Churches get creative for Christmas
Thousands of people are expected at special Christmas events happening in churches across south-east Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.
At St John's, Rowlands Castle, visitors will have the opportunity to design their own stained glass windows as part of the church's Created Windows Festival from 9 to 16 December.
Visitors will include children from St John's Church of England Primary School and local community groups. They will each be given a perspex frame that fits one of the 16 windows in the church and be challenged to paint them with their own design. The designs will then be back-lit and displayed in church during the week.
A special piece will be fitted over the church's large west window with a Nativity-inspired design by local artist and St John's worshipper Carol Madgwick. The piece will be painted by visitors to the church and unveiled at a morning service led by the Archdeacon of Portsdown on 16 December.
Other events include a Christingle service at 3pm on 9 December, a Victorian evening at 7.30pm on 15 December, and a Taizé-style service to close the festival at 4pm on 16 December.
The money raised from the event will go towards the church and St John's C of E Primary, which is fundraising for an outdoor worship area that will include space for pupils to pray, reflect or spend quiet time in a natural setting.
In Brighstone and Mottistone on the Isle of Wight, villagers are gearing up for their 16th Christmas Tree Festival. More than 100 trees decorated by local organisations will be on display over four days from 6 to 9 December.
The trees will be on show at St Mary's Church, the Methodist Church, Wilberforce Hall and the Reading Room in Brighstone and Mottistone Church. Visitors will also be treated to some carol singing and refreshments.
At St Mary's Church on 9 December, there will be a 'Star of Wonder' concert in aid of island charity Love Russia. This will be followed by a concert on 16 December by the Sandown and Shanklin Military Band in aid of ABF – The Soldier's Charity.
Other highlights include a Traidcraft stall, lace-making demonstrations, horse-drawn carriage rides and craft fairs.
In Emsworth, families will have the chance to try 24 different activities on the 24 days leading up to Christmas as part of the 'Emsworth Adventure Calendar'.
St James Church organises a different event each day to help villagers share the spirit of Christmas, such as ringing handbells, writing Christmas cards to send to the lonely, gathering foodstuffs for the local Foodbank, making gingerbread men, carol-singing in local pubs and a tea party for children's teddy bears.
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At Holy Rood Church, Stubbington, locals will be able to watch the live nativity on 15 December. Children will be able to stroke real animals in the stable, and see churchgoers dressed as the characters Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, angels and wise men.
Worshippers at St Cuthbert's Church, Copnor have created a sheep trail as part of their Christmas celebrations. Twelve cuddly knitted sheep have been hidden in the local community for families to discover. Church members have knitted the sheep and placed them in shops along Tangier Road and in the library.
The Christmas Tree Festival at St Mary's Church in Alverstoke from 7 to 9 December will showcase more than 70 five-foot trees decorated by local community groups. More than 500 singers, musicians and bell-ringers will enhance the event with regular musical numbers.
The festival is now in its fourth year and welcomed more than 2,500 visitors last year alone.
All Saints Church, Catherington, will also hold a Christmas Tree Extravaganza from 8 to 9 December, while St Peter's, Bishops Waltham, will hold a Crib Festival from 7 to 8 December.
Worshippers are also being asked to support local people in need, including the homeless and asylum seekers by taking part in the Churches Homeless Action voucher scheme.
The scheme invites churchgoers and others to buy gift vouchers for those who would otherwise not receive any Christmas presents. The vouchers are given to local charities who pass them on to their clients so that they can buy their own Christmas gifts.
CHA chair Canon Bob White, vicar of St Mary's, Fratton, said: "With the difficult economic situation, more people than ever are homeless or living in temporary accommodation and have no money.
"We get wonderful feedback about the difference your generosity makes to so many individuals who often receive no other gifts at Christmas.
"We hope that many of you will continue to support this valuable work."