Rector's Letter for December and January
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
We are about to plunge into that season of the year that goes by many names; Advent, Christmas, New Year, Winter. All these are good. The Church has a particular and slightly technical name for the season that covers the whole two months of this edition; the Incarnational Cycle. This starts on our “New Year’s Day”, on Advent Sunday and carries through to the observance of that occasion when Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the Temple, which we remember on 2nd February at Candlemas. The secular world, of course, does not take much notice of this. There is a rather grim truth that Christmas is over for many when they eat their first mouthful of turkey on Christmas Day. The idea of sustaining an awareness of season for a whole month, let alone two, is not something that is easy. Shops rush on to the next sales and we sadly, taking the cue from that, barely manage to keep our cards up for the twelve days of Christmas.
I was thinking about this whilst sitting in Church saying Morning Prayer a couple of weeks after Remembrance Sunday. The poppies were still cascading down from the choir, the window sills still had their austere display, the banners calling us to remembrance and reconciliation. There is the temptation to put all the energy and imagination into the run-up to events and then feel awkward when the decorations are still up a day or two later. However the message of our Armistice decorations was about more than 11th November. The displays invited us to embed the truth and appalling reality of war and its aftermath in our hearts and heads. So let me say again, at this point, a huge thank you to all those who put such energy into creating such an amazing and thoughtful series of displays.
Just as we were deliberately slow to take down the Armistice displays, so we will be consciously leaving up those things which remind us of the Incarnational Cycle. The Crib will demand our attention as we move towards communion. The Tree will remain in place. The Stars (there’s more about that below), will be part of our decorations. When people will ask (and they will) why we still have our Christmas decorations up, we will be able to say that we are still thinking about what it means for us, that God entered our history in the Christ Child.
If we decorate our church with traditional features, we do so as a backdrop to worship. I gather that one of my esteemed predecessors used to say, of Easter, that it was not appropriate to turn up to the wake (Easter Day) if you had not been to the funeral (Good Friday). Amen to that. In the same vein, our Advent services are there, not to fill in the waiting time before Christmas, but to enable us to centre the mind and heart so that we are ready, as the medieval writers used to say, to give birth to Jesus at the Feast of the Nativity. There is a rich round of services with additional services for us to attend; Carol Services, Nativity Play, Crib and Christingle, Midnight Mass and then onwards to Epiphany and Candlemas. Not only are Christmas services rather lovely, they are a great opportunity to invite family members to come along and join in. I wonder how many of us will dare to invite someone along? If we are serious about wanting BPC to grow, this season is the place to start inviting folks.
One of the things we have learnt from preparing the church for the Centenary of the Armistice has been that visitors have responded really well to the work people did by way of decoration. The Church of England has an new initiative called #FollowTheStar. It invites church congregations to both engage personally and also invite others to join in the journey towards Jesus. For those readers who like receiving inspiring messages by email, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York invite us to sign up for daily emails to take the life-changing Christmas journey. Each one includes a picture, a short Bible passage, a simple prayer and an action to reflect on. Here’s the link; www.churchofengland.org/followthestar. Our wonderful team who decorate the Church have taken the “star” theme seriously and you will see stars populating the Church. Let’s embrace this initiative and play our part by inviting others to see what we see in Jesus.
As part of our attempt to maximise the impact of our church building, we are going to have a Christmas Tree Festival. These are becoming immensely popular and involve inviting groups to surround the inside of a Church with trees. This year, as a trial, we are inviting “in-house” groups to decorate a tree and to display it during the week 8th-15th December. If this works well, we hope to roll it out next year, inviting local businesses/organisations to put their tree in Church and using it as a fund raiser for a charity.
The Incarnational cycle; Advent - Christmas - Epiphany - Candlemas. The temptation is to shorten the whole process, perhaps from the Christmas Carol Service to Epiphany. That, certainly, is what the world hopes we will do, keeping Jesus barely in the picture. Perhaps one of our tasks, as Christians, is to tell a different story, a story that needs time to explain why Jesus came, a story that takes to time to explain what happened to the “baby Jesus”? Perhaps we can do that, not just by observing this long season in Church but also by doing so in our homes? I wonder whether we are ready to do that?
With love and prayers,