There was a time when queuing to get into a department store to see Santa or going to see “the lights” was the height of the Christmas experience. How times change The Guardian has this list of activities that relate to the Christmas season. Reading through the list I was struck by the references to steam train packages to get you to Cathedrals:
“The Cathedrals Express is running several days trips from London this month that take in carol services in Oxford, Chichester, Salisbury, Sherborne Abbey and Norwich. Getting there is half the fun; speeding through the countryside to the chug of the vintage train’s steam engines, with smoke drifting past the windows. Opt for the Pullman or Premier Dining option for a champagne brunch on the outward journey and dinner on the return leg.
• Various dates from 8-21 December; standard class trips £65, Premier Dining £169; trains depart from Victoria (for Oxford, Salisbury and Chichester), Waterloo (for Sherborne Abbey) and Kings Cross (for Norwich); 01483 209888; steamdreams.com“
When I first saw this a few of my prejudices kicked in aswell as my inclusion/ exclusion radar, but then I stopped and thought about it. For those with the money and the inclination this would be an ideal way of doing outreach. Ok, somebody somewhere is profiting by getting people into church for a service, but…..here’s the thing it is a way to get people into a church for a service. This company has hooked into what many sections of the church are actually trying to do themselves; offering an experience. Increasingly I would suggest much of our non-socially orientated outreach is about offering an attractive experience in order to try and get people to buy into the product and then hopefully build some brand loyalty.
I could critique this whole approach in various ways: getting them to come to us, social exclusion is being promoted, eliteism, segmentation of congregations, marketisation of the church, church being turned into a tourist attraction and so forth but I don’t think we should. We all know those issues exist and should be looking to tackle them; but we don’t tackle them by knocking commercial initiatives that reach out in ways, if we’re honest, that are far more imaginative than what the church itself can come up with.