To preach or not to preach? The Carol service dilemma…

The Centre for Theology & Community l and tagged , , , l

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 11.09.48Our Director Angus Ritchie blogs on a topical debate…

Should clergy preach sermons at Carol Services?

I’ve just been reading the two sides of the argument – presented by the Bishop of Manchester and Ian Paul.

At Sunday’s Carol Service, my own church took a very Anglican middle way. We had some short interviews interspersed among the readings and carols. This innovation grew out of CTC’s own storytelling project – and Caitlin Burbridge’s excellent guide to how churches can use stories, which we published earlier in the year.

Alongside the familiar Biblical stories of waiting, listening and receiving from God, we heard from

– an asylum-seeker who had been waiting and praying for leave to remain in the UK;

– a relatively new Christian who was using Advent to explore the riches of Christian meditation and silent prayer, and

– a mother who has to find time and space to listen to God in a home with three young children.

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The aim of all this storytelling was to provoke the congregation – to shake us out of a merely sentimental engagement with the familiar carols the readings, and instead to ask what the Christmas story might mean for our lives.

For if Christmas means anything, then it surely means everything. In the words of the wonderful poem by John Betjeman:

And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,
A Baby in an ox’s stall?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me?

And is it true? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,

No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare –
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.

That is the question which Christmas poses. With or without sermons, I pray that it will be heard by the many and various people who attend worship in this season. For the Church, Christmas Day is the start of something, not the end. We have twelve days of Christmas, and then the season from Epiphany to Candlemas – a total of forty days in which to consider what this “most tremendous tale” of God made flesh might mean for the communities in which we live.

So, on behalf of everyone at CTC, I wish you a happy and blessed Christmas – and look forward to working with you in 2016, as we seek to live out “this single Truth” of God’s love becoming flesh in our worship and our neighbourhoods today.

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