On Sunday, December 11, Mercersburg students, faculty and guests will gather to participate in a truly spectacular event: Mercersburg’s annual Christmas Candlelight Service.
Will Whitmore, the School Minister, oversees the ceremony. “[There’s] lots of preparation,” said Whitmore. “We have to get music prepared, we have to green the chapel, we have to coordinate all the bulletins, we have to get ushers… The planning even starts all the way in October.” All this planning is no easy task. “It’s the volume of stuff to do, and there’s a pressure to do it well.”
The annual service is made up of sermons and performances alternately, and the greening of the chapel is a volunteer-based event that helps decorate before the service. “Everyone is welcome to come to greening. It’s a lot of fun and always a good time,” Whitmore said.
Jim Brinson, the school pianist, organist, and carillonneur, explained the preparations: “Mr. Morgan and I start choosing music in the spring before Candlelight, but usually by September or October we have our selections.” Michael Cameron, Strings Director, said, “The groups rehearsed on their own, about a month before.” Mary. Campbell, an instrumental music fellow, shared her challenges. “I want to make sure I represent the tradition correctly, because I really respect everything we do.” The faculty all agreed that the group this year was exceptional. “Any opportunity to share music in public is something really special,” said Mr. Cameron.
Julie Maurer ‘93, Associate Head of School for School Life, who helped supervise the greening, said, “We follow the same template every year with the greens, trees, wreaths, poinsettias, and candles.” The process of decorating takes “around an hour,” but much preparation comes beforehand. “It’s a really big space,” Laura Patterson, Dorm Dean of Tippetts Hall, explained, “Ensuring that we have all of the things in the right places can be difficult.” Karen Hawbaker, the previous decorations manager, who retired last year, has passed on an important duty.
Students participants are always eager to perform at the service and in the events surrounding it. “I’m excited about the greening of the chapel,” Damien Dowling ‘23 said. “You put up leaves around the chapel, and you even get free cookies!” Lisa Wei ‘26, a strings student, said, “I’m excited to be able to perform and showcase what we’ve learned to the school community.” However, the students also voiced the challenges. “It’s a lot of commitment and the nights can be long,” Dowling explained. Bob Hollis ‘24 said, “It takes a lot of time to get proficient at many songs in a relatively short time.” He continued, “The group is super talented and we have been killing it lately, but we wouldn't be anywhere without Mr. Brinson and Mr. Morgan!”
Every year, the hard work of the community pays off in the magic of the ceremony. “The Candlelight service has always been one of my favorite times at Mercersburg, so I just love being able to help in a small way,” Maurer said. While the beauty of the Chapel is breathtaking, every participant has a personal favorite part of the event. “I enjoy hearing the languages of the nations, and the languages of our community,” said Whitmore. “What’s the best thing about Candlelight? You. All of you,” said Bryan Morgan ‘07, Chorale director. “Getting to share this moment with y’all.”