Article of the week: Celebrating Christmas

18 December 2021

Carol concert celebrates the hope of God’s presence

ONE hundred and twenty-six years after William Booth first preached from its stage, the Royal Albert Hall opened its doors for The Salvation Army’s Celebrating Christmas carol concert, reports Managing Editor Ivan Radford.

Secretary for Communications Lieut-Colonel Dean Pallant welcomed the cheerful crowd, emphasising the joy of them all being in the same place to celebrate Christmas, after the concert took place virtually in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The jubilation of being together was evident throughout the evening, from the International Staff Band’s exuberant ‘Proclamation of Christmas’, a syncopated combination of five carols, to the International Staff Songsters’ buoyant presentation of ‘Sing Gloria!’, echoing the words of the angels to the shepherds on that first Christmas.

The Nativity story was told by Baroness Floella Benjamin, former Countdown host Nick Hewer and singer, actress and TV presenter Sinitta, who brought readings from Luke, John and Isaiah.

Pan London Emergency Response Co-ordinator Major Karl Gray also spoke, sharing his experience of contracting Covid-19 last year, which left him in a coma for two weeks. He expressed his gratitude for people’s love and prayers.

‘I believe God placed angels along the way as a source of encouragement and care exactly when my family needed it,’ he said.

God’s presence was a repeated touchstone, expressed in a heartfelt rendition of ‘Sweet Little Jesus Boy’ by singer-songwriter Portia Emare and proclaimed by male vocal group FourHymn in an emphatic performance of ‘Raise a Hallelujah’.

Violinist John Hooper accompanied the mellifluous harmonies of the ISS for ‘The Wexford Carol’, and the ISB presented the atmospheric ‘Carol of the Bells’ as well as a playfully loud arrangement of ‘Silent Night’.

The audience enthusiastically joined in a number of congregational carols, including ‘Hark! the Herald Angels Sing’ and ‘The First Nowell’, accompanied by organist Paul Leddington-Wright as well as the ISB.

The most enthusiastic response of the evening, though, greeted the Music Man Group. Led by David Stanley, the group sang ‘Music Is Magic’ before launching into a rousing version of Katrina and the Waves’ Eurovision Song Contest-winning hit, ‘Love Shine a Light’. ‘We’re all gonna shine a light together,/ All shine a light to light the way,’ they sang, bringing the audience to a standing ovation.

The theme of togetherness with God and each other was crystallised by Territorial Commander Commissioner Anthony Cotterill, who reflected on the name Immanuel, God with us. He highlighted the complexity of God becoming flesh and physically entering human history, before zeroing in on the hope that is rooted in the Christmas story.

‘Hope is the confident expectation of what God has promised,’ he concluded. ‘Jesus Christ is our hope. He is the one who delivers on all the promises of God that we can claim. When we intentionally abide in and call upon him, we need never walk alone. We can walk on with hope in our hearts through Christmas and into 2022 and whatever that might hold.’

That uplifting message resonated in ‘Song of Hope’, sounded by trumpeters Philip Cobb, Mike Lovatt and Dan Newell. ISS soloists Hilary Bromage, Hazel Hampton and Gemma Hinchliffe then led the finale, which saw the sections unite to reinforce the enduring truth of the Christmas story with the song ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’.

  • Highlights of the carol concert are available to watch here

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