Bethlehem Carols Unpacked

Creative ideas for Christmas carol services

Lucy Moore and Martyn Payne with Embrace the Middle East (formerly BibleLands)

Currently out of print £8.99


This book uses eleven well-known carols that appear in Embrace the Middle East's Bethlehem Carol Sheet to explore many different aspects of the Christmas message. It includes ideas to create an imaginative carol service, designed to draw in those attending and to provide a truly memorable act of worship.

Linked to the work of Embrace the Middle East's partners, the resource is packed with interesting facts about the carols, extended Bible references and a wealth of all-age, practical, theme-based ideas for creative storytelling, poetry, prayers, drama and worship. The book is structured using a flexible pick-and-mix formula, designed to assist people at all levels of experience with the planning of a carol service. A special section for those under the age of five is also included, making the material suitable for toddler groups, preschool playgroups and pram services.

  • Away in a manger
  • Once in royal David's city
  • God rest you merry, gentlemen
  • Silent night
  • Good King Wenceslas
  • The first Nowell
  • Hark! the herald-angels sing
  • We three kings
  • O come, all ye faithful
  • While shepherds watched
  • O little town of Bethlehem

The material has been co-written by the Barnabas Children's Ministry Team and Embrace the Middle East to highlight the charity's work, which is celebrated by many who use the Bethlehem Carol Sheet. For further information about Embrace the Middle East, please visit

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Author info

Lucy Moore is BRF's Messy Church Team Leader, responsible for developing the work of Messy Church nationally and internationally. She continues to help lead Messy Church in her own church. Martyn Payne joined the Barnabas Children's Ministry Team in 2003, having worked with CMS (Church Mission Society) for eight years as their National Children's Work Coordinator. Prior to his time with CMS, Martyn worked for 18 years as a teacher in East London. He has produced a wide range of materials on contemporary expressions of Christianity around the world, as well as articles and worship material for RE Today, Together with Children and Roots magazines, and is the author of A-cross the World (Barnabas, 2004). Martyn's other books for Barnabas include Footsteps to the Feast (2007), The People's Bible (2010) and The Big Story (2011).


From Church Music Quarterly - December 2008

What price good organist/clergy relationships? The answer is simple - it is the cost of this book. Give your clergy this book as a present and he/she will be your friend for life. Putting a new slant on the Christmas story is a perennial problem for clergy and musicians alike, especially when preparing Christmas liturgy for small children and indeed for young people in general.

As the subtitle suggests, eleven of the best known carols are 'unpacked', in terms of the story behind the carol, the biblical story of the carol and the meaning of the carol. Biblical links and quotations are also provided. What makes this book so useful is the subsequent 100 or so pages where the authors give creative ideas for using and illustrating the carols by means of poetry, drama and indeed all the human senses. Some of these dramas are quite short and would be suitable for use during a carol service to highlight a particular carol. Others are longer and would make the basis for an all-age talk/ sermon or as an alternative to the traditional nativity story. Many of the dramas use props, mostly home-made or simple to find though a bag of fresh hay might be difficult to find in urban areas in December. There are often sound, visual and other sensory effects together with movement and actions ideal for the young. The imagery used is mainly contemporary with pizza, mobile phones and television all making an appearance.

Not being directly based on the nativity story, 'Good King Wenceslas' is a carol sometimes hard to fit into a traditional carol service. Here the authors give useful ways of incorporating this tale of love and generosity into almost any Christmas service.

The book is co-authored by BibleLands, purveyor of the well-known Bethlehem Carol Sheet. This is a (150 year old) charity who support a variety of projects in the Middle East and one of the chapters in the book suggests ways in which you might support or raise the profile of their work through the use of carols. I have already given a copy to my vicar, not to curry favour you understand as our relationship is good, but because this is the sort of imaginative use of traditional material that those of us who plan all-age worship so desperately need.

Reviewed by John Henderson

From The Good Bookstall website, November 2008

This is a resources book for carol services. It takes 11 'top favourite' carols from the BibleLands carol sheets, and examines the stories of the carols themselves, the stories the carols tell, and the meanings of the carols. It then explores a wide variety of creative ways of using the carols in the context of a carol service, as well as ideas and resources for use alongside the carols, exploring their themes and narratives, and including poems, dramas, prayers, and readings. There are special sections about involving children - including the under 5s - in the carols, and for linking the carols to BibleLands projects. There is a very large number of resources and ideas of all kinds in this book, to suit all kinds of carol services. There is even a brief history of carols and carol singing. Whilst I read it from cover to cover in order to review it, it's very much a mix-and-match, dip-in sort of book.

Reviewed by Martin Brasier

Book details

  • ISBN: 9780857461810
  • Published: 21 September 2012
  • Status:
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 208
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