What a wonderful treat there was in store for all those who attended our end of the year gathering on Thursday 3rd December. We did not actually count heads – but McGregor Hall was comfortably full, and it was necessary to get out more tables and chairs so we think there were about 55 people there. Rev Norah Norris who was Facilitator for the day welcomed every one present including members of Scots congregation, and friends from Pilgrim. There were also representatives from UCAF including our Fellowship Coordinator, Val Hutchinson. Fellowship members brought along neighbours and friends and everyone enjoyed a delicious shared lunch, and the music that was to follow.
Norah introduced our guest artists - Jan Cockington and Lyn Whellan. With Jan playing the piano and Lyn playing the oboe and violin, we were delighted to share an unforgettable afternoon of beautiful music, interspersed with all of us singing well- known carols. Norah told us the story of Good King Wenceslas – many had not heard it before – and we sang the carol. All those present agreed that it was a really special occasion, and most enjoyable.
The Fellowship has decided to continue to meet this year on the first Thursday of each month – we bring our own lunch at 12 noon – sometimes we spend the time chatting, sometimes we will have a special theme, and if there are enough people we may even have a speaker. We will see how things proceed.
The first meeting for 2016 is on Thursday 4th February – perhaps members of the congregation may like to join us to share interesting experiences we may have had over the Christmas Holiday Season. Rev Norah Norris is Facilitator and Mary Thomas is on Kitchen Duties. If the daily forecast is 36 degrees or more the gathering will be cancelled.
Good King Wenceslas
At the Fellowship’s end-of-year celebration the program included the story of Good King Wenceslas told by Norah Norris, followed by everyone singing the carol. Several members suggested that the story should be printed in TALK, so here it is:
When I was about eight or nine years old I was delighted when my piano teacher, Miss Jean Drummond, gave me the music for some Christmas Carols. I remember that ‘The First Nowell’ was one of the carols I learned to play. Another was ‘Good King Wenceslas’. I wondered who Wenceslas was and why was this song about him a Christmas Carol? It was explained to me that ‘The Feast of Stephen’ was 26th December, the day after Christmas Day. I knew from Sunday School that Stephen was one of the deacons appointed to help Jesus’ apostles and he died for his faith, the first Christian martyr. He is remembered on the traditional day of his death, 26th December.
So that explains why it is sung at Christmas time, but I still wondered about the good king who set out with his servant to take food and wood to a peasant on the bitterly cold night of St Stephen's Day.
Later I discovered that King Wenceslas lived in Bohemia, the present day Czech Republic, early in the 10th century. The exact date of his birth is not clear - different sources give dates that vary from 903 to 907. His father Vratislas was the Duke of Bohemia. His mother was a pagan but the young Wenceslas was brought up by his grandmother, Ludmilla, who ensured that he was instructed in Christianity as well as receiving a sound education in other subjects. Wenceslas was still a teenager when his father died, making him nominally the ruler of Bohemia, but his mother became regent. She had Ludmilla killed for political reasons and her many violent actions so enraged the people that eventually she was exiled and young Wenceslas took power.
Wenceslas remained a devout Christian and was known for his generosity to the poor. He founded many churches and monasteries to foster the spread of Christianity. He worked for the religious and cultural improvement of his people and sought to bring his country closer to Germany and the Christian West. This policy and dissatisfaction among the pagan elements of his subjects led to his murder. On his way to church he was killed by his younger brother Boleslav who then became the ruling Duke. Wenceslas was soon venerated as a saint and martyr. Although only known as Duke during his lifetime, the title of King was conferred on him posthumously by a Holy Roman Emperor. From the year 1000 his picture appeared on Bohemian coins and the Crown of St Wenceslas came to be the symbol of Czech independence. He is the patron saint of the Czech Republic. The chapel that contains his tomb is in the St Vitas Cathedral and 16th century paintings depicting his life can still be seen there.
The name of this saint has become familiar in the English-speaking world because of the 19th century carol written by John Mason Neale that tells the story of the page boy who felt unable to continue the journey to the peasant's home on that cold snowy night. When Wenceslas told the lad to follow in his footsteps he was able to go on due to the warmth generated by the king's footprints and the example of Christian generosity. The familiar tune is based on a 13th century Finnish carol. Sing it on St Stephen's Day!
Rev Norah Norris
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