I absolutely love Christmas; as the song goes ‘I wish it could be Christmas every day’. But then again, I would do, I’m a Vicar.
Not just the ‘churchy’ stuff: nativities, carols , Christingle services and midnightcommunions. I mean the tinsel, sparkly lights, mince pies, candles, trees and baubles. In short, I like the tat. I grew up in Aberdeen, the cold Granite City, where at Christmas the lurid brightness of tinsel and lights made a real difference to the gloom.
As a child, we went to Church once a year for the Christmas carol service. Each year we made our way through the wind, sleet and freezing temperatures, into a large cavernous building filled with candles and songs about virgins and angels. Somewhere in my child size brain, I made the connection between the neon lights that pierced the darkness and the baby in the manger. Just as I wished the sparkle of Christmas would remain with me all year round, I found that the baby did.
Now as a grown up Vicar and previous non-churchgoer, I am well aware of the churchgoing patterns of our nation. Christmas is the time when the far away relative that you’ve never heard of turns up on your doorstep. This is the case for us Vicars too, as we see new faces in the crowd on Christmas day. But unlike the annoying distant cousin, we want to see you throughout the year too.
In a report published recently, it was suggested that our public spaces and institutions should become ‘de-Christianised’. It is true that we now live in a country that is diverse in culture and faith, a reality for which I am personally thankful. However, the report ignores the reality that the church is at work up and down the country shining lights in the darkness wherever possible, every season of the year.
From running English conversation classes which prevent social exclusion, to providing toddler groups at a time when young parents are have more and more pressures to cope with - the church is there. We open winter night shelters, run youth groups, offer bereavement care and house beleaguered post offices, credit unions and knife bins. This Light in the Darkness stuff doesn’t stop at Christmas.
Do I mind that people come to church at Christmas and occasionally at Easter, and remain absent the rest of the year? The honest answer is yes and no. Of course I want people to come to church each Sunday, but do not think for one moment that I care one tiny jot about bums on seats. When people come to church at Christmas, I would like to see them again, simply because they have made the connection between the twinkly lights in the darkness and the Light that Shines in the Darkness.
You may only come to church at Christmas, but it really is Christmas every day.
Reverend Jody Stowell is Vicar, St Michael and All Angels’ Harrow Weald
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