Lessons and Carols at St. John’s Episcopal Church

by Molly Gilmore for OLY ARTS

Music is part of the mission of St. John’s Episcopal Church, and the annual Service of Lessons and Carols is a shining example. The service is both a religious observance and a musical event that draws a community crowd far exceeding the regular congregation.

“Last year, there were at least 200 people,” said Curt Sather, St. John’s organist and choirmaster, “and most likely, it was a dark and stormy night.”

Big audiences are nothing new for St. John’s, which hosts a concert series that attracts noted Northwest musicians. In the fall, the church held its first jazz cabaret.

The Service of Lessons and Carols tells the stories of Advent and Christmas through readings that alternate with Christmas carols. “We have such a wonderful tradition of Advent and Christmas music,” Sather said, adding that the service is dramatic. “It reaches a musical crescendo,” he said.

St. John’s three choirs will perform, as will the church’s jazz ensemble, contemporary pop band and liturgical dance troupe. The service will also showcase a newly installed, world-class church organ, the recent bequest of a congregant. The 3,800-pipe organ made its debut at last year’s Service of Lessons and Carols.

Those who love caroling will get their chance, too. “I like to get the people in the pews singing,” said Sather, who plans the service with Father R.C. Laird, the church’s spiritual leader. The speaker for the service will be Bishop Greg Rickel. The lessons and carols tradition began in 1918 at Kings College, Cambridge. A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, held each Christmas Eve, has been broadcast on BBC since 1928, reaching millions each year.

What: Service of Lessons and Carols

Where: St. John’s Episcopal Church,
114 20th Ave. SE, Olympia

When: 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 15

How much: free (donations accepted)

Learn more: 360-352-8527 | St. John’s

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