As I went to brush my teeth the other morning, I was halted in my tracks by a news item on the radio. The Church of England’s attendance figures had just been published. It wasn’t sounding good. The number of people attending church regularly on a Sunday had declined once again. I picked up the toothpaste with a sigh. And then I paused once again when the reporter went on to say, “But the number of people attending mid-week and occasional services is on the rise.” This, they concluded, was “evidence that the Church’s desire to relate to cultural change was beginning to bear fruit.”
We are so used to going to church on Sunday morning that we sometimes fail to see that those around us are out shopping. Or playing football. Or cleaning the car. Or working in Tesco’s. The ‘cultural change’ the news item referred to is the 24-hour culture we find ourselves in, where Sunday is no longer seen as a special day. Christians will always meet on a Sunday morning. We are, after all, celebrating the resurrection that first Easter Sunday. But for those on the fringes of the church, or for those with no church background at all, any day will do.
Christmas is the time when special services abound. Visitors will come to our churches for carol services, Christingles, school nativities and Midnight Mass. How will we welcome them? For those of us who preach, how will we connect the old familiar story with the lives of those sitting in front of us? How will we use our noticeboards and websites and parish magazines to invite them in?
The Church of England has produced some excellent materials called Follow the Star. Posters, invitation cards, ideas for families and churches are all included. You can find out more at www.churchofengland.org/christmas But whichever resources you choose, thank you to clergy, lay ministers, churchwardens, sidespeople, organists, choristers, bell ringers, welcomers, tea makers and washer-uppers who will make our churches across Derbyshire places of light and hope and joy this Christmas.
Amidst the busyness may you find time to ponder anew the mystery of our God who, “became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood.” (John 1:14)
A very happy Christmas to you all!
The Rt Revd Jan McFarlane
Bishop of Repton and Acting Bishop of Derby