Wednesday, December 25, 2013

We Wish You A Merry Christmas!

to all our dear friends and family!

Christmas is a magical time of year - no matter where you celebrate. We've had some sweet experiences in England this year.

We spent our PDay last Monday visiting Hever Castle with our sister missionaries, senior missionaries, and the Mission Office elders -- one last time. It is one of our favorite places to hang out. The gardens and lake are divine in the spring and summer, the Cornish ice cream is the best, and the fresh flowers and Christmas decorations in December are stunning. (Originally built in the 13th century, Hever was the childhood home of Anne Boleyn until she was beheaded and Henry VIII took possession of it. Later it was owned and beautifully renovated by the well-to-do Astor family of New York.)

L to R:  Elder Sparks and Elder Wehrman
Sisters Maddocks, Phermsin, Walmsley, Stewart, Namutamba and Ylisaari

L to R:  Elder & Sister Anderson, Elder & Sister Smart,
me and Don

There is a beautiful merry-go-round outside the castle at Christmastime.

We've had visits from people we love during December.

A Saturday temple visit from the Farnsworths

Me, Sister Marilyn Anderson and Sister Berati with dear friend Eva Fulop.

And we returned again this year to the Christmas Market we love in the heart of London near the London Eye.

I think I have a thing for merry-go-rounds....

The best place to be, though, around Christmastime in England, is the London Temple Visitors' Centre.
It's a treat to be there any time of year, but at Christmas, it's a special privilege. We have had some wonderful Christmas programs again this year, and the Christmas spirit can definitely be found on the grounds of the London Temple.

Our own Sister Walmsley, along with our other wonderful sister missionaries, have done a lot to add to the Christmas spirit at the Visitors' Centre. A few months ago, Sister Walmsley organized a ward choir in the local ward (East Grinstead). This past weekend, on Friday night and Saturday afternoon, they performed hour-long programs at the Visitors' Centre. Don and I were lucky enough to participate. We love singing in ward choirs - especially at Christmastime!  There is nothing like Christmas music to touch your heart with love and gratitude for our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Sister Walmsley designed the program for the choir concert

L to R:  Elder Sparks, Sister Walmsley, Sister Stewart, NIcki Wilkes, and Elder Wehrman
wowed us when they sang "Hark To The Bells"

Sister Rashida Charles narrated the program with charm.

The East Grinstead Ward Choir sang.

Our piano virtuoso, Sister Ylisaari, accompanied the program.

Sister Walmsley and Elder Wehrman performed a guitar and flute duet.

Miah Neale and her grandfather, David Bridgstock, sang one of my
very favorites:  "In The Bleak Mid-Winter."

Sister Walmsley sang "The Christmas Song."
Move over, Nat King Cole!
Ah, the sweet sounds of Christmas!

On Christmas Eve, we were able to check off one item that's been on Don's Christmas Wish List for a very long time. Ever since he attended one in Basel, Switzerland in the early 1960's while he was on his mission, he has wanted to take me to a Christmas midnight mass. I've never had the energy to take off and go with him after organizing big family get-togethers on Christmas Eve and preparing for Christmas Day. 

This year was different. We are alone for the first Christmas in our 46 years together. We decided to attend Christmas midnight mass at the Gloucester Cathedral. At about 11 p.m. Christmas Eve, as we traveled the narrow, dark and deserted roads leading into Gloucester, I was beginning to think it was not such a grand idea -- but I was wrong. It was amazing!

The Gloucester Cathedral is a part of the Church of England. The first section was built just before 1100 A.D.  It is also the cathedral used in filming three of the Harry Potter movies. What a grand old building it is!

Gloucester Cathedral on Christmas Eve

The first visitors begin to arrive.

It was inspiring to see a couple of thousand worshipers come together to honor the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. We enjoyed the music, the scripture readings, and the sermon. The Cathedral choir was angelic. There's something about listening to a choir when the acoustics are impeccable and you are in awe of the intricate architecture all around you. My very favorite part of the service however, was when we joined voices and sang Christmas carols as a congregation. Inspiring!

Inside the Cathedral before the service began.

Magnificent architecture. How did they do that nearly 1000 years ago???

Now as we celebrate Christmas Day once again, we wish everyone we know and love a VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS. May your sweetest wishes come true. Don and I are so grateful for you in our lives. May the commemoration of the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ be at the center of your celebration this year!                       ~Pat~

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