As I mentioned before, my church had its Candlelit Carol service on the night of the Winter Solstice, as it was the last Sunday before Christmas. I’ve always enjoyed going, partly because of the candles, partly because we usually get a lot of good carols (i.e. ones that I like), partly because my birthday falls around then, and partly because it means Christmas happens soon.
It went well, although there were a couple of slip-ups on the part of our organist, who forgot to start playing for the last verse of one hymn, so you had the entire congregation going ‘Sss…’ as we started to sing the first word and realised there was no music, which always makes us smile.
The other oops moment, which prompted this post, was more… theologically interesting, at least from my point of view. One of the carols we sang was ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’, which has a different number of verses depending on the date. The last verse, which begins ‘Yea, Lord, we greet Thee, born this happy morning…’ is only sung on Christmas Day, for obvious reasons, and always has a note printed next to it in hymnbooks stating this. So when the organist slipped up and kept playing after the previous verse, there were quite a few looks exchanged among the congregation. Most people just carried on singing, but I was one of the few who didn’t.
Amused, I remarked to my parents afterwards (both definitely Methodist, one of whom sang the verse and one who didn’t) that I didn’t realise our church was going Pagan, and explained why singing that verse on the Solstice referred more to the Sun-God than the Son of God. It was only the next day that I began to wonder why I didn’t sing that verse. After all, I define myself as Christo-Pagan, I celebrate the eight Sabbats as well as the Church festivals, and a chance mistake like that should surely have had me belting out the words with gusto. So why didn’t I?
It’s taken a while, but after mulling it over I think I’ve worked out why. In my private devotions I don’t really separate Christianity and Paganism, there’s a mix of practices from both religions that I perform, a bit of Gnostic belief thrown in, as well as a couple of religious gestures I’ve borrowed from other faiths. But when I’m worshipping publicly, at a church service or in a circle with more than just me in it (which admittedly has only happened twice), I compartmentalise my physical actions, whatever I may be thinking or saying in my head. So I don’t sing for the re-birth of the Sun at a carol service, and when I went to stay with a friend for Litha I put the Orthodox icon I use when travelling on the altar we set up, but I kept the doors of the triptych closed.