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Churches risk pounds 7m on poem

CHURCHES IN Britain admitted yesterday that they are to take a big risk in proposing that revellers at New Year's Eve 1999 break off from "Auld Lang Syne" to recite a millennium poem.

At a cost of pounds 7m every home in the country is being sent a "gift" consisting of a candle with a holder and the text of a "Millennium Resolution", which has caused controversy as it makes no reference to God or Jesus.

The interdenominational group, Churches Together In England, which is leading the campaign, is hoping that at 11.55pm on 31 December next year Britons will put down their drinks, light their candles, recite the resolution and reflect on the spiritual significance of a new millennium.

The Rt Rev Gavin Reid, the Bishop of Maidstone and chairman of the Archbishop's Millennium Advisory Group, said yesterday that the organisers were aware of the potential pitfalls in asking people to turn their attention to higher things at what is billed as the biggest bash of the century.

"Our hope is that Christians and non-Christians alike will want to take a few minutes out," he said. "We recognise that it will be in many ways a very, very noisy ... night, and to get people to pause and be quiet for a few minutes is very high-risk."

The organisers were also encouraged by the results of a Gallup poll, commissioned by the churches during the development of the "Millennium Moment Concept", which showed that more than half the population - 58 per cent - supported the candle and silence idea.

The text of the Millennium Resolution, by the Rev Peter Trow, a United Reformed church minister, reads: "Let there be respect for the Earth, peace for its people, love in our lives, delight in the good, forgiveness for past wrongs, and from now on a new start."

Bishop Reid defended the omission of God and Jesus Christ, saying that when Jesus spoke to the crowds he never actually mentioned God. "We are hyper-conscious of the fact that there will be all sorts of contexts where a prayer is not appropriate," he said.

But some senior church figures are unhappy that God has been left out of the churches' main millennium campaign. John Broadhurst, the Bishop of Fulham, said it was "a betrayal of the very meaning of the millennium".

t Children's charities are urging everyone in Britain to hand over the money they earn from their final hour's work of this millennium to help children. BBC Children In Need, Comic Relief and five leading children's charities back the idea, called the Children's Promise.