Offices & Resources

Virtual Lessons & Carols Service Continues St. Mark's Tradition
Virtual Lessons & Carols Service Continues St. Mark's Tradition

On Wednesday evening, December 16, St. Mark's presented its annual service of Lessons & Carols: this year online. The service is considered a traditional Christmas event at many (if not all) Episcopal boarding schools, as well as numerous colleges and churches around the world.

The first service of Nine Lessons and Carols was introduced in Cornwall, England, on Christmas Eve, 1880. It was popularized in 1918 at King's College, Cambridge, and in the 1930s was adopted by schools and colleges throughout the U.K. It tells the story of the fall of humanity, the promise of the Messiah, and the birth of Jesus utilizing nine short Bible readings from Genesis, the prophetic books and the Gospels, interspersed with the singing of Christmas carols, hymns and choir music.

The service was introduced at St. Mark's during the tenure of music teacher J. Stanley Sheppard (at SM from 1942-1976), but came into its own under Tom Berryman, director of music from 1983 to 2013.

The format of the "Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols" (as it is formally known) is fairly standardized. The Nine Lessons are read by members of the School community. The singing is divided into "carols" which are sung by the choir and "hymns" sung by the choir and congregation. The carols vary from year to year, although some music is repeated.

Traditionally St. Mark's has presented the Service of Lessons & Carols in its own Belmont Chapel, usually twice, in order to accommodate audience demand. In 2015 there was a single service, at Trinity Church, Copley Square, Boston, to celebrate the School's 150th year. Since then, the service has returned to Belmont Chapel, again on two different dates each year: the first for the School community (students and faculty) and the second open to the public. This year, however, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a single service was offered virtually via the Zoom platform.

The School's head chaplain—the Rev. Barbara Talcott—and associate chaplain—the Rev. Katie Solter—led the service, introducing the history of Lessons & Carols and sharing prayers to begin and conclude the presentation.


While this year's readers were live online, the music featured was a collection of recordings of various anthems and hymns—three recorded by the appropriately masked and socially distanced 2020-2021 choir and others recorded at previous St. Mark's Lessons & Carols services—from 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018: all under the direction of Mr. James Wallace, director of music at the School.


Readers for the 2020 service were, in order: Victoria Merlo '24, Sophie Ledonio '23, Michael Ferlisi '22, Keidy Molina '21, director of community and equity affairs Dr. John Daves, Logan Matthews '22, parents' association co-chair Michelle Davis, Bethany Batista '21, and Head of School John C. Warren '74.

Current students with featured solos were VI Formers Tommy Flathers, Libby Flathers, and Eve Elkins.

Click here to see the video of this year's St. Mark's Lessons & Carols service. It starts at 1:40.

Click here for photos

Following the service, the St. Mark's advancement office hosted a virtual gathering of St. Mark's and Southborough School alumni via Zoom. It was well-attended by graduates from the past 60 years.