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Annual Christmas Candlelight Service Held for At Least 35 Years

Washington and Lee University’s annual Christmas Candlelight Service will be held Thursday, Dec. 4, at 8 p.m. in Lee Chapel. The public is invited to attend at no charge. Seating will begin at 7:15 p.m.

The “Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols,” broadcast each year from King’s College Chapel, University of Cambridge, and widely used in England, the United States and around the world, is an ancient form for corporate worship at the Christmas season. The prayers, lessons and music tell the story of sacred history from the Creation to the Incarnation.

In 1880, E.W. Benson, later the Archbishop of Canterbury, drew up a service of lessons and carols for use on Christmas Eve in the wooden shed which served as his cathedral. In 1918 this service was adapted for use in the chapel of King’s College, Cambridge. In the early 1930s, the BBC began broadcasting the service on overseas programming, and it is estimated that there are millions of listeners worldwide.

The service has been held for at least 35 years in Lexington, the earlier years at Robert E. Lee Memorial Episcopal Church. W&L’s Glee Club participated in the service while at the Episcopal Church, but when the Candlelight Service moved to Lee Chapel in the early 1990s, the newly founded Chamber Singers sang at the service.

The late David Sprunt, then chaplain at W&L, presided over the service when held at the Episcopal Church. Thomas V. Litzenburg Jr., acting University chaplain emeritus, was the presider for 16 years until this year. Gordon P. Spice, professor of music, conducted the Chamber Singers in the service until this year at both Lee Chapel and for a few years when held at R.E. Lee Memorial Episcopal Church.

Music for the traditional service again will be provided by the University Chamber Singers, this year conducted by Jerry Myers, acting director of choral activities and visiting assistant professor of music. Timothy Gaylard, professor of music, will be the organist for the service.

Nine members of the Washington and Lee University community are chosen to read the lessons. William C. Datz ’75, coordinator of Religious Life, will preside over the service.