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22 December 2016

A NEW term has been coined to describe those who are basically vegetarians but who will eat the odd bit of turkey or salmon: “flexitarians”. In the field of animal welfare, there is no moral high ground here. Only vegans, untainted by dairy produce, can preach righteousness. At this time of year churches are filled by followers of a religious practice that might be termed “Festivality”, or perhaps simply “Festivity” — people who attend services only at Christmas or perhaps one or two other religious festivals. Those who worship more regularly are delighted to see them and to entertain their children; but it is hard to resist a desire to wish them more fully engaged. There are no long queues snaking round the Front Court at King’s College, Cambridge, for a midweek evensong in February.

There is no moral high ground here, either, however. Church attendance will be placed in the balance on judgement day (if there is such a balance), but only as a measure of the pilgrim’s recognition of his or her need for salvation, and for the help that liturgy and fellowship can give along the way. Christ appeared on earth not to be worshipped at regular intervals but to overturn the accepted ways of religion. The characters in the birth narratives visited him only once, as far as we know, and yet it is hard to imagine that they returned to their places at ease in the old dispensation. Even today, it need take only one encounter with Christ to transform someone’s life utterly.

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