Every church hopes their Christmas carols will be well attended, but for one church in East London, it was a case of being careful what you wish for.
St Peter’s Bethnal Green had to cancel its traditional singalong at the local Christmas market for the rest of Advent, on police advice, after the event went viral on social media, bringing record crowds of over 7-thousand people.
Ten years ago, the local Traders Association approached the church asking if they’d like an opportunity to be at the annual Christmas market, and bring some carol singing, and Wednesday night carols with the hastag #MoreJoyMoreCarols was born.
Local vicar Heather Atkinson, tells Premier, when they considered how best to take part in 2013, they decided to use what they had - which in their case was an old honky-tonk piano in the church hall: "It sounded so bad and clunky, we thought it wouldn't really matter if we did move it. So we stuck it on a sort of trolley on wheels, put some fairy lights on and some tinsel and wheeled it out."
The result was such a resounding success, they were invited back every year and word began to spread far and wide, with people coming from as far away as Leicester to join the tradition that the whole Columbia Road community looked forward to. Their following also grew via social media, shared by members of the public, and the event has led to some great conversations. Rev Atkinson says one couple came to do Alpha, a course which introduces people to Christianity, after they discovered the church through the carol singing.
But eventually the growth of the event became a problem. This year, it went viral after being shared on TikTok, which has resulted in its demise – at least for now.
Despite training up stewards - partly through their SPEAR programme which provides mentoring and opportunities to young people in search of training or education after leaving school - and also changing the way the event operated in order the manage the crowds, the church wardens took what they called a "sad but wise" decision, to cancel the last two Wednesday events, following ‘strong advice’ from police and local authorities.
Even though they had crowds of several thousand come along, Rev Atkinson says St Peter's is not unique or exceptional. In her mind it's just a question of "allowing the Creator God to let you get creative".
"I don't think we've done anything very special or clever. We just pushed lots of doors and found that this one swung open. And then we've adapted it as we've gone along... not every church has got someone who can climb on top of a piano. But every church has got some window of opportunity. And I think it's just making the most of that. And enjoy the young crowd and go to where they are. That's the that's the key thing, go where they are."