Pining for the Trees...?

A page of impressions, memories and reflections on the December 2009 Christmas Tree Festival at St Faith's, after the last pine needles embedded in the church carpets had been hoovered up.

A good many months ago, a small group of the usual suspects sat down to think up ways of raising funds to reduce the church overdraft and meet the ever-increasing demands of the Diocesan Parish Share (or Quota, as we used to call it). That meeting resulted, in the fullness of time, in the resurrection of the Talents Scheme, of which you will have read in past months, and which as the year ends is fast approaching the £2,000 mark.

The Talents idea was not new… but Margaret Houghton’s idea of a Christmas Tree Festival was, at least to us. The plan was to invite local charities, churches and individuals to sponsor a tree to adorn the church for a week in Advent, collecting money for their chosen good causes, and at the same time raise some money for the church. The idea was explained and enthusiastically adopted (worth a go, although who knew how successful it might be?) and the rest, as the cliché has it, is history.

In the event, the ten days or so of concentrated activity leading up to and including the week of the actual Festival proved to be just about the most worthwhile, enjoyable and all-round excellent thing to have hit St Faith’s in this writer’s (long) memory. The full story of the event, from the arrival of the trees to sweeping up a million fallen needles on the day after we closed, is recorded in the form of a sequence of  pages, illustrated by this writer’s photographs, on the church website. If you haven’t visited it, and have the means to do so, go to and take it from there. Last month’s Newslink carried some pictures as well. What follows are a few impressions of some of the highlights of a colourful week of outreach and celebration.

Seeing St Faith’s now in its normal spacious mode, it is already hard to envisage forty trees, festooned with lights, tinsel and baubles, attended with collection buckets and appropriate literature, thronging the nave (six-a-side on platforms on the pews up against the pillars) and every part of the church (at the back, in both side chapels, in serried ranks flanking the nave altar, the choir and below the high altar). They came, they were de-netted, they were positioned, and an army of volunteers transformed them into a festival of colour and light. All were a delight, and all attracted admiring comments and donations. Wrong to single any out, perhaps, but the ‘Dentistree’, hung with molars and dentures and topped with a giant tooth (fairy) deserves honourable mention!  At the back, food and drink was served and there was just room for tables for folk to relax and enjoy the view and the refreshments. On sale also were the products of the ubiquitous St Faith’s Jam Factory (with suitably seasonal tops), other food items and an enticing range of decorations, jewellery, scarves and other goods.

At  the Sunday morning services just before the Festival opened and on the day after it closed, priests, choir and people manoeuvred happily round the arboreal obstacles impeding their liturgical spaces (i.e. dodged the trees). Throughout the week, to the accompaniment of soft background music, and some batches of visiting school parties providing occasional choral entertainment, a stream of visitors came and went in every corner of the church, and pronounced themselves well pleased with what they saw. The entries in the visitors’ book say it all…

‘Great idea... spectacular… absolutely fabulous… loved every minute… a beautiful start to the season… such a lovely atmosphere… how different the church looks… magic…very moving…  well done and thank you… so generous of you… what a good way to involve the community and young people… amazing and uplifting… you MUST do it next year!’

So what was special about the week? A strong and uplifting sense of fellowship among all those who helped in so many ways: stewarding, selling, welcoming, erecting, cleaning up or just being there: the St Faith’s ‘family’ feeling  has surely never been so strong. An astounding effort of organisation by Margaret Houghton and Maureen Madden, her right-hand woman.  A very real outreach to the thousand or so people who visited during the week, many of whom  had never been inside our church, and more than a few who wished their churches could do something as adventurous and worthwhile. Goodly sums of money raised for the various good causes, and a share for us. A very definite feeling of belonging to and doing something for our community rather than being a gathered congregation set apart although in its midst.

And a place of prayer for many. We set up a prayer tree in the Chapel of the Cross and invited people to write a prayer and hang it on the tree, not knowing if it would see any use. By the end of the week it was festooned with petitions, ranging from children’s Christmas wishes to heartfelt prayers on behalf of sick friends and relatives. One in particular touched our hearts and stands as a testimony to the value of our Christmas Tree Festival, our place in our parish, and its needs. ‘Thank you God for all these lovely trees,’ it read. ‘Please help all those who are suffering from the terrible floods in Cumbria. And please look after my Daddy in heaven.’

Chris Price

It was certainly not possible to have foreseen the success of the Christmas Tree Festival.  Initially, when the approximate number of trees had to be ordered around the end of September, it became apparent that I knew nothing about how to organise this event.  However, with a considerable amount of footwork introducing myself and the idea to local charity representatives, and subsequently to local businesses, we were off.  The idea was embraced with much enthusiasm by all the people approached to sponsor a tree, followed by a tremendous input by the members of St. Faith’s who gave their all to make the event a success.  A committee was not formed: this was too formal for the requirements, but a group of six ladies met, pens and paper at the ready and from then on there was no stopping us. We could hardly think of anything else, such was our determination to have ‘a good show’.  

From the day the trees were delivered spot on time by the suppliers, Tony Almond, to the day of the dismantling was like a dream.  Some trepidation was experienced as to whether all the publicity had  been enough - what had been forgotten?  But from the moment the first visitors came through the doors at 12.55 pm on the opening day, the festival opening at 1 pm., I felt a thrill of excitement and knew it was going to be a very special week.  From comments written in the Visitors' Book many people were visiting the church for the first time, others after a long absence: comments about the delightful atmosphere and warm welcome, what better way to bring our church to the community; on top of which over £4,000 was collected, enabling £2,700 to be distributed to the charities and nearly £1,500 being given to the church.

Overall an incredible occasion, made possible by the tireless support by the aforementioned ladies without whose help the event could not have been the fantastic experience it was.  Thank you all so much.  Also my thanks to the gallant band of good humoured gentlemen who arrived each evening to help count the takings.

Margaret Houghton

... and here endeth the Tale of the Trees - until next time!

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