As I mentioned earlier, St M's is a popular venue for school carol services, and this evening we were packed to the gunwhales with parents and friends - and the children themselves, of course. Before the service, I helped hand out service sheets - and saw a pretty traditional selection of carols represented ; "Good King Wenceslaus" "O Come, all ye faithful" "Ding Dong Merrily on High" and "The Twelve Days of Christmas". Though the evening is always billed as a Carol Service in the past few years it has been more like a Christmas play with audience carols thrown in for good measure...so it was no surprise that tonight's offering began very firmly in a secular present. What was more startling was the fact that for the first year ever, there was not a single reference (beyond the carols, which were kind of incidental ) to the nativity itself. The play, which was very well presented, and featured some splendid singing from all the Y5 children, was based around a sort of treasure hunt to find the missing fifth gold ring, without which The Twelve Days of Christmas could not be completed...There were references to the qualities that might help to recover the ring - giving, being of united as one, listening and doing,- there were references to the elusive "Christmas gold" which seemed to represent the heart of the season - but there wasn't even a glance towards the child in the manger. I realise that this is a multi-cultural, post Christendom society - but Ch Kings is a pretty solidly middle England kind of place, where traditions have a great deal of power...It seems to me that we've maybe passed some sort of watershed - certainly my own perceptions have been challenged uncomfortably. I was further disconcerted by the fact that though everyone there was given a hymn sheet, and none of the carols were remotely obscure, very few of the parents actually joined in with the singing when they were invited to.
It is common knowledge that singing is no longer something that British adults choose to do - and this saddens me hugely....But Christmas carols, I'd imagined, were something different. They would surely be safe for a generation at least...but even to please their children, this group of parents was just not going to sing. Music, particularly singing, has for so long been one of my clearest windows onto God - so I came home decidedly pensive. Took this snap with my phone as we sang (or didn't) the final carol. The rood screen veiled in polythene is disturbingly symbolic of a gospel almost veiled by the competing pressures of a secular Christmas.
I'm not, as I hope you realise, in any way criticising the school or the excellent production. I'm just pondering sadly the gulf between where we currently are as church and where we might believe ourselves to be. I guess, really, I'm just learning the hard way.