Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Hark! the Herald Angels Sing?

The weekend went smoothly - thankfully - and the Carol Service was surprisingly successful - not packed, but with a good feeling amongst those who were there.

I say 'surprisingly' because it has in past years felt a bit like this has been one service that was struggling to find its place in the diary against other services that were more popular.

Our Carol Service is a traditional 'nine lessons and carols service' (as in King's College traditional). In days gone by, it was very popular amongst the expats when, in the colonial period, Christ Church was half expat. It reminded people of home at a time of the year when we all get a bit nostalgic. As I have described in previous posts, Christ Church is now a local Church, that still welcomes expats, rather than being one that is dominated by them (with the exception ironically of the Vicar). The Carol Service has not been popular with many local people compared to our other Christmas services.

So why continue it? Well, it is a nice service, but, more importantly, I continue it for those who are expats like me and for those others who like it. But, and it is a big but, I dislike just doing services because people like the form of them. They can easily become simply performances rather than services. For example, when I mentioned on Sunday the sermon I was going to preach at it to one regular, he said, 'Oh you intend to preach then!' Well, I do every year, but it shows how for some this service is primarily about singing. Nothing wrong with singing, but is that all there is to it?

I have been trying to turn the service it into a form of outreach. Not by changing the form of the service, but by trying to find the right group of people to invite to it. After all, it is non-threatening in its format, and it does give people on the fringes of the Church a gentle way into the fellowship at Christmas.

The interesting thing this year, however, was the number of people who came with family members who are studying or working abroad, but who have come back to Hong Kong for Christmas. It may be that I have only just noticed this phenomenon and have missed it in the past, but I don't think so!

So I am going to think about whether this is the way we can go in the future. In other words, to keep the format, but to publicize it as a service to which it is good to fetch your youngish adult family and to which you can invite your more anglicized friends.

My goal is to provide at Christmas services that appeal to people from different backgrounds. Now, you are probably thinking, 'Shouldn't you being do that all year round?'

Well no, I don't think I, or we, should.

Christmas is a time when we should be taking advantage of secular behaviour to preach the good news: that is, to capitalize on the fact that this is a time of the year when non-churchgoers will come to Church. This is also true of times like harvest, albeit to a lesser degree.

Normally, that is, on regular Sundays, I happen to think that services should be about worshipping God in the company of believers, not about preaching to unbelievers.

Of course, we should welcome unbelievers to the Church in as friendly a way as possible in the hope that, as St Paul puts it, they will fall down and acknowledge that God is with us. I emphatically don't think that we should tailor our worship of God to those who don't (yet) believe in him. Sadly, compromising worship in the name of being relevant and reaching out to those outside the Church seems to have become the order of the day.

It raises the question of whom the Church is for: is it for God or for the world? Naturally, if it is for God, we will also want to find ways to save the world. But if it is for the world, what place for God in a world that does not know him or who consciously rejects him?

The Carol Services continue with more services tomorrow and on Friday.

I'll keep you informed!

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