THE straw of the crib has been replaced with a carpet, the
shepherds have long since departed, and the Magi continue to offer
their gifts. Now that we are well into Christmastide, with a few
weeks still to go, Advent seems but a distant memory.
The lead-up to Christmas is never easy, as there is always so
much to be done. Spare a thought, then, for the poor parish clergy.
There are posters to be posted, carol services to be led, nativity
plays to be directed, flyers to be distributed, organists to be
briefed, and confessions to be heard and made.
A friend who is a vicar in north London went all-out for peace
on earth and ecumenical relations this year, and agreed to take
part in the Churches Together pre-Christmas fair. He played the
part of Father Christmas, complete with red suit and hat, a pillow,
and a large white beard.
Of the cameos that unfolded as he sat patiently in his grotto -
surrounded by children dressed as elves (appropriate safeguarding
procedures having been observed, of course) - it is difficult to
know which was the best. Some children did not care for the
presents they had been given, and demanded an exchange. They were
egged on by the elves, whom the Vicar had naïvely assumed were
meant to be on Santa's side.
A Nigerian matriarch insisted that her terrified, wailing
children should sit on Father Christmas's knee while she took
photographs. Presumably those same photographs are going to be
shown to an expensive therapist in the fullness of time.
Next was the lady who, during a lull in proceedings, thought
that she knew Father Christmas's real identity, and chatted
amicably and in great detail about mutual friends, their children,
and the various woes of many of their acquaintances. My friend did
not have the heart to tell her that she had mistaken him for
someone else. Because she had thought that he was someone who is
generally considered a dead ringer for Daniel Craig, he just
accepted the compliment.
My own favourite, however, was the child who marched up to
Father Christmas, fixed him with a steely glare, and, with
disarming confidence, demanded: "So, if you're the real Father
Christmas, how come you're white and your elves are brown?"
Infidels and hereticks
EVERYONE should, obviously, buy their books through Church House
Bookshop, but I confess that, late last year, I took delivery of a
print-to-order facsimile of a book recommended by the former Dean
of Mahé, the Revd Michael Counsell (Out of the Question, 24
October): John Henry Blunt's 1874 Dictionary of Sects,
Heresies, Ecclesiastical Parties, and Schools of Religious
Its arrival could hardly have been more timely, because it
landed on the doormat with a heavy thud in the same week as YouGov
published the results of a survey that claimed to show that one in
50 C of E clergy did not believe in God. Assuming that they have
all since relinquished their orders, and are no longer holding open
the gates of their sheep-pens with signs that read "Wolves eat for
free", we can now get on with the task of rooting out some of the
Does your Vicar think that the birth of Christ came about by
human rather than divine action? Budnaeanism. Does the Rector
profess that it was God the Father who became incarnate at
Bethlehem? Patripassianism. Does the Assistant Curate labour under
the delusion that our Lord wrought salvation in his divinity, and
not his human- ity? Osiandrianism. Call the Archdeacon, and get the
Perhaps the members of the Bishops' Advisory Panels should arm
themselves with this book when they interview would-be ordinands.
Then again, perhaps they should just start with "Do you believe in
God?" and take it from there.
Tidings of comfort
ALL credit to the QI researcher who was canny enough to
know that Christmastide ends at Candlemas and not earlier - a rare
moment of ecclesiological accuracy in the morass of ignorance and
indifference which usually prevails in secular programming (and in
plenty of religious programming, too).
The old dispensation gives a proper amount of time for us to
take in the joys of the season, and this is, presumably,
particularly important to those who are so busy in preparations for
the feast itself that the days that follow are usually spent in a
state of exhausted delirium. It also speaks of the Church's never
fasting for more days than she feasts: and so 40 days of Christmas
for 30 days of Advent.
As for me, the days so far have been spent musing on the various
good bits of news that have trickled in from all corners of the
globe. Friends who are working to help bring stability to South
Sudan enjoyed a peaceful Christmas around a barbecue in Juba; and
the right sort of snow made for perfect skiing conditions for
others in the Pacific north-west. A bouncing baby boy was born in
Barcelona (Diary, 1 August 2014), and a seriously ill hospital
patient was well enough to go home to spend Christmas Day with his
As you read this, the British Forces Post Office is in the
process of delivering my letter to an officer serving with his
regiment in Congo; His absence from the table on New Year's Eve was
a reminder that, while the rest of us feast, the service of the
Forces goes on unstintingly.
Meanwhile, a priest who has recently been appointed to minister
in one of the fleshpots of the diocese in Europe has done his best
to make a good impression on his hosts by accepting invitations,
eating what has been put before him, sampling the local delicacies,
and imbibing the indigenous wines. This, of course, has made him an
instant hit. It hasn't done much for his gout.
Dr Serenhedd James is Director of the Cowley Project, and an
Hon. Research Fellow of St Stephen's House, Oxford.