Hillsong London is charging £10 for an adult ticket to their carol concert. But Carl Beech says the policy excludes those who can’t afford to pay - and that’s the antithesis of Christmas
I live and work in an area that is severely economically deprived. The latest data showed that 33 per cent of children here are under the poverty line and 45 per cent of people do not have any qualifications.
Money is scarce, the local council is struggling for funds and many community services and support structures are struggling to cope.
As Christians living in the area, we do what we can to demonstrate the hope and joy that we have found in Christ and work in close partnership with all sorts of community groups.
When it comes to Christmas, we don’t corner the market, but we do have something unique to bring. It’s a chance for us to communicate the true meaning of the season - the mind-blowing generosity of God in sending his son Jesus Christ to us.
Throwing open the doors
This year we are partnering with some other local groups and organisations to throw open the doors and give away hundreds of selection boxes and hot dogs, create a Christmas grotto and a free space for Christmas market stalls, do fun stuff, make some kids laugh, and be a blessing. We’ll also be singing some carols and dishing out the mince pies and hot drinks.
Why should a visitor, who doesn’t know Christ, be expected to pay for our lights and smoke machines?
All of this will be free. With a minimum wage of £9.50 and many people out of work (the major employer in our local area closed its doors some years ago and, previous to that, the mines shut) it’s the least we can do.
Working hard together, we’ve scrambled around for decorations (thanks to Morrisons) and food donations and are providing free access to a building that’s warm and welcoming.
Good news for all
Making things like this free is not just pragmatism, it’s also theologically driven.
The gospel is supposed to be good news to the poor. Therefore, it would seem abhorrent to exclude anyone who can’t afford to attend. The incarnation and sacrifice of Christ is mind-blowingly generous and undeserved. Christmas is our chance to communicate this in word and deed. If ever there was a time to throw the doors open and welcome everyone in, this is it.
It’s my strongly held belief that followers of Christ are the most generous and welcoming people on the planet. Christmas gives us a chance to welcome all. To put no barriers up in what is, increasingly, becoming a season in which we are likely to see huge numbers gather together at carol services in churches and workplaces up and down the country.
Anecdotally at least, many of us have witnessed the increasingly popularity of church services and community engagement at key moments such as Christmas, Remembrance and Easter. What an incredible opportunity we have.
So I’ll be honest. I was incredulous when I heard that some churches were charging for carol services. In the case of Hillsong London, as much as £10 per head. That’s four hours work for someone on the minimum wage to bring their family.
The gospel is supposed to be good news to the poor. It would seem abhorrent to exclude anyone who can’t afford to attend
To me, this seems to be the ultimate in performance driven, professional Christianity. Why should a visitor, who doesn’t know Christ, be expected to pay for our lights and smoke machines?
More than that, it’s exclusive. It makes hearing the message of Jesus the preserve of those with means and excludes those who don’t.
Frankly, if I was to charge £10 a head for a carol service at my church, I would be a pariah in my local community. I would also have a hall full of empty seats.
It seems that, in some churches, we really are reinforcing the message that there is “no room in the inn.” Surely the Church can do better than that.