Heritage and Healing Through a Service of Lessons & Carols

Author: Rev. Rachel H├ębert
November 17, 2018

I’ve been mulling over the word “heritage” for a few weeks now. I recently spent time at an evangelical conference in Montreat, NC called “Evolving Faith,” and found myself soaking in the words of each speaker and basking in every 15-20 minute prayer offered. I then travelled down to Conyers, GA to spend time with Trappist monks (associate with the Roman Catholic Church) at Monastery of the Holy Spirit, and reveled in the vow of silence I took, speaking and chanting the Psalms during the daily hours: Vigils (4:00 a.m.), Lauds (7:00 a.m.), Mid-day Prayer (12:15 p.m.), Vespers (5:20 p.m.), and Compline (7:30 p.m.). These two experiences speak to my heritage, of my mother who was raised in evangelical churches and my father who was raised in the Roman Catholic Church. In both places, I felt at home, with freedom to disagree but still be part of these communities.

Heritage has continued to be a word I’ve heard used in our church and world. With the shooting at Tree of Life synagogue, our Head of Staff, John, spoke of our Christian heritage having Jewish roots. Similarly, in the celebration of Veterans Day and the remembrance of the 100th anniversary of the Armistice, we see the heritage that began in World War I, with women in the workforce and being given the right to vote.

It is this heritage from World War I that the Service of Lessons and Carols comes about. Lessons and Carols was started as a service of healing at Kings’ College in England to mourn the young men who died in WWI. This tradition has carried on for the past 100 years, with 2018 being the 100th anniversary of this service being performed not only by Kings’ College, but around the world. The beauty of Lessons and Carols is that it chronicles the Christmas narrative from Genesis up through the New Testament using both scripture and music. Nine lessons are read, and music is interwoven with each lesson to help provide further interpretation and story telling of this narrative. These carols vary from instrumental music to vocals sung by all who are gathered together and by choirs. 

Heritage reminds us of where we have come from, and of the cultural values and traditions that have brought us to where we are today. There is healing in shared communal heritage—in the midst of brokenness, wars that tears countries apart, acts of violence against innocents, we search for healing that can bring a community together to be grounded in something greater than suffering.

If you are looking for a place to be grounded in community and greater heritage that we can claim, I hope that you’ll join community members across Williamsburg for a Service of Lessons and Carols held on Friday, November 30 at 7:00 p.m. at Williamsburg Presbyterian Church. No matter how young or old, how joyful or sorrowful, grounded in love or searching for healing, we hope that you’ll join us.


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