Ushering in Christmas



Preparation for the Christmas season at St. Columba Cathedral in Youngstown took on a much different meaning than hitting the stores, looking for bargains and waiting in long checkout lines.

Dozens of church members and the faithful gathered at the church Sunday to sing hymns and read scriptures in celebration of the Annual Festival of Lessons and Carols.

The Rev. John E. Keehner said the annual event is more than a traditional Christmas play or concert.

“This is an Advent service of lessons and carols, a service that began in England in the middle of the last century to remind us why we celebrate Advent,” said Rev. Keehner.

The Advent is the season of the Christian church, during which there is a period of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus.

According to Rev. Keehner, the St. Columba congregation has been celebrating The Festival of Lessons and Carols for the last 15 years and looks forward to it every year. Old and young church members alike take part in the festivities.

The festival has a long-practiced format for a Christian worship celebrating the birth of Jesus. The story of the fall of humanity, the promise of the Messiah and the birth of Jesus is told in nine short Bible readings, interspersed with the singing of Christmas carols and hymns.

Dr. Daniel Laginya, director of the cathedral choir, selected North American origin for the musical selections this year. The selections included colonial anthems, Appalachian carols and African-American spirituals.

“Every year we go with a different theme. This year it is North American, and last year there was a Celtic theme,” said Laginya.

Rev. Keehner said the celebration is expected but not central to the faith.

“The service is not crucial to who we are, but sets the tone for the rest of the season of Advent. This gathers us together as a community,” he said.

The choir sang a multitude of hymns, and Scriptures were read from various parts of the Bible, beginning with Genesis, the first book of the Bible.

Young people in the church play a key role in the festival with dozens singing in the youth choir and others acting out Bible verses as they are read to the congregation. The young people opened the festival with a children’s anthem — An African-American spiritual titled “Children, Go Where I Send Thee.”

“This is just a good way to include the kids, even if they can’t sing a lick,” said Rev. Keehner. This is a wonderful tradition here. We have been doing it for 10 to 15 years, and every year it just seems to get bigger.”

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