Last night,despite temperatures well below freezing, a good number of people,many of whom I had not previously met ,came through snow and ice, to church to sing the traditional carols and listen to the familiar bible readings in a beautifully decorated and lit building. The whole occasion lifted my spirits considerably!
It is quite true that our current building does not lend itself to candlelight in the way that the church I used to pastor in Ross on Wye did;(It has a superb Victorian interior that was enhanced by being lit by candles in a way few buildings I have been in are), but our 1980's building still looked pretty good!
The music and audio visuals were great too and a huge effort had been put in to make it a very special occasion
I think there are various reasons the service attracts large numbers of people
- There is no doubt people like singing the old carols and hearing the readings by candlelight,last night someone told me it reminded him of his childhood. In a changing world the familiar can seem very comforting
- We (and I suspect most churches) put an enormous amount of effort to publicise this and our other Christmas services,we handed out around 5000 invitations in the neighbourhood and no doubt some people came in response to those invitations. We have discovered that if you do invite people a certain proportion will come!
- Thirdly as I said above a lot of effort is always put into every part of this service from the music to the post service mince pies, This effort means that the service looks good and sounds good and so year by year people come back and have increasing confidence to bring friends and family with them.
- I think people are more spiritually open at Christmas and that they do want to hear something of the Christmas message before the feasting begins!
All this adds up to a wonderful evangelistic opportunity, and so last night I was able to share something of the purpose of the incarnation, and to connect Christmas with the message of Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
I instinctively dislike the adage "if it ain't broke don't fix it " because it can lead to a lazy conservatism and "nothing changes here" attitude but I have always resisted attempts to make radical change to Carols by Candlelight because by modernising it we may destroy what people love about it.
On a personal note last week is nearly always one of the busiest of the year and (because my colleague Steve is leading the Christmas day service) I can now stop and reflect a little bit at least before I rush to the shops and then start preparation for the service on 26th December!