(image supplied)

When the town council approached the church to create a deep and memorable town lights switch-on event, they were delighted to pick up the theme of 1000 lights.  They chose the carol “Now light 1000 Christmas lights” as the schools’ joint anthem and 3 other carols to sing on 1st December, Friday evening.

A crowd of several thousand, including many families with young children, filled the Market Place, sang joyfully as they raised hundreds of lanterns specially designed by The Auckland Project and distributed to schools.  Bishop Paul was invited to open the event with a blessing over the town, the people and the season.  He was joined on stage with new Vicar of Bishop Auckland, Rev’d Matt Keddilty, and entrepreneur priest Rev’d Eileen Harrop, dressed as an elf!

The advent of the first ever town-wide Advent Calendar was also launched. 24 shop and town windows would be unveiled each day until Christmas Day, and the first was unveiled in the Town Hall as part of this celebration. Unveiled by the Mayor of Bishop Auckland, Councillor Adam Zair, this initiative was the creation of Pam and David Pott, members of St Peter’s Church, Byers Green.

A spectacular 8 feet high cross, be-decked with almost 1,500 lights, standing in its chancel, beckoned the crowds into St Anne’s Church.  The glow of glory was unmistakable, and children and adults alike marvelled at the sight of this Cross of Glory.

Other highlights included the whole church wrapped around as an Advent Prayer: a PEACE floral ‘darkness into light’ display; the HOPE candle glasses decorating workshop; the JOY angel and stars biscuits decorating workshop; and the LOVE hospitality area serving hot drinks and festive nibbles.  So eager were people to share in this Advent celebration, hundreds poured into the church despite Santa’s grotto elsewhere in the town and entertainment rides in the Market Place.

Seven ecumenical church communities shared in creating and working together that afternoon and evening in St Anne’s Church.  Here are some comments:

“First of all I love how each of us in the creative team were encouraged and empowered to use our skills to serve the community: an artist and a dietician supervising Santa’s workshops; me invited to take photographs to capture the event; others encouraging people to decorate liturgical purple votive candles; someone passionate about decorating and displaying being given a free hand; the café team of the church serving food and providing hospitality; and my own mum given the opportunity to produce a darkness into light reflection flower display”.

“Perhaps the star of the show was the ordained elf!”

“We all felt blessed: coming together to transform and open up God’s house into a place of loving service of hospitality, generosity, acceptance and warmth”.

“What amazed me was the cross – that cross is such a blessing. Covered in light, central to the church and to our beliefs and truly being a beacon – welcoming people in and reminding them of our faith in a gentle yet glorious way.

“I actually loved the llightbox prayer station. I took up several children aged between 3 and 7.

I asked them their favourite colour and we prayed together. To make it easier for them

red-Healing/Restoration – who is poorly and shall we ask God to make them feel better.

Yellow-Joy/Happiness – who would you like to see smile more and be happier.

Green-World – Thanking God for trees, mountains, rivers and where we live

Blue- Comfort – Who needs cuddles and to feel loved.

Pink- Prayer of Choice – let’s thank God for our friends and family.”

“The kids loved it being so interactive, and it warmed my heart to hear them pray – hearing them thank God for their mummies and daddies, or praying that Grandparents would smile, or praying for family and friends who are poorly.”

“I loved how it opened up prayer and made it accessible for all ages.”

“I must admit that at 4pm when there was no one in the church I panicked – but that changed when I went out at 5pm, seeing the Market Place full of families and the community. It really was joyous and brought so much hope in my heart.”

“I loved how the primary schools got involved and the decorated lanterns were fab!!”

“”See I am doing a new thing”…nothing like this has ever been done in Bishop Auckland.  All these events are bringing churches and communities together and God is truly in every event no matter what its format.”

 

“I loved the biscuit decorating – letting kids loose with sprinkles and icing- truly glorious!”

 

“Superb event – and actually a great way for me to spend the night before surgery as I was full of nervous anxiety and negative energy and needed to keep my mind off things.”

 

Rev’d Eileen Harrop

Entrepreneur Priest in Bishop Auckland

and

Mrs Charlie Scott-King

Parishioner of St Peter’s Church, Byers Green