The Solstice service at St Helens on Saturday 21st December was host to 40 people and was a joyous evening sacrament. The rational behind the service is rooted in our Eco church theology and in our attempts to develop a faith that is contemporary, rooted in the natural world and relevant in our present context. It may seem odd that in order to be contemporary we have have selected a very ancient ritual as a focus for a service but in actual fact what we are doing is rooting our sacramental life in the reality of a cosmological event. We are updating and re awakening our sacramental lives as connected to our lived experience and ensuring that our focus is both ecological and humanitarian. For people who find the winter a mental strain it is a recognition of this darkness and a vision of hope, and for all of us there is the acknowledgment that the physical earth has a life and rhythm that we are part of. The fact is that the days turn on that night from shortening to lengthening and as such we move towards the light and it is no surprise that the birth of Jesus, the Light of the world, should be celebrated at this time.
The liturgy that was used was created from the delightful compilation of work ‘Darkness Yielding’ by Jim Cotter, Rowan Williams and Martyn Rercy and drew on sacramental images from Tenebrae services and Easter dawn services. The weaving of a wreath to signify community was an idea from the Hilfield Franciscan community and the wine and honey cakes were reminiscent of a pagan celebration at the stone circle in Avebury but of course speaks universally to the ‘breaking of bread’ in many traditions and cultures including of course Jesus reworking of the Passover ritual into the remembrance of Him. There was also a lovely reading from Benedictus by John O’ Donohue on the significance of times of change.
This year the Solo was ‘Oh Holy Night’ and the poem was about winter and a fascinating carol from ‘Down Under’ (see below) that reminded us that we need our sacramental language to speak of the reality of our lives. The singing was all unaccompanied and some in the round and the entire service was lit only with candles, no electricity was allowed (which is and old tradition from my time with small children and a pagan friend when we held the solstice evening as one without artificial light, just candles, to remind us all of our dependence and fragility).
The feedback from the service has been that it was a ritual of significance and one that people felt resonated with their lives…. one that will be cherished.