O come let us adore him | Sunday Observer

O come let us adore him

2 December, 2018

As the choir unleashes the talented voices in perfect unison the congregation is engulfed in an aura of worship. There are faithful old boys of STC who fly to Sri Lanka to witness the carol service…

The school by the sea has many traditions that have enriched her for more than a century. The most significant event in the last term of school is the carol service. The choir of S. Thomas College has dazzled and captivated eager audiences. My own association with this spectacular service has been going on for 20 years. Attending this divine event is the best way to begin the month of yuletide celebrations. Last Friday evening I met up with the boys, their prudent choirmaster and the Warden of STC, Rev. Marc Billimoria.

I walked into college at 4.45pm as our agreed time was 5.00pm. In keeping with strict military like precision exactly at 5.00pm the entire choir attired in their red and white robes silently marched up the steps of the chapel and stood in formation for the photograph, as the radiant sun began her descent. Standing against the backdrop of the sacred Chapel of the Transfiguration, the choir was truly more than picture perfect! The amiable Warden Rev. Billimoria has a long connection with the carol service, having been a student and altar server at STC. He recollected his own pleasant memories of the carol service.

Journey of excellence

Those of us associated with the Anglican traditions know the long journey this school has had within the realm of the Anglican Church. When the pioneering Anglican missionary priests landed in Ceylon they built their first cathedral at Mutwal (adjacent to the present harbour in Colombo 15). Christ Church was the seat of the Bishop of Colombo since 1851. By 1854 the first choir was formed, and these boys were the pioneers of the Thomian choir. Subsequently the boy’s school relocated to Mount Lavinia in 1918, and the magnificent chapel was built in 1927 (years later the Anglican Cathedral also relocated to Colombo 7, next door to the BMICH).

One of the striking attributes of the stone chapel at Mount Lavinia is the beautiful mural which manifested under the hands of David Paynter. The painting shows the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ, capturing the essence of the biblical record. The first organist and choir master was T.W. Gilbert.

In 1946 the school was blessed with an amazing clergyman in the form of Rev. Roy Yin. He was the man who began the carol services, in the traditions and rites of Kings College, England. Rev. Roy had once been a chorister at Kings College, and he knew the entire structure of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. The Bidding Prayer was written by Eric Milner White. Another distinct personality who trained the choir was Russell Bartholomuesz. Today this beautiful tradition of choral harmony is sustained by V. Senadheera.

The carol service

The 40 choristers at STC were busy going through their rehearsals. Their voices gently echoed through the empty aisles. But on the actual day of the carol service every seat is taken as the sanctuary is filled with students and parents. I was able to speak to the student choir leader Shannon Ebenezer, who is also the Head Prefect of STC. Shannon explained “I have been with the choir for nearly 12 years. I began singing soprano but now I sing bass. The choir demands perfection. Being in the choir has refined my discipline. In addition to singing I also engage in water polo, foot ball and swimming”.

The college choir is active throughout the year. They practice every Friday and on Sunday mornings.

The Senior Sacristan (a student) Shenal de Silva, will lead his team of servers who enrich the rituals of the service. According to the Warden the carol service is not a concert, but a service that inspires you to meditate on scripture.

Another prominent feature of the service is the presence of the Anglican Bishop of Colombo who partakes as the Episcopal Visitor to the College. As the choir unleashes the talented voices in perfect unison the congregation is engulfed in an aura of worship. There are faithful old boys of STC who fly to Sri Lanka to witness the carol service and then continue their family reunions.

You are not too late to witness this awesome carol service which is this evening at 6.oopm. The choir of STC will continue her wonderful musical journey for years to come.