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Saturday, 19 December 2015

For at least a short while, all will seem a great deal better in the world

The Rt Revd David Walker, the Bishop of Manchester, writes in the Church Times:

"It is that time of year when church doors are flung wide to welcome both familiar faces, and those who are, shall we say, less frequent in crossing our thresholds. Special acts of worship, from carol services to Christingles, pack our pews.

But who are these people joining us in Advent, whom we don’t see through the rest of year? They might be “cultural Christians”, devoid of faith, drawn by a mixture of nostalgia and aesthetics; but there might be something deeper stirring within them ...

This Christmas, as at every Christmas, we will be opening our doors to the slightly familiar faces of those who occasionally come to church. My plea is that we try to understand them better, and thus be a little more informed and hospitable to their needs. Who knows? They may come back again."

Similar questions have been preoccupying other writers in the mainstream press as well. Quentin Letts writes in the Evening Standard that:

"Church regulars should capitalise on this once-a-year influx and simultaneously learn from the invasion; equally, the visitors should make the most of their rare visit to church. Millions of nominal agnostics will have a chance to reconnect fleetingly with a faith from which they have drifted. The evocative lighting, the sturdy New Testament lessons and the familiar harmonies of those carols can work a strange form of alchemy, if that is the word.

If the service is done well — and that is quite a big “if”, for too many of today’s clergy are clunking amateurs when it comes to liturgical theatrics — these new congregants may leave church altered. They may find that for an hour or so they feel less stressed, more secure, not quite so hemmed in by the hassles of 21st-century life. They may even, heavens above, smile at their neighbours and stuff a tenner or more in the collection. For at least a short while, all will seem a great deal better in the world. Church can do that for you."

David Fay, in his piece on carols in The Big Issue, quotes anthropologist Daniel Miller as saying that Christmas "works best as a unifying festival, connecting people with their own traditions of celebration and with past generations. Simultaneously, it connects the domestic family, the region and nation through to an ideal of global humanity, celebrating the same festival at the same time."

Building on this theme, he also quotes Andrew Blyth, a bandmaster and assistant musical director in the Salvation Army, as saying that "The familiar tunes bind people together, young and old."

Angus Farquhar, again in The Big Issue, writes about the power of music in sacred space:

"I went to a service for All Souls after losing my Mum earlier this year; you light a candle, a full choir was singing. I took enormous comfort from that sound of the pure voice focused on ritual intent. The deeper qualities of pure and focused though have an impact, that sense of creating a heightened atmosphere in a building that is either is or was a church, mosque or synagogue. Something has often been imbued into the walls ...

I don't subscribe to the dogma of Christianity or Islam but they got the ritual right. Music in a dedicated ritual space, it's very powerful. There's nothing like it."


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