Christmas

Oral Answers to Questions — Church Commissioners – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 29th November 2018.

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Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Labour, Kingston upon Hull North 12:00 am, 29th November 2018

What steps the Church of England is taking to promote the message of Christmas.

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman The Second Church Estates Commissioner

I am so glad the hon. Lady has asked that question, as this Sunday is the first Sunday in Advent. We all look forward to Christmas. The Church of England reached over 6.8 million people with last year’s Advent and Christmas campaign. This year, the Church has launched a Follow the Star campaign. Details of that can be found on the Church website, or indeed in hard copies made available through Church House Publishing.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Labour, Kingston upon Hull North

I thank the right hon. Lady for that reply, and I endorse the importance of Follow the Star to advertise services and signpost the campaign that the Church is running. I say to the right hon. Lady, however, that universal credit is being rolled out in my constituency just before Christmas. I am really concerned about the rising number of people attending the food bank, and I am also concerned about rising levels of homelessness and loneliness in the community. Does she think the Church of England could do more to take practical steps to convey the Christmas message in our communities?

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman The Second Church Estates Commissioner

The hon. Lady enables me to give the answer I so much wanted to give to Question 9, which had to be withdrawn at short notice. The Church has surveyed the social action projects in its 16,000 parishes, and 33,000 social action projects are under way in precisely the kind of areas the hon. Lady mentions—food banks, night shelters for the homeless and debt counselling. Indeed, this is living out the message of Christmas to the needy.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Conservative, Chesham and Amersham

The message of Christmas is one of renewal and hope. Will my right hon. Friend bring a message of hope to people with autism in prison? It is essential that those who minister to them understand the condition. In the new year, will she look at ensuring that all prison chaplains are trained in autism? In that way, the Christmas message could be extended into 2019.

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman The Second Church Estates Commissioner

The message is that Christmas is for all, including inmates in prison. My right hon. Friend has campaigned so hard for those with autism. Our chaplains are given guidance on helping prison inmates with autism.

I must finish with a heart-warming story for the House, which perhaps those who read The Guardian will have spotted. The Dean of Salisbury cathedral provided stonemasons to a local prison who trained the inmates in how to fashion their own war memorial, and he inaugurated it in time for the Armistice. I just want to reassure the House that, for practical reasons, the number of chisels was counted on the way in and on the way out.

Photo of Martin Vickers Martin Vickers Conservative, Cleethorpes

Many children will be in church over the Christmas period, particularly at events such as Christingle services. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is a great opportunity for the Church to spread the message to our young people in the hope that they will retain that message throughout their lives?

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman The Second Church Estates Commissioner

The Church of England has seen increasing attendance at its church services. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that crib services and Christingle services are very important for small people.

I would like to encourage you, Mr Speaker, to have a look at the Follow the Star campaign. It is different for a change: it does not start on the first day of Advent, but covers the 12 days of Christmas. When you and I have finished washing up after our Christmas lunches, we might sit down and reflect on the true meaning of Christmas and make sure that our children do get it.