Millennium: Church adds spirit to Millennium party

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The Independent Online
Should the Millennium be one big party or a time for spiritual renewal? The Church of England is putting on a road show to encourage us to recall the 'reason for the season'. Clare Garner found out last night that the message may have got across - to the Government.

It was as if their prayers had been answered. No sooner had a Christian Millennium road show been unveiled at the General Synod, stressing the need for a spiritual message in the 2000 celebrations, than He said it would be so.

Peter Mandelson, that is. The minister without portfolio delighted the Church by telling Parliament that the New Millennium Experience Company had been told "to focus on spiritual renewal".

In a written reply to the House of Commons, Mr Mandelson said there would also be an emphasis on the "major role Christianity has played in shaping this country and the rest of the world over the past 2,000 years".

Furthermore, the experience would "reflect the multi-faith nature of modern British society" and the Millennium company was liaising with church groups and others from all faiths. His words are likely to be welcomed by the Church of England and by the Roman Catholic Church. Members of the clergy have been anxious for some time that spirituality could be overlooked in the razz-matazz that is likely to surround the Millennium celebrations.

Earlier in the day, a fringe meeting at the General Synod had been given a taste of the Millennium road show currently touring the country.

Churches Together in England, an ecumenical body, believes that the Millennium is a golden opportunity to spread the Word, but first they must alert people to the real "reason for the season".

The Rev Stephen Lynas, Archbishops' officer for the Millennium, said: " We have actually got to remind people that the Millennium belongs to us and that it means nothing without some reference to Jesus of Nazareth. It's so basic, but it needs to be done." The New Start campaign is anxious to "capture the moment of the Millennium" in a way in which the Dome and a booze-up will not.

In order to do so, he hopes that Christians will give a candle to every household in England which will be lit at two minutes to midnight. Then, 30 seconds before midnight, people will read a Millennium Affirmation, distributed by churches. Although the words of the five-line affirmation are not finalised, Mr Lynas said they would be about "looking back at the past, with not only thanksgiving but regret, and grasping hold of the future and making something of it."

The Road Show has yet to visit Newcastle, Durham, Bristol, Peterborough and London, finishing on 11 December.

Among its speakers is the Rev Brian Hoare, Secretary for Evangelism of the Methodist Church, who said of the Millennium: "We are unlikely to have a better opportunity for pastoral work, mission and evangelism in our lifetime."