UPDATE REFORM

REFORM FOR THE MILLENNIUM

BISHOP GAVIN REID says the millennium candles-and-resolution project is a sort of parable. The implication is that those "with eyes to see" will realise that the resolution both reflects the character of God and also represents an appropriate response to Him. Others, who might otherwise have been tempted to jeer if Christ's name had been mentioned, or worse still provoked into explicit rejection of Him, will at least not have had their unbelief confirmed.

Since the intention is that there should be some significant symbolic act for people to make at midnight on New Year's Eve, the Bishop's approach seems eminently sensible. However, the question that remains is "why do this at all?"

Writing in the Church of England newspaper last month, the Bishop said that the Government had encouraged his group to come up with something that would be for the nation rather than the church. Leaving aside the question of whether we have so sold out to the ‘inter-faith’ agenda that we no longer feel Christ's name can be proclaimed outside the church, what the Bishop’s remarks appeared to imply was that his group had been encouraged by the Government to come up with something that wasn't specifically Christian. Why should it? What business does the Church have interfering in people's parties if the name of Christ cannot be mentioned? Furthermore, why take on the job when the timing of the event, however significant in chronological terms, couldn't be worse in terms of evangelism? In short, why couldn't the Government do the job for itself?

Maybe I'm being too sceptical. Maybe, however many champagne corks have popped, the mere fact that a number of people will have tried to read the resolution at midnight will be so remarkable that it will prompt conversations that ultimately help Christian people to introduce their friends to Christ. I certainly hope so - and I have no doubt that the Bishop, who has played such a key role in evangelistic outreach in the past, is also hoping for this outcome.

However, as an ordinary vicar, I have to make some decisions in the months ahead. The first is whether to use the millennium as a catalyst for parish visiting by members of my congregation. I have already decided that: it's a perfect opportunity to get something going. The next decision is what to distribute during the visiting. Whatever I go for, I want to include some material from my own church. But what else should I leave - particularly bearing in mind the majority who are most unlikely to come to my church, however often I invite them?

I could leave them with the candle and resolution. If I don't, they might feel their local church has let them down. However, my church has limited resources and I'm keen that they should be deployed on something that will have effects lasting longer than the midnight celebrations. That's why I'm going for the Reform package that will shortly be available: an attractively presented Gospel of Mark, containing notes on how to go about reading it and a Christian prayer rather than a resolution. I know these aren't mutually exclusive options, and if someone wants to give me the money, I don't mind handing out the candles as well. However, I do want people to know what their local church stands for and since the Reform package doesn't interrupt the midnight celebrations, I don't think I'll run the danger the Bishop sees, of bringing Christ's name into disrepute. It may not be the unifying act the Government wants, but it stands more chance of getting people off to a new start than the resolution alone.

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