*** DEBUG END ***

In defence of those who preach at carol services

01 January 2016


From the Revd Dr Stephen Watkinson

Sir, — I was surprised and disappointed to see my diocesan Bishop encouraging clergy not to preach at carol services (Comment, 18/25 December). There are good reasons to preach.

First, the biblical accounts contain regular explanation, whether in the messages from the angels or the references to the Old Testament. This suggests God intends the Christmas stories to be explained.

Second, because we live in a culture that increasingly does not know or understand the Bible, we cannot simply read the story and hope people will understand.

Third, the purpose of having preachers and teachers in the Church is both to proclaim the good news to people and to explain it to them, which is why, for example, proclamation and teaching are an integral part of the Ordinal.

Finally, where I minister, what people need most at Christmas is not a candle or a choir (although they might enjoy those things). People need the good news of great joy so that they can experience that joy for themselves. What a shame if we were to miss the opportunity to explain that to them on the occasion when they have come to church.

I am not sure of the reason for suggesting we do not preach: the article does not elaborate. Perhaps we lack confidence in the good news itself, which suggests some rather serious problems with our faith. Perhaps we lack confidence in the clergy to preach the good news in a meaningful way, which leaves us with some serious questions about our clergy. Perhaps we doubt our visitors’ ability to listen to good news; and yet they have come to church looking for something.

It seems unlikely to me that, in these days of decline, the missional way forward is to disobey the command to “Preach the word” (2 Timothy 4.2), especially at Christmas.

9 Deeplish Road
Rochdale OL11 1NY


From Canon Andrew Dow

Sir, — The Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, rather spoils his otherwise helpful article by claiming, without giving any reason, that a sermon at a carol service “really is not a good idea”.

My view, after forty years in parish ministry, is that not to give a carol-service congregation some uplifting explanation and application of the Christmas event is tantamount to criminal negligence. Of course, the argument will be trotted out that “the carols and readings speak for themselves, without need of elaboration,” but this belief is naïve, and hugely underestimates the lack of Christian understanding and biblical illiteracy of so many in our country today.

So, for the 32 years I was an incumbent (in four parishes), I always preached a short sermon at every carol service — not a polemic or a meaty exposition, of course, and certainly not a rebuke to the person who attends only at Christmas; rather (I hope) a pithy, contemporary, winsome take on some aspect of the nativity narratives. I always concluded with a gentle challenge to “take a next step”, such as asking me for a simple booklet at the door, or joining our post-New Year Alpha course or equivalent.

Over the years, this strategy consistently led more people to find a real faith and begin committed church membership than did any other arm of parish outreach, funeral ministry, perhaps, excepted.

Of course, like many clergy, I initially struggled every year to find “anything fresh to say this Christmas”. The solution was not to drop the sermon, but to scour the newspapers right up to the last minute for a seasonal news items (often anecdotal) that provided an easily acceptable populist platform on which to unveil something of the wonder of the incarnation. Irregular behaviour by Santas, and nativity-play faux pas regularly furnished a rich seam to mine.

“Faith comes from hearing,” the Bible says (Romans 10.17). But how will people really hear — unless someone speaks?

17 Brownlow Drive
Stratford-upon-Avon CV37 9QS

Letters to the editor

Letters for publication should be sent to letters@churchtimes.co.uk.

Letters should be exclusive to the Church Times, and include a full postal address. Your name and address will appear alongside your letter.

Job of the Week


Priest in Charge (Rector Designate)

London and Home Counties

Our suburban parish on the border between the London Borough of Croydon and the lovely Surrey countryside and with a spacious modern Rectory, is seeking a Priest-in-Charge (Rector Designate) to lead our church as we seek to fulfil our mission to proclaim Jesus, change lives and serve our community.   We are looking for a leader who, with energy and dynamism, who will develop the vision for the church to enable the children and families work to be a priority in order to grow the church both in numbers and spiritual maturity. In addition, the new person will care and tend for the existing ageing congregation many of whom have ¬faithfully served the church for many years.   The person we are looking for should have: strong communication skills, the ability to engage and encourage people across the age ranges and to convey the church’s mission, vision and priorities; a commitment to preach the Word of God in thoughtful and stimulating ways; an energy and dynamism probably more extrovert than introvert; a pastoral heart, showing empathy and good listening skills, the ability, willingness and experience to help us to develop and enjoy a variety of worship styles, including a wider range of musical worship and a deeper corporate prayer life -whilst recognising and valuing our heritage;   For further information and to apply, please click the 'apply for this job' button below.   For an informal conversation with the Archdeacon of Croydon, please contact the Archdeacon’s PA Kathleen.bailey@southwark.anglican.org to arrange a time for a phone conversation.   Closing Date: Sunday 12 June 2022 Parish Visit for shortlisted candidates: Monday 11 July 2022 Interviews: Monday 11 July 2022   Please note we have a policy in Southwark Diocese that to be appointed to an incumbent status post, a priest must have served a title in an Anglican church in the British Isles.   This post is subject to DBS enhanced disclosure

Train-a-Priest Fund 2022 Appeal

Please consider a donation to TAP Africa this year. Every penny you can give goes to ordinands in Africa who face financial difficulty, to support them as they complete their training. 

Donate online

Read more about this year's appeal

Forthcoming Events

24 May 2022
Disability and Church: Intersectionality
A joint webinar from HeartEdge and Church Times.

2 July 2022
Bringing Down the Mighty: Church, Theology and Structural Injustice
With Anthony Reddie, Azariah France-Williams, Mariama Ifode-Blease, Luke Larner, Will Moore, Stewart Rapley and Victoria Turner.

More events

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)