christ Church Kensington, a leader from the front announced that it was time for the children to get their Christingles. The place went silent, lights dimmed (10:00 in the morning) and I’m waiting for an Elf on the Shelf to start hopping about. The band played contemporized traditional Carols and parents left their seats to form a HUGE line with their children approaching the front.
Something magical happened as the children returned to their seats holding their Christingles, in awe of their beauty and wonder. Amidst the chaos, our fearless leader explained that the orange represents the world, the toothpicks imply the message of Christ’s light going out to all the world, the candle is his light and it sits tucked into the orange with aluminum foil wrapped about to represent the metal nails that pierced Christ’s hands on the cross. On the end of each toothpick were marshmallows, symbolizing God’s provision for us. The whole thing is wrapped in a red ribbon to remind us that his blood was shed so our sins might be forgiven. Talk about a labor of love created by volunteers for every child in the building. Tingles ran up and down my spine as I witnessed how much joy these elaborately dressed oranges brought the children. They held God’s love in their hands. It was tangerine tangible and a new tradition was born in my heart and also in the church, taking your marshmallows on the toothpick and roasting them in the candle flame
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, attended this church and 4,000 people throughout London participated in their Carol services last weekend. Perhaps a somber Advent isn’t the only way to prepare your heart for Christmas? Merry, Merry!
p.s. Just so the children wouldn’t be the only ones in a festive mood the pastor announced that mulled wine and mince cakes would be served in the guest house after the service. Only in England.