“As the congregation sit in a large horseshoe arrangement, the minister facing them starts to wave her arms around. “All eyes very quickly turn to the screen on the wall announcing the theme of the service. “There is no prelude. “The first hymn comes up and everyone except the minister remains sitting but no music or voice is heard yet every hand in the room moves in harmony and in rhythm.
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“One visitor has become completely lost. In fact, all throughout the service, the worship is conducted in silence and the PowerPoint, not the microphone, is the amplifier. “For the visitor, the boot is on the other foot – welcome to the Deaf Church! “The Minister and the congregation are Deaf using BSL (British Sign Language). “There is no interpreter to voice-over for hearing visitors.
Everything is visual and interactive – it is the norm during the sermon for the congregation to ask questions, seeking clarification and making comments. “We tend to use objects to help in our prayers eg a hand-shaped post-it-note to write, draw and/or bend the fingers and stick onto the cross. “BSL is a language in its own right with its own grammar and syntax but we do try, as English is our second language, to make our church accessible to non-BSL users – by sitting next to them and writing down notes, and by following the PowerPoint of usually 30 slides or more! “There is a difference between accessible and inclusive.”
I love the season of Advent – and not just because it is nowadays associated with gin. What on earth am I talking about? Well, one of the “must-have” additions to the Advent season is, apparently, a gin-filled Advent calendar. No kidding. Produced by a gin company, the boozy calendar features 24 3cl samples of gin, Each day of Advent, you open a window and take a slug from a bottle of gin. So by the time you get to Christmas day, you should be in an altered state of consciousness.
Or speaking in tongues. You may even understand the String Theory of particle physics, for the first and last time. (The British statesman Lord Palmerston famously said of The Schleswig-Holstein Question – an esoteric dispute about the relations of two Danish duchies in the 19th century: “Only three people have ever really understood the Schleswig-Holstein business – the Prince Consort, who is dead, a German professor who has gone mad – and I, who have forgotten all about it.”) Back to the gin. The company behind the booze-filled calendar will be releasing information about each gin daily on their website. “We’ve worked hard to ensure that with a more international line up than ever before, you will discover a whole new array of gins,” reads the blurb.
Well, it’s good that Jesus came into the world, isn’t it? The Advent season has been co-opted to help provide salvation for gin, the drink that was once known as “Mother’s Ruin”, because of its devastating effects on families. So, leaving the gin aside – and perhaps one should, given that the Gin Advent calendar costs £114.95 – why do I love Advent so much? I love it because it is a time of waiting, a time of silence, a time to prepare hearts and minds for the coming of the Christ child. It’s a time of repentance and challenge, too. The great Bonhoeffer reminds us that Advent is also “frightening news for everyone who has a conscience”. The Christ who comes and comes again confronts as well as consoles us. The shadow of the Cross lies over the crib. Silence is difficult for a talkative generation, at a time when the leader of the free world tweets every thought that passes through his mind, and the rhetoric of end-time nuclear warfare ramps up fear upon fear. Come thou O Prince of peace. Maybe it’s time to switch off our devices and prepare for the Advent season itself.
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