First Christmas in Swanage for newly appointed rector

Preparations are well underway to welcome everyone back into church for the Swanage Town Carol Service at St Mary’s following two years of restricted numbers due to Covid and there’s a new rector at the helm.

Following the retirement of the Very Reverend John Mann, the Reverend Dr Ian Bird has been appointed in his place with the responsibility of overseeing four local Church of England churches, All Saints, St Mark’s and St Mary’s in Swanage and St Nicholas’ in Studland.

St Mary's Church lanterns

The laterns are all waiting to be lit for the Swanage Town Carol Service

Popular annual traditional candlelight service

The Swanage Town Carol Service at St Mary’s Parish Church in Church Hill will start at 6.30 pm on Sunday 18th December 2022. It’s a popular annual traditional candlelight service of nine lessons with carols, with people from the community invited to take part in the readings including the town’s mayor.

In 2020 while the service did go ahead, guests were very limited in number and to compensate it was broadcast live on Facebook for everyone staying at home to watch. In 2021 numbers were still limited but for 2022 all restrictions have been lifted.

St Mary's rector Dr Ian Bird and wife Judith

Judith and Ian Bird have “landed” in Swanage

“Very welcoming and kind”

Ian was installed as the new team rector by the Bishop of Salisbury, the Right Reverend Stephen Lake at the beginning of October 2022. Ian said:

“Since moving to Swanage, my wife Judith and I have received a wonderful reception from the town – very welcoming and kind.

“There’s many things that attracted us to Swanage, in particular the diversity of the churches, from the traditional to the more informal. We felt that God was willing us to move on and when we visited Swanage we felt we could really positively contribute to the community.”

Previously, Ian was a vicar for more than 12 years in Chandler’s Ford in Hampshire which has two churches and serves a population of nearly 25,000 people. He’s been married for 30 years to his wife Judith and has three sons in their 20s, Andrew and identical twins Timothy and Matthew.

Ian grew up in Weymouth and went to school in Dorchester. He received a doctorate in medical science at Newcastle University and then worked in several pharmaceutical and biotech companies, leading research and development teams.

Remembrance Sunday service in Swanage

One of the first major services Ian officiated at was Swanage’s Remembrance Sunday service

“Big step of faith”

In his 40s, Ian decided to alter his career path (and salary!) believing that God was calling him towards the church. He said:

“It was a big step of faith at the time but I’ve been able to bring my experience of working in teams into my work within the church. Nowadays if you want to be a vicar you have to be a team person – which wasn’t always the case!

“Fortunately I like working collaboratively and I really don’t mind if I’m at the front or the back – it’s just good to encourage others to use their skills and flourish.”

“I’m very happy with women being ordained in the Church of England – I’ve worked with some wonderful female colleagues in the past and I’m looking forward to working with the new team vicar with responsibility for All Saints, Jo Levasier. She will start her new job in July 2023, moving to Swanage from Guildford in Surrey.”

“What do I like about being a rector? I enjoy being with people and when the opportunity arises, to share my faith in what I say and do. It’s an immense privilege to encourage other people to fulfil their full potential as a Christian.”

Car damages st Mary's church wall

St Mary’s Church on Church Hill with the car that skated on ice into the railings

Restarting activities stopped by Covid

There’s a number of activities that are able to restart at St Mary’s since being suspended over the pandemic, like T-pot in the Rectory Classroom – a chance to have a hot drink and a chat. From 2023 it will be every Wednesday from 10 am to 12.30 pm.

Also beginning in the new year will be All Things Bright and Beautiful – a service for people living with dementia and their carers.

Although one of the more unexpected activities to undertake will be sorting out the rebuilding of St Mary’s Church wall after two vehicles recently skidded on black ice and one car flattened the railings!

Car damages st Mary's church wall

Unexpectedly getting closer to God due to black ice

“It’s been an amazing experience landing here in Swanage”

Ian said:

“There will be a big plan but for now I’m just observing things and starting up activities after Covid. We need to work out what’s important and what we want to do and then enable that change.”

“Personally, it’s been an amazing experience landing here in Swanage and we’re looking forward to welcoming more people into the church over the Christmas period – celebrating with us, Jesus’s birthday.

“I love this time of the year, that draws the church community and the wider community together- it’s great! I also enjoy leading Christmas services like the Christingle service, school carol concerts like Swanage Primary’s earlier this week and of course, for the first time, the Town Carol Service.”

St Mary's rector Dr Ian Bird

Reverend Dr Ian Bird in St Mary’s Church

Swanage Food Bank collection

There will be a collection during the carol service for Swanage Food Bank. Ian added:

“While I vehemently support the food bank and what it is doing, I really want to see it not exist – we should be looking forward to a time when it isn’t required!”

Swanage Town Carol Service starts at 6.30 pm on Sunday 18th December 2022 at St Mary’s Parish Church in Church Hill.

St Mary's Church

Other Church of England Christmas services 2022

Monday 19th December

All Saints Church, Ulwell Road, Swanage

  • Carol service starting at 7 pm

Christmas Eve Saturday 24th December

St Mary’s Church, Church Hill, Swanage

  • Crib service with live animals – 4 pm
  • Carols by Candlelight – 6.30 pm
  • Christmas Midnight Eucharist – 11.30 pm

St Mark’s Church, Bell Street, Swanage

  • Carols by Candlelight – 4.30 pm

All Saints Church, Ulwell Road, Swanage

  • Christmas Midnight Eucharist – 11.30 pm

St Nicholas’ Church, Studland

  • Christmas Midnight Eucharist – 11.30 pm

Christmas Day Sunday 25th December

St Mary’s Church, Church Hill, Swanage

  • Holy Communion – 8 am
  • Eucharist for Christmas Day – 10.30 am

St Mark’s Church, Bell Street, Swanage

  • Christmas Day Family Communion – 10 am

All Saints Church, Ulwell Road, Swanage

  • Christmas Morning Family Celebration – 10.30 am

St Nicholas’ Church, Studland

  • Family Communion – 10 am

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