Ian Paul has commented on the thoughts of David Walker, Bishop of Manchester, about the distinctive needs of occasional church attenders (i.e. those who might attend an annual carol service, but not much else).
In addition to some sensible, if unremarkable, suggestions (stick to traditional words of carols, mention other events coming up in your calendar, and so on) David Walker offers the following advice:-
Ian Paul rightly asks, Why? Why is it really not a good idea to preach a sermon at a carol service? You have a group of people, open to Christian things, and with a background of probably having attended church in the past, but it’s not a good idea to preach?
The suggestion, says Ian Paul:-
(a) is not very Anglican. According to the ordinal and the 39 articles the ordained ministry of one of word as well as sacrament; of preaching as well as mystery, of explanation as well as experience. An Anglican service without preaching is seriously incomplete.
(b) is not very ‘Christmassy’. The Christmas story is full of announcement and proclamation. ‘Gabriel to Zechariah, Elizabeth and Mary, the dreams of Joseph, the angels appearing to shepherds, the Magi to Herod—how odd it would be to have no proclamation regarding a story of successive proclamations.’
As even an atheist has written:-
How is an occasional visitor supposed to ponder the story if there is to be no proclamation or explanation of it?
When David Walker thinks of ‘preaching’ he conjures up images of street evangelists haranguing passers-by. We might agree that that sort of preaching might not fit in well in a carol service. (But even that might be better than the insipid offerings of some ordained clergy…but I’ll stop that sentence right there). But for a much more positive example, Ian Paul points to a recent episode of the One Show, in which the final segment was of carol singing from All Soul’s Langham Place. The Rector, Hugh Palmer, was offered the slightest of opportunities to proclaim Jesus, but he took his opportunity wonderfully well:-
Matt: And that’s at the heart of the Christmas message that you would like to give…?
HP: Well, we often talk about charity beginning at home. But I think that charity begins with God, the good God, who is highlighted at Christmas. He looks and doesn’t just see children in need, but a world with all kinds of needs, and gives extravagantly, and not with a cheque, but gives himself, Jesus, and that’s the heartbeat of Christian giving. We don’t give so that God will give to us. We give, we love, because he first loved us—and that’s Christmas.
Matt: Well, thank you for that message…
Ian Paul concludes:-
But whatever else you do—preach!