Singing "Silent Night"
a candlelight Christmas Eve Tradition
all around the world
There were also beautiful soprano and alto solos
and a jazzy saxaphoneLast night I went to the candlelight services of Union Church in Istanbul. It's the oldest Protestant congregation in the city and has been meeting in the cozy Dutch chapel attached to the Dutch consulate on Istiklal Caddessi since 1857. There are as many as 20 nationalities there on any given Sunday: Americans, Brits, South Africans, Netherlanders, Madagascarans, Kenyans, Nigerians, Congolese, Germans, Russians, Slovaks, Moldovans, Australians, just to name a few countries that achieve critical mass in the congregation.
This was an English-language service, although there are also services in Chinese, Turkish and English bilingual services, and another service for the East African community.
Tourists come from all over the world and find weekly services there via the Internet or via the little sign out on Istiklal Caddesi inviting people to English-language church. One week I enjoyed meeting Coptic Christians from Egypt and the next week it was the director of the Fallingwater architectural site in Pennsylvania. It's so interesting to see the variety of people who seek out the church while in Istanbul.
I remember the first Christmas Eve service I celebrated here. The mayor of the Beyoglu neighborhood where the church is located sent plants to all of the churches. I was stunned by how much that signal of acceptance meant to me in a 99% Muslim culture. It made me realize how much just a smile and acknowledgement of someone's right to exist can make to someone who is completely different than me and outnumbered culturally. It is a really, really healthy experience to feel what it feels like to be a minority.
A particular local gem of candlelight services last night was "The Lord's Prayer" sung in Turkish with Turkish music and rythms. I found it incredibly haunting and powerful. We also sang favorite English-language hymns that would be recognized around the world.
Merry Christmas to all.
Peace and good will to all human kind and our planet.
You may enjoy these other posts from expat Christmases past:
A Neighborhood Christmas
Finding a Church Home in Prague: St. Clement's Church
Come Join Us for Coffee
Photos courtesy of Pastor Benjamin van Rensburg of Union Church of Istanbul