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Sunday, December 21, 1997 Published at 10:47 GMT


O come all ye shoppers!
image: [ The Archbishop is to extend his congregation to Asda ]
The Archbishop is to extend his congregation to Asda

In a dramatic break with tradition, the Archbishop of Canterbury will be directing his Christmas message down supermarket aisles rather than church ones this Sunday.

The message from Dr George Carey (also being broadcast on this site on Sunday at 15:30 GMT) is part of a carol service being held in the Gravesend branch of Asda supermarket in south-east England. The service will also be beamed via satellite to all 216 Asda branches across the country.

[ image: Shop and worship?]
Shop and worship?
The archbishop is representing it as an attempt to bring some of the real meaning of Christmas back into the lives of people too busy to go to church.

The message has been timed to coincide with the most crowded Sunday shopping day of the year. Asda estimates that one million people will shop in its stores, and a quarter of these will be passing through in the middle of the afternoon, the time scheduled for the Archbishop's message.

The supermarket service will reach almost as many people as normally go to church. Attendance is continuing to decline in Britain, with only 1.1 million Anglicans currently going to church.

Shoppers will be handed an order of service and a hymn sheet, and be invited to sing as they shop.

Asda decided to ask the Archbishop to make the address after hearing his Ashe lecture in October, in which he commended church leaders who were holding services in pubs and on the streets.

He praised the decision to include Elton John in the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales. Reacting to the huge emotional response to her death, he urged the church to find innovative ways to connect to the spiritual needs of people who do not go to church.

What about Sunday shopping?

[ image:  ]
But it was only four years ago that George Carey was fighting to stop shopping on Sundays. The Sunday Trading Act that allowed widespread shopping on Sundays was passed in December 1993.

The Archbishop argued that Sunday shopping could seriously damage the country's physical and spiritual health.

A Lambeth Palace spokewoman said his decision to address Sunday shoppers was not a contradiction.

"Like most people, the Archbishop worked hard to try to keep Sunday special, but now the law has been passed, he has been pragmatic," she said.

However, the Keep Sunday Special Campaign Manager, John Alexander, said: "The church in Britain, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, has always been, and still is, in favour of keeping Sunday special.

"We just hope that the playing of this message on a Sunday does not cause confusion in the minds of the general public."

The carol service is being conducted by Rev Michael Fanstone of the Emmanuel Baptist Church. He was the first to approach Asda and ask if they could do a carol service.

"I'm not keen to see the shape and style of Sunday change either," he said. "But you need a degree of realism. And this is a good chance to get the message out because many people will hear it."

  • The Archbishop of Canterbury is the the Primate of All England, which covers England south of Cheshire and Yorkshire.
  • He is the "first among equals" regarding the Primates of the Anglican Communion around the world.
  • The Archbishop of York is the Primate of England.
  • The Queen is "defender of the faith" and the titular head of the Church of England.


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