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Carey's customer service

The Archbishop of Canterbury is to deliver a 90-second soundbite sermon this afternoon which will be broadcast in every Asda store in the country via an in-store radio station.

George Carey's message is part of a 45-minute ecumenical service which is being held in the foyer of Asda's Gravesend store at 3pm today, to be transmitted live via satellite to every one of Asda's 216 stores nationwide.

Dr Carey agreed to record his special message to shoppers after being being asked by Asda to contribute to the chain supermarket's carol service. He hopes to whet the spiritual appetite of non-churchgoing customers and inspire them to attend a service this Christmas.

The broadcast was organised by the local churches and is timed to coincide with the busiest Sunday shopping day of the year. Orders of service will be available at customer service desks for shoppers who wish to participate in the service while shopping at other stores.

A spokeswoman for Lambeth Palace insisted that Dr Carey's contribution was "a very small part" of the supermarket's carol service compared to the eight- to 10-minute sermon he will deliver in Canterbury Cathedral on Christmas Day.

Asda approached Lambeth Palace after hearing Dr Carey's Ashe Lecture at St Helen's Church, Ashby-de-la-Zouch, in October, in which he singled out for praise the small but growing number of church leaders who were holding services in pubs, supermarkets and on the streets.

He spoke of the need for the Church to continue to diversify in the forms of church service and from the churches where they are held.

It is certainly an effective way of reaching the consuming masses: Asda FM, the in-store radio station, broadcasts to more than six million shoppers a week.

From Asda's point of view, the archbishop's contribution is a clear endorsement of Asda's experiment with in-store spirituality earlier this year, when it held a harvest festival service in its store at Earley, Reading.