23rd - Christmas
For some people, the church can be a bit like a Tardis: it’s much bigger on the inside than it appears to be from the outside. We know our particular church building, squeezed between York Road and Mount Hermon Road in Woking, is a bit like that. It’s almost invisible from the road but, for those who step inside, there is a whole community which comes together, worships together, supports each other and serves our wider community.
In this series for Advent we want to open some windows so everyone can see a bit more of who we are and what goes on in a church like ours.
When I was a young Christian, my favourite service of the year was the Christmas Eve Midnight Communion. There was something very special about being in church so late in the evening, the place packed with about 400 people. We had nowhere better to be and there was a sense of anticipation; Christmas was practically here and everything was ready. I still find it a very special time. Over the years this service has become slightly less well-attended, perhaps due to the end of the 11pm pub closing time, or possibly because most churches have a wider range of Christmas services on offer. These days the congregation is less inebriated and rather younger than you might expect. In my experience, if you give God some space when you have nothing else on your mind, his Holy Spirit can break through in amazing ways.
Since I’ve worked in a church, my favourite service of the year has become the Christmas Day Celebration. Spending time on the big day with my church family is fantastic – the children’s sense of joy is infectious and you really get a taste of heaven. Here everyone is included and valued: young and old, single, married, divorced, disabled, gay, straight (and everywhere on the LGBTI+ spectrum), whoever you are and whatever you’ve done, you are welcome. For some Christians this is their only family gathering of the day, which is very precious. OK I’m paid to be there, but I can’t think of anywhere I would rather be.
Vicar at St Mary of Bethany Church
I joined SMOB as Vicar in September 2017 after five years as Vicar of All Saints’ Lightwater (seven miles away by the M3), and before that I was Curate at Christ Church Guildford. I’ve been in full-time ministry for 15 years (starting out in north London, where I’m from). When I had a ‘proper’ job, I was a book editor in central London, working on projects as varied as children’s computer books, film and TV tie-ins and celebrity biographies. I once had a business meeting with Graham Norton and I spent a whole afternoon reading poems about bottom burps for Purple Ronnie! I’m a lifelong fan of Doctor Who, have wide-ranging and eclectic taste in music (Rachmaninoff, Pet Shop Boys) and I’d like to play more tennis and do more gardening.