Stay at home and join in Swanage Town Carol Service from your sofa

Christmas isn’t the same this year due to Covid but the traditional carol service from St Mary’s Church in Swanage is still going ahead.

The twist is that the majority of people will be joining in from 6.30 pm on Sunday 20th December 2020 from the comfort of their sofa and watching on YouTube.


A limited number of tickets have been allocated to allow for social distancing and the congregation in the church will have to wear masks.

Under the direction of St Mary’s director of music, Simon Lole, the choir will sing the carols but those in the church will not be allowed to join in due to a ban on congregational singing to prevent the spread of coronavirus. However there’s no restriction on singing in your own home.

Lit lantern on window in St Mary's Church at Christmas
St Mary’s Church

“We know it is not the same but it can still be good”

The team rector of Swanage and Studland, John Mann said:

“In a normal year over 1,000 people attend St Mary’s Church over Christmas, but this year it will be far fewer, but we are hoping that the Swanage Town Carol Service alone may be enjoyed by even more, from the comfort of one’s own home. We know it is not the same, but it can still be good.

“So settle yourself comfortably, click on the link at 6.30 pm on Sunday 20th December, and with representatives of all the churches in Swanage reading the story of the birth of Jesus, let us listen and sing once again of the wonderful origin of all that Christmas is to us.”

Christmas Tree in St Mary's Church

Order of service

Welcome to St Mary’s Church!

The Town Carol Service for 2020 is an event that we have been looking forward to with some expectation, though with concern too, as to whether or not we may manage what we have planned under the Covid-19 restrictions. With social distancing, and many people being invited to join by YouTube link, we hope that the singing of carols from Swanage may be broadcast even through the difficulties of Christmas 2020.

We meet being very conscious of the disruption of lives, the sadness of the loss of loved-ones, the impact on businesses and charities, and the hard work of many people employed in public service, from health to education, retail to hospitality, emergency services to family and friends caring for one another.

Readers of the lessons contribute their very important part to the overall flow of any carol service. The leaders of the Churches in Swanage will build the picture of what led to the birth of Jesus and then relate its story and meaning.

As we proceed through the service, the light of hope is being proclaimed and revealed through the readings, which tonight tell the story of the first Christmas through the eyes of St Luke as he relates the birth of John the Baptist first, the forerunner, and then of Jesus himself.

We conclude with the magnificent reading from the first chapter of St John’s Gospel that speaks to us of God becoming one with humanity in the person of Christ, the Light of the World.

The Church Choir of St Mary’s will be singing tonight, as congregational singing is not allowed at present, but we are supplying the words to the carols that would have been sung by everyone under normal circumstances, so if you are watching from home, you can sing along with us.

We are grateful to Simon Lole and David Fawcett, our musicians, and all the choir members for facilitating this service, which would not be possible without them. Many thanks to you all.

We felt that to make our collection at this service for the homeless would be appropriate at this Christmas season. As in the previous two years, with our collection tonight (there will be a plate at the door or donate to the charity online), we are going to support a charity called Alabaré, working in the south and south-east of England, which you may not have heard of before. Let me give you some detail:

Who are Alabaré?

We are a charity that supports vulnerable, homeless and marginalised people. We help them transform their lives, providing accommodation and helping them gain the skills, confidence and opportunities to live a fulfilled life.

Alabaré was founded in 1991 by Rev John Proctor and his wife Alicia after they befriended and offered a home to a series of people in crisis. They soon realised that the need was far greater than they alone could meet. In partnership with a Christian community, they founded a new charity, Alabaré and following a year of fundraising, our first home, Barnabas House, was opened.

27 years later, Alabaré now offers support to thousands of people in need through its homes and services. We provide specialist support for young mothers and their babies, people suffering from addictions, young people and those leaving the care system, those experiencing mental ill health, adults with learning difficulties, and Armed Forces Veterans who struggle to cope with life outside of the military.

The Alabaré Vision ~In each of our homes and services, the vision of helping each person to live an independent life of their choosing is achieved by holding fast to our founding principles of generosity, care, compassion and respect. We welcome people of all faiths and none to our homes, and to be part of Alabaré.

John Mann (Team Rector of Swanage and Studland)

Please note that the congregation is not allowed to sing under the terms of the current regulations, so the choir of St Mary’s will sing everything for us. We shall stand for some carols, to give ourselves a change of position. These I have indicated on the order of service below.

St Mary's church window with the virgin Mary

The service

The service begins with the Carol – Once in Royal David’s City (stand)

Welcome, introduction and Christmas message by the Very Reverend John Mann (please sit)

The Bidding prayer followed by the Lord’s Prayer:

We have come together as the family of God, in our Father’s presence, to celebrate the great festival of Christmas. In this service we hear and receive the good news of the birth of Christ and we offer to God our thanksgiving in the joyful singing of carols.

As we gather together in the name of Christ, we pray for the world he came to save: for the Church, that it may be enabled in our generation to surrender anew to God’s holy Wisdom, and bear the good news of God’s love to a needy world; for the world, which is already Christ’s, that all its peoples may recognize their responsibility for its future, and may be inspired by the message of Christmas to work together for the establishment of justice, freedom and peace everywhere; for all in special need, the sick, the anxious, the lonely, the fearful and the bereaved, that the peace and light of the Christ-child may bring hope and healing to all who sit in darkness.

We commend all whom we love, or who have asked for our prayers, to the unfailing mercy of our heavenly Father, and say together, as Christ himself taught us:

Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those that trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.
For Thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

First Lesson from Luke 1: 5-25 – The Annunciation to Zechariah
Read by Reverend Martyn Neads – Swanage United Reformed Church

In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.

Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. Now at the time of the incense-offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside.

Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’

Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.’ The angel replied, ‘I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.’

Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, ‘This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favourably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.’

Choir – ‘Adam Lay Y Bounden’ – Boris Ord

Second Lesson from Luke 1:26-38 – The Annunciation to Mary
Read by – Reverend Karen James – Swanage Methodist Church

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.

And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.

Carol – O little town of Bethlehem (stand)

Third Lesson from Luke 1: 39-56 – The visit of Mary to Elizabeth
Read by –Jeanne LeJeune – St Edward’s RC Church

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’
And Mary said,

‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’
And Mary remained with her for about three months and then returned to her home.

Choir – Joseph dearest, Joseph mine – David Fawcett

Carol – Away in a Manger

Fourth Lesson from Luke 1: 57-80 The birth of John
Read by – Major Katrina Greetham – Swanage Salvation Army

Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbours and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.

On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, ‘No; he is to be called John.’ They said to her, ‘None of your relatives has this name.’

Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. He asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And all of them were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. Fear came over all their neighbours, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, ‘What then will this child become?’ For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.

Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:

‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favourably on his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a mighty saviour for us
in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness
before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.’

The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.

Choir – A Great and Mighty Wonder

Choir – ‘Sing Lullaby’ – arr. David Willcocks

Fifth Lesson from Luke 2: 1-7 – The birth of Jesus
Read by – Reverend Solveig Sonet – Swanage and Studland Team Ministry

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered.

Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.

While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Choir – In the Bleak Midwinter – Harold Darke

Sixth Lesson from Luke 2: 8-20 – The shepherds
Read by –Reverend Mark Hatto – Emmanuel Baptist Church Swanage

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.

This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.

When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Choir – Unto us is Born a Son – arr. Willcocks

The Mayor of Swanage, Councillor Mike Bonfield speaks on behalf of the Council.

Carol – O Come, All Ye Faithful (stand)

Remain standing.

Seventh Lesson from John 1: 1–14 – St John unfolds the great mystery of the Incarnation
Read by the Mayor of Swanage, Councillor Mike Bonfield

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

Carol – Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

Please remain standing for the final prayer and blessing

Choir: We wish you a Merry Christmas

Organ Voluntary: In Dulci Jubilo J.S.Bach

Thank you!

To all the churches of Swanage that have taken part in this Town Carol Service; to the individual readers and clergy, and to all who organise Churches Together events throughout the year.

To all who have decorated the Church for the Christmas Services, and all who are maintaining the conditions to keep it Covid-19 safe.

To the technical team who have arranged the streaming of the Carol Service this year

To those in the Town Hall and Parish Church who have organised the registration, seating and risk assessment for this service tonight.

Further information

More about the Christmas services in any of the town’s churches can be found on the Swanage Churches Together website

Alabaré is a charity that supports vulnerable, homeless and marginalised people. More about how it helps them transform their lives, providing accommodation and helping them gain the skills, confidence and opportunities to live a fulfilled life, can be found on its website

Share this story

Contact us

Do you have anything to add to this story?

We like to keep everything up-to-date, so if you know more, please help us by getting in touch.


Top stories

Locals aim for global success in Swanage pub takeover A group of Swanage friends who liked their local pub so much that they bought the tenancy are ready to return the Globe to its former glory. 2 weeks ago New funfair ride divides Swanage community 3 weeks ago Swanage fun park ride removed after controversy 3 weeks ago Man in Swanage has jaw broken in violent assault 1 month ago Miracle as school pupil survives 60 foot fall from Old Harry 1 month ago

Most recent

Swanage skatepark campaign hits first target The generosity of Purbeck residents has helped Swanage Skatepark Community Project achieve its first £20,000 funding target. 6 hours ago Swanage to give Blues music legend fitting send off 1 day ago Secrets of Purbeck’s smuggling past revealed in new book 2 days ago Flying the flag in Swanage for Coastwatch life savers 3 days ago Purbeck bans sale of new build properties as second homes 4 days ago