A HUGE crowd gathered together at a local Christmas Carol Service to celebrate the festive season through singing, mince pies and delicious mulled wine.
The lively annual event was organised and hosted by Aberystwyth’s Saint Vincent De Paul’s society (SVP) in Saint Padarn’s Primary School last Friday (Dec 9) in aid of the work of their society in Sudan and South Sudan.
The St Vincent de Paul Society is an international Christian voluntary organisation that is dedicated to tackling poverty and the disadvantaged by providing practical assistance to those in need.
The Society is a lay organisation, which was formed in Paris in 1833 by Blessed Frédéric Ozanam and his companions and has been active in England and Wales since 1844.
The organisation was inspired by the thinking and works of St Vincent de Paul when placed under his Patronage and through justice and charity; it focuses on those who are suffering poverty in any shape or form.
Despite the dreary winter weather, a good number attended, making the most of the festivities and good company.
Starting at 7pm, the seats were filled with eager people ready to sing their hearts out to a wide variety of hymns and carols.
The school hall was draped in Christmas decorations, from tinsel on the walls to the nativity figurines on the stage within close proximity of the advent wreath. A pre-prepared slideshow drew the attention of the audience to the front as it gave us more information about the work of the SVP in Sudan and South Sudan and, most importantly, where our donations would be going.
To begin, President of the SVP in Aberystwyth, Kevin McMulkin, and Secretary Patrick Donavan welcomed those who attended, talking us through the schedule for the evening before a short introduction about the society and its work.
Everyone then prepared their voices as they sang the first hymn, ‘O Come O Come Emmanuel’, which was then followed with a reading conducted by Leontia Slay. Some more of our favourite carols followed, accompanied by two short readings.
The first was read by Patrick Donovan, foretelling the coming of the Messiah and the second read by Madeleine Stocks depicting the appearance of the angels to the shepherds with their good news.
The first half of the service concluded by everyone joining in to sing ‘While Shepherds Watched’ and ‘Away in a Manger’ – festive classics that not only remind us of countless school plays but conjure up images of the true meaning of Christmas.
During the interval, people had the opportunity to feast on a delicious spread by Madeleine Stocks, which included mince pies, sausage rolls, shortbread, mulled wine and mulled juice.
In the second half of the service, the people reconvened to their seats after some time socialising to sing ‘The First Noel’.
With their voices at least temporarily eased by the mulled wine, everyone sat to listen to Patrick Donavan and Anna Kidner recite ‘The Three Kings’ poem by Henry Wadsworth.
Patrick Donavan then went on to introduce the next carol, ‘Faban Bach’ or ‘The Little Baby’ in English. With two fellow parishioners leading the carol from the front of the stage, their harmonious voices reflected the joyful atmosphere in the hall.
The enthusiasm of the crowd continued to increase as they sang ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ and then ‘Angel We Have Heard On High’ before Kevin McMulkin made his way to the front of the hall to reflect on a quote about social justice from the words of Saint Vincent de Paul.
The evening concluded with a passionate rendition of ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ firstly in Latin, then Welsh and finally English.
Of course, no event is complete without a raffle draw and so members of the SVP drew tickets and presented prizes divided by moments of laughter and cheers.
From the testimony of those that attended and the good natured atmosphere engulfing the hall, it seemed that the SVP Carol Service helped to bring the Catholic community even closer together at the start of the Christmas period. This certainly demonstrates how much a society like the SVP can make a difference.
After the carol service, The Herald interviewed Kevin McMulkin and asked him to explain more about what the SVP do: “The SVP have operated in Aberystwyth for over 50 years and during its time, as with the rest of the SVP globally, its main purpose has been to seek out and find those in need. A lot of people ask ‘what does ‘those in need’ mean?’ I think the best way to answer that is to consider the meaning behind our motto, ‘turning concern into action’.
“The SVP is an organisation that was set up to assist wherever and by whatever means it could. This could be in the form of practical help, for example giving food to the homeless, moving furniture for a family or by giving financial help towards someone who is struggling or, indeed, by visiting people on a one-to-one basis, which is the activity that is at the heart of the SVP, particularly in Aberystwyth.
“We are, of course, a Catholic charity, but our help is not restricted to those of the Catholic faith – we try to help anyone we know that’s in need any way we can.
“With an ecumenical approach in mind, we also work with the Jubilee Storehouse Food Bank, based in St Anne’s Penparcau, to provide food donation points within the parish. We then collect the food from our parishioners and deliver it to the food bank.
“In recent years, we have expanded our activities and have begun to organise fundraising events, such as the Carol Service, to raise money for the work of the society both here and abroad and also, perhaps just as importantly, to bring people together in a spirit of friendship.”
We then asked Kevin about the organisation and the planning that went into putting on the Carol Service this year, in addition to the Sudan appeal. He responded by explaining: “As you might expect, a lot of work goes into preparing for the Carol Service. We have to find an organist, book the venue and advertise the event at least a month in advance.
“Setting a date can be problematic enough as there are so many events going on at this time of year. As a result, it is really important to stand out so that as many people as possible will turn up on the night and a good amount of money can be raised for this worthy cause.
“Obviously we advertise within the parish, in the parish newsletter and by handing out posters, but the information can get lost in the pre- Christmas rush.
“As this is the third annual SVP Carol Service, as you would expect by now, we have ironed out most of the organisational problems as many things can be repeated. However, the trouble then is keeping it fresh, fun and attractive to the public so that we can raise money for our cause.”
On the reasons why the SVP are raising the money for Sudan, Kevin stated: “Our aim is to raise money for the work of the SVP in Sudan and South Sudan. Sudan has had a long history of conflict since its creation (and later partition) and the SVP estimate internal conflicts have been responsible for the deaths of around two million people and the displacement of over twice that.
“As you can expect, a lot of people are in need and so the SVP there are stretched thin. The SVP in Sudan do what we do here; they try to help those in need, but their work is much more difficult and on a much larger scale, so that is where we come in.
“As part of a program known as SVP Twinnage, our SVP conference in Aberystwyth is twinned with an SVP conference in Sudan/South Sudan and, as a result, each year we raise money via our Carol Service to assist them in continuing their good work. From the past two Carol Services, we have been able to raise over £1,000 for our twinned SVP conference.”
Kevin went on to talk about how he feels the event has been beneficial in bringing the community together: “I think a Carol Service is always something that brings the community together. By its nature, everyone has a role to play in the event. Not just the organisers, but the ordinary people there because without them, there would be no singing and no atmosphere.
“I think if people feel part of something, they will enjoy it more and are increasingly likely to get to know others there. My hope is that on some level it brought our parish community closer together.”
Expressing his hopes for the Carol Service next year, Kevin said: “I think next year we would like to have more people attend, not just Catholic parishioners but also more people from the town because it is an enjoyable event and they should be able to experience it with us.
“I think next year we should consider having it earlier, perhaps at the end of November, to miss the ‘Christmas event rush’, so to speak.”
Concluding the interview, Kevin paid tribute to a member of the society who was sorely missed during the event: “This year’s Carol Service was more solemn than the last as it was the first one without one of our longest serving member, Winnie Livermore.
“She was a member of the SVP in Aberystwyth for over 45 years and embodied what the SVP stood for as she was so generous with her time to care for those most in need.”
Kevin finally added: “She was the fun and good spirit that kept us all together, making this event and others like it even more enjoyable.”