We had a good day of carol services yesterday.
It kicked off with the biggest turn out at Messy Church in its year-long history - and this despite the atrocious conditions under foot. I didn't count but there could well have 70 people at the peak.
Two things stand out. The first is that there were a number of families who've not been before and the second is that a number of families stayed on for the all-age carol service. So we're making new friends and hopefully helping them explore the meaning of the Christian faith for families today.
Then at teatime we had a pretty full and very traditional carols by candlelight. This continues to be an event that attracts a good number of people who don't usually attend church. I lost count of the number of people I shook hands with who joked that they were once a year regulars.
The music was great, the service flowed sweetly with a reasonable number of people involved in one way or another and a number of people commented on how helpful and challenging the sermon was.
But I guess what stands out for me is the thought that this service above anything else we do is worship as entertainment. Now don't me get me wrong. This doesn't mean that the service is not worth doing. Lots of people, church goers and non-church goers alike, find much that is beneficial for them in it. But I wonder if there's a danger that it is just another feature of the traditional Bromley Christmas, up there with the office party, sherry and mince pies with neighbours, last minute shopping, menu planning to suit the tastes of everyone sharing all the meals that will be cooked over the festive season, etc.
My feeling is that the Advent Conspiracy has helped a number of us to think about how we celebrate Christmas this year in terms of what we buy, who we invite to parties and why. But I think we've a way to go.
So - and if this isn't a contradiction - I do feel that carols by candlelight is really good, positive and worthwhile but perhaps it does just allow people to come and do right by God at this one time of the year when the Christian story still resonates with a broad cross-section of the population, so that they don't need to engage with God at any other time of the year.
Maybe this contradiction is at the heart of all the public worship activities we do as a church but it's just thrown into particularly sharp relief at Christmas.
So, a question for next year is whether we can help everyone at our carol services to see the connection between this story and the celebration of it they gladly come at Christmas and their everyday, ordinary, January to November working and domestic lives.
Answers on a post card...