Bringing Christmas to Exeter City centre
Candles and lanterns lit Exeter City Centre as South Street Baptist Church joined with its Catholic neighbours to take part in Nightfever. By Kira Taylor
For two Thursday evenings in December, two churches in Exeter opened their doors to late night shoppers and anyone else who happened to pass by. The Catholic church, Sacred Heart, provided candles and space for prayer while South Street Baptist had its own nativity set and offered refreshments from the cold night.
It was all part of Exeter Nightfever, which raises the profile of the churches during busy shopping evenings, while reminding people of the true meaning of Christmas.
Nightfever has taken place around Europe for several years. It was introduced to Exeter and a small group of lay people and clergy decided to give it a go in 2015. A larger group of volunteers was then gathered from local Catholic communities, including the University chaplaincy.
Last year, nearly 400 people took part and many were moved by the candlelit atmosphere of the Catholic church.
'It's a wonderful thing to open the doors of our church and feel that we are not separate from the community, but a part of it,' Father John Deeny said. 'The church offers a sacred space of peace in the midst of our busy and vibrant city.
'We wanted our church to be seen as not separate from the wider community, but a part of it; and that we can offer a beautiful place of peace in the midst of a busy city centre.
'We certainly didn’t want to start imposing on people but simply to offer an invitation to ‘come in and light a candle’. We chose to avoid ‘religious’ language, and make the invitation in a way which almost everyone can identify with, as lighting a candle is a universal symbol.'
The two churches are often locked up in the evening, so to be lit and open reminded people of their presence and readiness to engage in the community. Both were open until late for shoppers and office workers. Volunteers were on hand to offer candles for prayer and warm cups of tea and roasted chestnuts (with several renditions of the song). Videos explaining the meaning of Christmas in a simple, accessible way played in the Baptist church.
'We were really delighted to be supporting our friends at Sacred Heart in the latest Exeter Nightfever, and help people reflect on the true meaning of Christmas,' said the Revd Simon Taylor, one of the ministers of South Street.
'By working together, we are able to do more and have a bigger impact. Churches working together in this way can reach more people. A key outcome for us was getting to know each other better and we hope preparing the way for more cooperation … Crucially we saw that we both focus on Jesus and we can work together.'
There were other positive consequences to the churches working together, he continued. Congregations were given the opportunity to get to know each other better. Baptists went to lay candles in the Catholic church and Catholics went to the Baptist church to share drinks and conversation. Those who entered the churches were pleased to see them working together while one was full of questions about the church’s attitudes to others.
'Look for opportunities for partnership,' Simon said, on how to run events with partners. 'I visited the event last year when they tried it out and thought we could share in this. Talk to each other and build relationships.'
John added, 'Nightfever is an ideal event for a church situated in a place where there is plenty of ‘footfall’ outside, such as a City Centre. Having it at night has helped contact late-night shoppers and especially lots of young people who are out at that time of night.
'We will review how things went this time, and possible look at times/date which might attract more families with young children.'