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Bishops reflect on ‘extraordinary’ year

22 December 2016


Singing for Nazanin: Supporters of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian mother from West Hampstead, London, who has been detained in Iran since April, gathered in front of Downing Street on Monday evening to sing carols and to raise awareness of her plight. Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, Richard, said on Tuesday that he had told her about the support that she was receiving. “Few things bring a smile to her face these days”

Singing for Nazanin: Supporters of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian mother from West Hampstead, London, who has been detained in Iran sinc...

REFLECTING on an “extraordin­ary” year in his Christmas message, the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, has challenged Christians to be “people who build bridges”.

In the wake of further terror attacks in Europe this week, his message speaks of a “brutal, bloody, divided, torn world that seems at times to be out of control and unpredictable”. He refers to “bitter­ness” in the wake of the elections in Britain and the United States, but argues that the gospel challenges Christians to show “tolerance and grace to people with whose views we may totally disagree because they are racist, sexist, xenophobic, or full of hate”.

The Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Revd James Newcome, ponders the increased use of the term “post-truth”. The Christmas story might fare “not too well” in such a culture, he suggests. “A story about angels, shepherds, animals, and a baby sounds very sweet, but it also sounds like something that children love and adults soon grow out of.” Most people want Christmas “to be about an undemanding message of being generally nice to other people. And yet everybody needs some sort of truth by which to live, and that manger on that first Christmas contained the absolute truth; the explosive truth about our creator and about us, his creatures.”

A YouGov survey commissioned by the British Humanist Association found that 91 per cent of the 2022 people surveyed planned to cele­b­rate Christmas. Presented with a list of options to describe what made Christmas “an important time of year to you”, and able to tick as many as they wished, people were most likely to select “spending time with family” (76 per cent), followed by “giving presents” (63 per cent), and “eating Christmas food/drink­ing Christmas drinks” (57 per cent). A total of 22 per cent selected “celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ”, and 15 per cent “attending a religious service”, fewer than for “watching television” (36 per cent).

Churches continued their pre­para­tions. Many are preparing to host meals: St Simon’s, Southsea, will host a sup­per for people who are homeless, or face problems with alcohol or drug addictions, or mental-health issues. Sunday Sup­per has been running at the church for 28 years.

Portsmouth Cathedral will host a three-course lunch for up to 60 people on Christmas Day in part­nership with FoodCycle, a char­ity that creates meals from surplus food. In Bristol, more than 100 knitters joined the St Michael’s Yarn Bombers to create a six-foot Christ­mas tree from more than 800 green woollen squares. After Christmas, the squares will be sewn into blan­kets for the homeless.

Others turned to social media to spread the Good News. At St Phil­ip and St James, Leckhampton, 28 members of the congregation pre­pared a “Thought for the Day” to contribute to an online Advent course, watched by 10,000 people. The messages were recorded on mobile phones and published on the church’s Facebook page. Particip­ants were given a reading for each day and a limit of 400 words.

On Monday, Mothers from Hamp­­­stead or­­ganised a march to Downing Street to draw attention to the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian mother who has been detained in Iran since April (News, 24 June). Carols were sung outside the gates, and demon­strators urged the Govern­ment to secure her release.

About 26,000 cards and messages are being delivered to Evin Prison, in Tehran, where she is being held, and daffodils have been planted.

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