The Diocese of Bristol was at the heart of a major national campaign during Advent to promote the true meaning of Christmas and the transformative power of the Good News at the heart of the Christian story.
Our Christmas starts with Christ campaign focused on poverty in the broadest sense. On the one hand, it asked questions of the spiritual poverty which allows 51% of the population to claim Christ is irrelevant to their celebration of Christmas. The campaign encouraged churches to raise the profile of their services and events, proclaiming the good news of great joy brought by the angels 2000 years ago.
But it also highlighted how Christians are responding to material poverty, drawing attention to the work being done by Foodbanks and debt advice centres, many of which are resourced by churches and Christian groups.
By asserting that Christmas starts not with a payday loan, but with Christ, we proclaim again the good news that, in Him, it is possible for all our debts to be cancelled and our lives set free.
Ven Christine Froude, Archdeacon of Malmesbury
60,000 people in the UK relied on Foodbanks over Christmas as personal debt hit 1.432 trillion at the end of the year. This financial hardship is becoming the dominant characteristic of Christmas for increasing numbers of people, in sharp contrast to the consumption and spending that is so prevalent at that time of year.
Highlights of the campaign:
Thousands listened as Bishop Mike discussed the question, Is Jesus relevant to your Christmas? on a BBC phone-in at the beginning of Advent.
Bristol Cathedral became a central collection point for food parcels to be distributed to Foodbanks across the city. Bishop Mike and the Dean unveiled a prominent banner proclaiming that Christmas starts when we feed the hungry.
Bishop Mike used his December Diocesan Synod address to highlight the Christmas Starts campaign, encouraging parishes to lobby for welfare reform and combat the economic climate which creates the need for Foodbanks.
Archdeacon Christine Froude visited a newly opened debt advice centre run by Christians Against Poverty (CAP) and resourced largely by volunteers from St Edyths, Sea Mills. On the same day, posters appeared on bus shelters around the city asking: Does Christmas have to start with a payday loan?
A series of vox pop videos asking people what Christmas meant to them were viewed by thousands. Shared online and via social media channels, these provoked discussion about the meaning of Christmas and raised awareness of spiritual and material poverty.
Churches creatively promoted the different ways they would be engaging their communities with the power and relevance of the Christmas story. In Swindon, for example, the Bible Society organised a pop-up, beatboxed Nativity with live camels at the Brunel Shopping Centre.
The Christmas Starts with Christ campaign helped generate awareness and confidence in the Christian story. A great start to our year.
When you go short of food you are not just hungry, you are an outsider. This Christmas we need to invite others to eat and share that privilege.
Very Rev Dr David Hoyle, Dean of Bristol