Multi Faith Carols

Carol services are an extraordinary mission opportunity. In the course of any given December the churches of the City of London will see at least 500 Carol services. Some of the churches are doing 23 services in the course of 18 days. The same pattern is true across the West End. One of the larger parish churches has 25,000 go through the doors, and the five churches in Trafalgar Square and along the Strand will see 100,000 visits during the course of the month.


We have an Anchor: Old RN College Chapel


As I have written elsewhere, there are two sorts of time in this season. Internally the church waits with hopeful expectation in the subdued light of Advent. Externally we anticipate the celebration of  the feast,taking the opportunity to share with the world the joy that God is with us.

In amongst all of these many services I had a hand in the organisation of the London Area Sea Cadet Carol Service. In the magnificent setting of the Chapel at the Old Royal Naval College Greenwich over 300 young people and adults joined in a liturgy deliberately designed to include people of all faiths and none.

The Captain with the Sea Cadets
Old RN College Chapel

Preparing such a service was an interesting experience. Last year I rewrote the Christmas story in a form which allowed cadets of different faiths to tell it in words which were deliberately drawn from no one’s Scriptures. I shall post those texts separately. This time we invited cadets to prepare reflections in the light of the Christmas story on the Corps Values of Commitment, Honesty and Integrity, Loyalty, and Self-Discipline. The thoughtfulness of their reflections and the quality of the delivery was extraordinary.

A carol service remains, whatever else it is, irreducibly an act of Christian worship. The carols, the prayers and the continued reference to the incarnation of the saviour leading us back to Christ. But it is also a liturgy which gives space to but in a way which allows anyone and everyone, whatever they do or don't think of our commitment to Jesus Christ, to participate.

We have seen a similar exercise in welcoming Christian multi faith worship at the Grenfell Tower service earlier this month. Last week I was privileged to robe at Southwark Cathedral while the Mayor of London read from the Old Testament. No one would think that the clergy were trying to convert him by that means. Of course carol services do not replace for Christians to engage in deep devotion to Jesus Christ exclusively, for there is indeed no other Name under heaven or under by which we might be saved. Nor do such services replace the need for us in season and out of season to be explicit with the Advent challenge to 'repent, believe the Gospel.' But they do give the opportunity for us to join together with others who don't share our faith and to invite them to join in simple fellowship. There is and can be no proselytising in this context. But, beyond being a good in itself, the fellowship provides the possibility of a deeper communion to those who are stirred to it.

Comments

  1. Luke, 'The carols, the prayers and the continued reference to the incarnation of the saviour lead us back to Christ' which is appropriate. It is quite right that we join with the shepherds in reaching out to all in our city telling them to come and see the saviour who is born in the town of Bethlehem. This may be called proselytism, but it is surely our commission to proclaim this good news to the ends of the earth.

    When I shared a room at university with my Muslim friend, Hazamri, he certainly tried to proselytise me because he genuinely loved me. Anything less would have been uncaring. Let's not be embarrassed to talk of our hope in all kinds of circumstances, especially in church.

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