An earlier article in the Times claiming that more people logged on to the internet on Christmas Day than went to church has provoked a robust defence in the Letters columns today:
The correspondents make their points well and the Communications Officer from the Diocese of Bath and Wells reflects anecdotally that there might have been more people in church than in recent years. Certainly that would be reflected in my guestimate of what went on in our Cathedral. Midnight Communion, despite a potentially disastrous shower of rain at about 11pm, produced a mammoth congregation, whilst the main service on Christmas Day morning more than held its own. Anecdotally, even when you factor out exaggerated claims, evidence from clergy would seem to indicate larger congregations this year.
Again this year, grumpy old men (myself included!) and women have reacted strongly to those who suggest that Christmas should be downplayed for fear of offending adherents of other religions. One wonders whether the Dawkins/Hitchins claim to be evangelists of atheism hasn’t provoked the very opposite of what they intended. The most surprising newspaper columnists have been falling over themselves to leap to God’s defence.
All this is positive, but in the end I had to ask myself how much it would matter to me if the Times were right? Would I care that much if more people logged on, on Christmas Day than went to church. I have to say that such a stat would neither encourage nor discourage me. Don’t get me wrong, I think that the Church is very important. I buy the view that, to quote Bill Hybels, “the local church is the hope of the world.” At least I buy it insofar as the local church is meant to point beyond itself to that bigger reality that Jesus preached about, which He called the Kingdom of God.
In a way I think the real question we need to be asking as 2007 comes to an end is whether we are beginning 2008 with a better world? And there the evidence becomes a little more ambivalent…..