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Guidance through the Journey of Christmas
There may be something aesthetically appealing about taking the Journey of Christmas through a snowy woodland landscape behind St. Mark's Ocean Park.
But organizers will be just as happy with a repeat of last year's mild and dry weather during the annual display, running Dec. 15 to 27 at the church, 12953 20 Ave.
That run of weather helped bring 1,225 visitors through last year, said St Mark's publicist Brian Walks – all of whom had a chance, by viewing the series of lighted, multi-media dioramas retelling the story of Christ's birth and infancy, to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas.
"It's a journey of faith, a journey through time and a journey through our woods," he said of the guided walk, which has been a Christmas tradition since 1999.
Over the last three years, volunteers from the congregation have upgraded the display with a new sound system, all-new LED lights and rebuilt mannequins to provide a fresh look and sound.
In an interesting side-note, Walks said, John Reader, whose original inspiration it was to create the Journey of Christmas display, was recently nominated by fellow parishioners and honoured by Bishop Michael Ingham with the Order of the Diocese of New Westminster, in recognition of his work in ensuring the original construction of St. Mark's was completed in 1989.
Adding to the 22-minute tour is the invitation to linger for hot chocolate and cookies and an outstanding line-up of appropriate seasonal entertainment.
This year is no exception to the policy, starting with the opening Christmas concert this Saturday (Dec. 15) at 3 p.m., featuring Michael Dirk, Annabelle Ip with the dulcet tones of the Fraser Valley Wind Ensemble.
The St. Mark's Choir will lead carol singing as part of the concert, a fundraiser for the Journey of Christmas display.
The tour itself will open at the conclusion of the concert, at 5 p.m., until 9 p.m.
Regular hours for the display will be 6-9 p.m., Dec. 16-27, except for Christmas Day, when it will be closed.
Nightly entertainment, beginning at 6:30 p.m. includes St. Mark's recorder group Joyful Noyse (Sunday, Dec. 16); pianist Pauline Turnham leading carol singing (Dec. 17 and 19), a Christmas sing-along with St Mark's Choir, accompanied by pianist Janet Rendell (Dec. 18), and community recorder group the Dormaren Consort (Dec. 20).
A fun night of interactive carol-singing led by the Gilbert & Sullivan singers (many of them congregation members) will take place on Friday, Dec. 21, while on Saturday, Dec. 22. Semiahmoo Spirit (featuring some of Semiahmoo Secondary's top musical talent in a piano, cello, violin and flute ensemble) will provide the music.
Rounding out the entertainment schedule will be a piano-led singalong with June Gauntley (Dec. 23) and Christmas Eve services at 5, 7 and 11 p.m.
Other Christmas services of note at the church include the annual Blue Christmas service at 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 16.
"It's for those feeling kind of blue at Christmas – people light candles in memory of loved ones," Walks explained.
The popular Lessons and Carols service will take place on Sunday, Dec. 23 at 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. (the second service with choir).
After 14 years on the Peninsula, the Journey of Christmas is an established and enduring tradition, Walks said.
"A lot of people come back each year, but there are also many coming through who are discovering us for the first time," he said.
The church has also developed a youth volunteer program as part of the display, in which students can receive volunteer hour credits by being tour guides or making hot chocolate for visitors.
"Some students find it hard to volunteer, and this is great for them," Walks said.
"It's also very positive for us, because it's one of the ways to make sure this tradition continues."