December 2017 letter to the Parish from Father Darren



St Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and founder of the Franciscan Order, began the tradition of nativity scenes.nativityAt the time Christmas was celebrated with a Mass where the priests would tell the Christmas story.  Often this was not accessible by ordinary people, who could not speak Latin, and any artistic renditions that were available were often very fancy and not very realistic.

In the year 1223 St Francis wanted to engage everyone in this joyous occasion.  He wanted everyone to be touched by the love of God sending his Son into the world for each one of us.  It is said that Francis was inspired with this idea after making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  Francis was living in Greccio, Italy at the time and he asked the Pope for permission to present a live nativity to the people.nativity 2The Pope agreed and Francis asked his close friend, John Velita, to loan him some animals and straw to set up the scene in a cave just outside Greccio.  The scene consisted of a wax figure of the infant Jesus, a live donkey, an ox, two people dressed as Mary and Joseph and an empty manager. Local shepherds watched their sheep nearby, just as they did on that first Christmas night.  He wanted all to understand how Christ came into the world in such humility, simplicity and poverty.nativity 3During the Mass, Francis told the Christmas story from the Bible and delivered his sermon.  He told how placing their faith in Jesus Christ, the baby born in a simple manager in Bethlehem, could change their lives.  Francis was so moved by the occasion and full of tenderness and love for Our Lord, he called Him the Babe of Bethlehem.nativity 4The first nativity scene is also associated with an apparition of the Baby Jesus to those gathered with St Francis. This must have been Jesus’ way of giving his blessing to this remarkable experience for all gathered and the tradition it has created.When you arrange your nativity scene this Christmas, remember the first scene set by St Francis.  The nativity is a tool for all ages; helping us to retell this marvellous story to young and old alike and meditate on the humility, simplicity and poverty that Christ took on out of love for each of us. Having a nativity scene in our homes is our witness to those who come to visit and tell of the true meaning of Christmas.See all of our Christmas events to the right, all are welcome to come and celebrate the birth of Jesus with us this year, as always.
Father Darren

Illustrations by Richard Gunther

Photos of St Etheldreda’s Church and Church Yard.  Taken taken whilst still snowing on 10th December 2017


back church

church side

snow photo 17 

What’s happening this Christmas at your Parish Church

December 3rd 6.00pm  (about 1hour long)  Advent Carol Service – and so we begin the Advent journey. This candlelit service takes place in the oldest part of our historic church, with seating in the Salisbury and Brocket chapels; it is here that we start our journey towards Bethlehem, and journey with Mary and Joseph towards the stable.

During this service we listen to readings from the bible that fore tell the coming of Jesus.  Through scripture, prayer and wondrous music we take our first steps on our Advent journey.

December 7th 8.00pm  (stay till closing if you like!)  Carols in the Pub – after a Compline service (7pm, shortened evening prayer) in church, we will gather in the Eight Bells for an informal time of drinks – bring your own mince pies – and song.  Come to both or one; we’ll be there!

December 17th 4.00pm  (1 hour plus refreshment time)  Nativity at Hatfield House Rare Breeds Farm – this is one for all the family.  Perhaps you came last year and know what a lovely time everyone had; this year it is tweaked a little, telling the story of our Saviour’s birth from a different perspective, that of the Arch Angel Gabriel.  With lights, costumes and animals to see and stroke and a different route around the farm we keep the telling of the story fresh. Starting from George’s car park, we move into the farm.  Candles (battery ones) in jars will be issued to the children so that as it gets dark, the scene becomes infused with mystery and delight. On our journey from stable to stable we accompany the angels, shepherds and Wise Men on their search for the Promised Messiah.

At our story’s conclusion, and after taking photos of your children with the characters in the stable, we adjourn to a barn for mulled wine, soft drinks and mince pies.  (this is free entry and a retiring collection is shared between The Donkey Sanctuary and the church.)

December 23rd 6.00pm  (about 1 hour long)  Nine Lessons and Carols – now a traditional Candle-lit service, though only for the last hundred or so years, it will be celebrated in churches all around the world. In that sense it is a truly family service, sharing worship and fellowship with Christians in Syria, Lebanon, Europe, America, Australia and Africa – in places of plenty and in places of famine; in places of peace and quiet and in places of war and strife.

We listen to nine simple readings from Genesis, the prophet Isaiah and the gospels, the story of God’s promise to mankind. The service will begin with the choir processing in with the ethereal solo first verse of ‘Once in Royal David’s City’, before they and we join in raising our voices in the beauty of this hallowed place.  If you are only able to make it to one service, this is perhaps the one to choose.  And mulled wine and mince pies to follow.

December 24th 5.00pm  (about 45 minutes long)  The Crib Service – This is an event organised by our Sunday School for families and children of all ages.  All children are invited to come dressed as an angel or a shepherd and join in our recreation of the nativity story.  Many in our Hatfield community tell us that for them Christmas doesn’t start until they have watched the children gather around the crib to sing ‘Away in a Manger’.

December 24th 11.30pm  (about 1 hour long)  Midnight Service – A traditional and much loved service.  Perhaps we find some meaning in coming in from the dark outside cold into a warm and welcoming church ablaze with light, just as Mary and Joseph thankfully entered the stable warmed by the breath of the ox and the ass.

We sing full voiced – aided by our wonderful choir – the familiar carols and hymns which speak the words our hearts would say.  As the clock strikes Midnight, we join with Christians all around the world celebrating the birth of Jesus.  A wonderful way to begin your Christmas day.

December 25th 9.30 am  (1 hour long)  Christmas Eucharist – and so we come to Christmas day.  We can rejoice in the birth of Our Lord and receive Holy Communion, sharing in the true Christmas meal.  This is a family Eucharist and it would be lovely, if Santa has been, to have children choose one of their presents to bring and show us.  A happy time, a happy day.

St Luke’s congregation will join St Etheldreda’s for these services.  Parking is available for all services in Hatfield House George’s Car Park

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