Illawarra church services packed to rafters

Blustery Christmas Eve storms and a cool, grey morning did not deter the region's faithful, with Illawarra religious leaders reporting packed church services during the past two days.

Reverend Sandy Grant, from St Michael's Cathedral, said he was pleased with this year's turn-out at the Wollongong Anglican Church.

"The Christmas Eve services were absolutely packed; we had about 260 people so it was really full. We had to seat people in the choir stalls," he said.

"Those services are really child-friendly and we have a 30-strong choir singing Christmas carols so it's always a favourite."

Likewise, Wollongong's Catholic Bishop Peter Ingham said attendance at St Francis Xavier Cathedral, as well as churches at Fairy Meadow, Gwynneville and Balgownie, had been "terrific".

"Midnight mass was completely full, as was our early Christmas Eve mass, and all our services at the Cathedral on Christmas morning had good crowds," he said.

Despite 2011 census figures indicating religious affiliation in the Illawarra was on the decline, both men said their Christmas services remained popular.

"You tend to get the whole family coming together, and even young adults who live elsewhere will come home and come to our Christmas services," Bishop Ingham said.

"We also get a lot of visitors, because people are moving down the coast for their holidays ... as well as those new Catholics who will have attended their first midnight mass this year."

Reverend Grant noted St Michael's' services were particularly multicultural, attracting international students and patrons from different backgrounds.

"One of things I like to do on Christmas Day is get people to greet each other in their language of origin ... we end up hearing Spanish, Macedonian, Chinese, Japanese; you never quite know what languages you're going to get," he said.

"I think attending church at Christmas time is still part of the tradition for many people ... I think a decade ago, anything "traditional" was on the nose, but people have become more comfortable in recent years in celebrating their traditions."

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