'Bad hair day' Christmas advert raises hackles

Christmas has been called many things over the last 2,000 years; this year, the Church of England will call it a "Bad Hair Day". This is the slogan that has been chosen by the Churches Advertising Network, an unofficial ecumenical body set up by the Church of England to sell Christmas to young people. It will appear in orange text on a purple background.

The slogan continues: "You're a virgin, you've just given birth, and now three kings have shown up. Find out the happy ending at a church near you." It will be used on poster sites, T-shirts, and chasubles. It may also feature on Classic FM radio.

"Our previous campaigns were fairly safe and a bit preachy, too," said the Rev Tom Ambrose, press officer for the diocese of Ely, and one of the members of the network. "Some people have, I suppose, simply been shocked by this year's [slogan]. But they haven't put into words what their shock is. I suppose it is because we are using this sort of language."

Sources close to the Archbishop of York Dr David Hope, suggested that he was more than shocked. "Incandescent" was one word used of his reaction to the first draft. Dr Hope himself is on holiday and cannot be reached for official comment, but sources close to him suggested he had objected strenuously to the project, and made his objections known to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey. "He thought it would be incomprehensible," said one of his advisers.

Publicly, Dr Carey was more cautious. "I support the intention of conveying the message to young people who know nothing about the church, that churches are willing and wanting to communicate with them. I hope this ecumenical campaign succeeds," he said.

Dr Ambrose did not think the posters would drive anyone out of the church: "It has to be a concern that it might offend older churchgoers. But as a vicar, you hear the most amazing stories of why people have stayed away from church."

The posters, T-shirt and chasuble transfers will be offered to 40,000 churches across the country this autumn, and the money raised from selling them will be used to buy radio spots and poster sites in public places in December.

A spokesman for the Meth-odist Church was worried that young people might be disappointed when they finally went inside an Anglican church: they could find that it was less exciting than the posters had led them to believe.

A spokesman for the Catholic Church was surprised to learn that the campaign had been used at all. The joke about the Virgin might have offended Catholics, she said. "In some ways I think it's good just because it's so different. It's got shock value, which I think is good.

"But, being boring about it, the campaign puts a very negative gloss on what's supposed to be a very joyful event."

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