For students at Queens University CU, the carol service is a highlight of their calendar, offering students the opportunity to invite friends to a festive evening where the gospel is clearly proclaimed.
QUBCU committee member, Bethany Petrie, says: “One thing we have definitely learnt over the past year is that when planning events during a pandemic, plans are likely to change many times! However we perhaps didn’t expect that just when we thought everything was finally sorted, it would be announced that many places, including churches, were to close over the date the carol service was planned for. This was disappointing, and we had to quickly decide whether to hold the carol service the upcoming Monday, before churches closed, or to wait until after they were planned to open again.
“With the Lord’s help, we decided to postpone the carol service. This was risky but we praise God that our prayers were answered and that we were able to have the carol service at the later date. We were able to rejoice in the fact that ‘many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.’ (Proverbs 19:21).
“With churches facing incredible challenges, it was difficult to find a venue that would be able to host us. We’re so grateful for all the support we’ve received from many churches over the past semester, and we’re especially grateful to Ravenhill Presbyterian and Stranmillis Evangelical Presbyterian for hosting us for our carol services. Both Matthew Campbell, speaking on the Monday night and Mark Ellis, speaking twice on the Wednesday night, spoke from Matthew 2:1–12. With the three services being full, it was such an answer to prayer to see a good number of students who weren’t Christians coming along with friends or by themselves, and to actually be able to welcome them in person!
“In these unfamiliar times of having to make seating plans for carol services, of ensuring people don’t stay and chat after, and of smiles hiding behind masks, it was such a joy to hear the familiar readings of scripture foretelling and carols proclaiming the birth of the Saviour, reminding us of our unchanging God in the midst of this ever–changing world.
“It was so exciting that 15 people filled out follow up cards saying that they wanted to know more about following Jesus. Non–Christians who ticked this option were invited to start Bible studies with the friends who brought them along. Going into a new semester and on the countdown to events week, the carol services have been the impetus that we perhaps needed as we continue to plan for the various different situations we could find ourselves in for it.
“Most of all however, they have reminded us of how God has so faithfully answered our prayers time and time again this year. We praise him that this year, when so many things are completely out of our control, he is still sovereign, and pray that he will continue to work at Queen’s throughout this coming semester.”
For James Heenan, the past year has been like no other for Stranmillis CU with the outbreak of COVID–19. He says: “The message that nothing is certain, nothing is secure, and nothing can be expected has been the norm this year. But this statement simply is not true. Whilst at times we may feel this way, we have hope, a hope that we, as Christians, celebrate.
“That hope is our Heavenly Father, His Son, Jesus Christ, and The Holy Spirit. God loves us, He watches over us and, whilst we are in this world, He sets us apart from this world. Of that hope, we can be certain.
“As a committee, we knew that this hope needed to be reminded to us all at Stranmillis, especially as we started to plan for our annual carol service. To say that it was harder to plan this year would be an understatement, nothing was how we had known before.
“However, what remained unchanging in planning was the unchanging Word of God. The night focused on Scriptures, praise, prayers and a talk around the central theme of the hope that comes with the prophecy and deliverance of Messiah. Our first hymn, ‘Come thou long expected Jesus’, was chosen to exemplify the amazing truths of Jesus. Jesus was born to set us free from our sins, who is the joy of life and who reigns forever. This is the message we wanted to give, that this child who was born the King, is for everyone, taking our place on the cross and will one day return to His people.
“As we live through these unique challenges, another song that chosen was, ‘O come, O come Emmanuel’. This is a prayer to Jesus, longing for His return. 2nd Corinthians 6:10 says we are, ‘sorrowful, yet always rejoicing’ and that is what this wonderful hymn reminds us of as it proclaims, ‘Rejoice, rejoice!’. It shows us who Jesus is, what He has done for mankind and what He will one day complete. God is always faithful, and He always fulfils His promises and that is a hope we have during these uncertain times.
“Between Ravenhill Presbyterian and Stranmillis Evangelical Presbyterian, we have had the blessing to join in collective worship and fellowship, of course as safely as we could, ensuring face coverings and sanitizers were provided, reinforcing social distancing. For the carol service, we knew we wanted to be together so making the choice to gather in Ravenhill was made due to its size. However, the reality of COVID–19 hit, as our speaker, the minister from Stranmillis Evangelic Presbyterian, unexpectantly had to isolate.
“When we plan for things in this life, the only thing we can do is hand it over to God, the Master planner of all things. Hope came and our speaker offered his son, who is also a minister, to open God’s Word with us. This year has been different for us at Stranmillis. Leaning on God is the only constant that has seen us through in these unpredictable times.”