Well, that was quite a busy few days. Nine services taken, eight sermons preached. Two home communion visits, over forty eight hours. Hard work, but made possible by a Rectory quieter than ever before at Christmas. Having anticipated the family celebration last Friday - both daughters' families celebrating elsewhere this year - I was spared the usual conflict of interest between having 'quality time' with children and grandchildren, and helping to give Christmas its due spiritual content for those still wanting to worship in church. It's often been a struggle between socialising and finding time for quiet reflection, and it sometimes has left me feeling resentful towards my vocation, not making it any easier to get through. Normally I am exhausted by Christmas lunchtime. This year was an exception, perhaps because it was easier to get a little solitude and extra rest.
I know and feel it's not right to be taking so many services. There's always the danger of falling into mechanical routine, failing in concentration. There's a danger that so much repetition will make it all lose meaning, so it's necessary at the outset to just offer the whole exercise up to God, flaws and all, and accept the privation and impoverishment as a hazard of work. I can't and won't go on like this forever, but where there are opportunities, however slender, to offer encouragement and hope, and to tell Christ's story, I feel they must be taken.
A spread of opportunities for worship is still worth offering, because a large city church touches the lives of many different constituencies. It's true those who really want to come to church will make the effort to find out when services and put themselves out to come if they can. Many are driven by habit and custom, their commitment not fully conscious, or overwhelmed by other things going on in their lives. Despite all our advertising, for the past five years that 'Midnight Mass' starts at 11.00pm, ten to twenty percent of the attendance will arrive at 11.30pm. It's nothing to do with people coming out of pubs at that time, or public transport timetables. It's everything to do with what people habitually remember and expect. Even if they noticed there was a service in a particular church, they'd still be likley to read the time 'it always used to be', no matter what the poster says.
All in all, attendance turned out better than the average I had expected. There was quite an influx of young Asians, many more than the handful who attend services regularly. Also there were a signficant number older couples and singles, most of whom, I think were staying at one or other of the city centre hotels, as part of Christmas holiday package trips. Across the two days, many of our regulars turned up, some several times. Others were absent, holidaying elsewhere or making Christmas happen for someone else, nearer to home.
This year, our son Owain made a rare appearance at the Christmas morning Eucharist, and then helped prepare lunch for the three of us, while I went off and did my last service. We had a most enjoyable meal - goose instead of turkey for the first time ever - and I didn't immediately fall asleep after the meal, or even in between courses this year. Is it this record? Christmas and exhaustion have far too often been companions in my working life, not to mention the sense of failure at not being there enough for my children. "You're always working, Dad", they used to say, "When will you ever stop." When I did, I fell asleep. Well, not this year.
After lunch, we listened to the Queen's speech, sitting around the Wireless - laptop of course, playing the famous podcast. It reminded me of sitting around the real Wireless, fifty years ago listening to the Queen's speech, and my father nodding off in post prandial stupor. It's the first time in many years I've been awake enough to listen. Apart from Christmas life being a little less crowded this year, the other significant difference is the outcome of renouncing tea and coffee a fortnight ago, in an effort to reduce rising blood pressure. After a few days of feeling decidedly weird, my head cleared, I started sleeping better and feeling fresher than I would if I were on holiday. I feel so different, that giving up those delicious tastes, so much a part of daily life, hardly seems to matter.