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Joy and peace found at St. Paul's candlelight service

They set aside Christmas Eve, because they remember the hush that falls over the church when Bill Bastian sings "O Holy Night." They know the light from the candles that dances in the eyes of their loved ones and remember the pungency of pine wre...

They set aside Christmas Eve, because they remember the hush that falls over the church when Bill Bastian sings "O Holy Night."
They know the light from the candles that dances in the eyes of their loved ones and remember the pungency of pine wreaths.
They shiver at the exuberance of the marching choir as it processes and recesses singing 200-year-old carols.
They tremble at the tinkling of the handbells later contrasted by the thundering of the organ. Their eyes burn again with the tears that fall during the singing of "Silent Night."
For many Duluthians, Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without the Midnight Mass at St. Paul's Episcopal Church.
The St. Paul's community will celebrate the season at candlelight services at the church on East Superior Street Dec. 24 in a time-honored service that combines candles, Scripture and sacred music.
Youngsters will be nowhere in sight. Tired from their work earlier in the day as lambs and wise men and Mother Mary and Father Joseph at the early evening family service at St. Paul's, children will be tucked in their beds at home to await the arrival of prancing reindeer and a sleigh full of elves.
Young and old adults attend the candlelight service, an event based on music written through the ages for the church. The music is selected by Chris Crockett, music director and organist, and Bill Bastian, choir director.
Worshipers will be ready for the service that offers a respite from the frenetic activity of the season.
The candlelight service is a reminder for them of the meaning of Christmas. As they study the high altar, they see the birth of Jesus enacted on the reredos. The vibrant colors of the reredos is a backdrop for the high altar covered in white for the service.
The pews will fill early, because the Highland String Quartet begins to play the prelude at 10:30 p.m. College students and young families home for the holidays typically join their parents and grandparents, their aunts and uncles, their siblings.
The quartet, situated on armless chairs and facing the congregation, is trained in classical chamber music and sets the tone for the evening. As musicians play, the lights of the candelabra flicker throughout the sanctuary. Lights pick up the rich red of the poinsettias and bows, the greenery of wreaths and garlands. Friends lean toward each other whispering their observations and remembrances and showing each other how joyous they feel at being together in this church on this Christmas Eve.
At 11 p.m., the fully-robed choir of St. Paul's will march in, one of the few marching choirs remaining in the nation, said organist Crockett.
The choir will march and sing "O Come All Ye Faithful," composed in the 1700s. The congregation will rise and sing. Voices will be strong and jubilant with everyone singing with a little more confidence and conviction.
Candles will flicker throughout the sanctuary lighting the faces and creating halos of light. Soon, everyone will sing "Joy to the World." The bell choir, conducted by Jean Manthey, will ring their bells during the service and soprano Ruth Jacobson and tenor Bill Bastian will perform solos, lending their clear voices to the night of magic.
Composer George Oldroyd's early 20th century music written for communion will be played by Crockett. Later, a hush will fall in the sanctuary as Bastian pierces the air with the French carol by Adolphe Charles Adam, "O Holy Night."
As the service nears its conclusion, lamps are dimmed and only the candles glowing in the candle holders at the end of every other pew will offer light. All join in singing "Silent Night," a carol so moving it casts a spell. With peace and thanksgiving, the congregation will sit once again. Many, quiet in their own thoughts, will be reminded why they braved the frosty night and snowy streets.
Goodbyes and blessings and Merry Christmas will ring out as organist Crockett starts "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing." The choir recesses down the aisles smiling and singing to the crowd. Soon, everyone is on their feet singing the 1840 carol written by Felix Mendelssohn.
It's Christmas Eve, the time when Christians await the coming of Christmas.
Sharon Almirall is a Budgeteer business reporter. Contact her at 723-1207 or at sharon.almirall@mx3.com .

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