The First Sunday of Advent

In the 1970s after the time of the first Star Wars film there was a line about “You know you’re a Lutheran when … you hear ‘May the Force be with you’ and you reply, ‘And also with you’!”.

It seems that these days with imminent relaunch of the next part of Star Wars it is not the catch-phrase ‘May the Force be with you’ that is in focus but the ‘Our Father’ – the Lord’s Prayer – that the Church of England wanted to screen in the advertising that accompanies the cinema experi-ence. To be honest – and I’ve read numerous news reports and commentaries – I’m not entirely sure of the ‘facts’ as the news changes or, better still, unfolds. In summary, the Church of England made an ad featuring people saying the Lord’s Prayer in a variety of contexts – those are the only words spoken (or sung) – which conclude with the written message on the screen ‘Prayer is for everyone’ and #justpray. So you pay your money and advertise away. That’s the logic and, I think, our general expectation. (We expect the local papers to advertise us if we pay for them.)

However the company that provides advertising to cine-mas – Digital Cinema Media – has now stated that it will not screen the advertisement (professionally made and having been rated U – approved for all ages) because it does not screen religious or political advertising. This is where I get confused. Did the C of E know this before making the ad? (Why then be surprised when the ad is not picked up?) It is alleged that DCM offered a 50% discount to the C of E for the advertising slots. (So why did DCM change its mind and now refuse to pick up the ad?) I am sure there is a story there and it might be variously phrased as established church seeking privilege to clever marketing strategy (for already many people have seen the ad) to the market place clearly maintaining its criteria regarding advertising (even ‘at Christmas’) to the altar of economics supports the biggest return (which, in this case, was the judgement not to screen the ad).

How we frame the story affects the telling.

Is this religious persecution? Is this evidence of the secularisation of society? Is this a church very savvy or out-of-touch? Is this an example of the consumerism of the season? There’s lots to talk about!

For me, the ad misses the point that a church would want to make, in my opinion. Prayer is for everyone! That’s actually not news. All religions pray in some way. In the wide variety of prayer forms we can find non religious people ‘doing something similar’. So the action isn’t unique. The words of the prayer are concise and of course well known where Christianity has influence. The sentiment of the prayer is not unique however for other religions might also pray for God’s will and thank him for daily help and seek his protection from evil and so on. What is unique however is the owner of this prayer. It is the Lord. Not a lord or any lord – he has a name – Jesus, the crucified and risen man whom his followers say entered the world personally, physically, incarna-tionally 2000 years ago to die and thus give life to all people. He taught his disciples to pray. This prayer is not generic! It is specifically tied to Jesus and his relationship to God and because Je-sus is alive, we keep on praying this prayer. Prayer is for everyone. True. But the good news – at Christmas – is that Jesus is for everyone. If you’re going to spend money on advertising – that’s the message I’d want heard.  — GS